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Dazed Hannah Murray
Photography Alasdair McLellan, styling Katy England, hair Luke Hersheson, make-up Hannah MurrayDazed April 2008

From ballet to blush: MUA Hannah Murray on her effortless, cool girl style

TextAlex Peters

We chat to Murray about frosted pink lipstick, her background in ballet and creating products for Topshop

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

Growing up in the Gloucestershire countryside, make-up artist Hannah Murray began training as a ballet dancer from a young age. It was there among the french pleats and powdered faces that Murray first discovered the transformative power of make-up, finding strength and confidence in the red lipstick and shimmering blue eyeshadow that decorated her face every performance.

After a career-ending injury, Murray turned to make-up, carrying over the precision and discipline she learnt in ballet to her new craft. Meticulous and creative, Murray’s style centres around her signature fresh, flawless skin which becomes the perfect foundation upon which to build her modern, cool, effortless looks. “I love when make-up isn’t so technical and feels raw or messed up or bold in some eccentric way,” she says of her work. “As much as I love polished beauty, I also love a feeling. I want to believe the look.”

After training with Charlotte Tilbury for two years as her first assistant, Murray broke out on her own and has since worked with the best of the best in the industry, collaborating with photographers including Peter Lindbergh, Alasdair McLellan, David Sims, Mert + Marcus, designers such as Martin Margiela and Luella Bartley and magazine editorials for Vogue, AnOther and Dazed. Murray also launched and worked with Topshop Beauty as their exclusive make-up consultant until 2016, creating its signature wearable yet daring and bold aesthetic. 

Here, we chat with Murray about collecting the free frosted pink lipstick from magazines as a teen, finding her way to make-up, and creating products for Topshop.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?

Hannah Murray: Probably when I started doing ballet competitions around nine years old. I’d give myself a headache from the scraped back tight buns and half a can of Elnett I’d use for every performance. I had a tiered make-up box filled with lilac and blue shimmer eyeshadows, red lipstick, liquid liner, pale pan stick foundation, and theatrical face powder. I loved make-up and felt stronger and more confident somehow. I realised then how transformative it was.

When I was 16 and training professionally in London, the process was a whole other level. The director of my ballet school was very strict about our appearances. Our french pleats had to be absolutely perfect with not a hair or a pin out of place. And tight to give the face a lift! We were checked every morning before class. Princess Diana was the Patron of our school and I was lucky enough to be selected to attend a number of events with her – basically because I looked presentable enough! When I look back now, it was such a strict environment, but it taught me about precision and care and pride. 

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?

Hannah Murray: I was into a mix of things – the grit and cool of Grange Hill, the craziness of Top of the Pops, the glamour of the Bond films and all those 90s girly magazines like Bliss, Just Seventeen and Smash Hits (I’d get them for the free frosted pink lipstick attached to the cover)! I distinctly remember when I started travelling to The Royal Ballet School in London every weekend from 14 and flicking through the pages of Vogue and Top Model Magazine on the early train journey. I’d not been exposed to anything like that previously. These otherworldly creatures –Carla Bruni, Claudia Schiffer and all the Supers, and then later Kate Moss and Audrey Marnay – in the pages absolutely fascinated me.

Why are you a make-up artist?  

Hannah Murray: By accident really. Ballet was my chosen path but after ankle injuries and operations prematurely ended my career, I had to find a new direction. I looked into studying architecture or interior design but then started exploring fashion courses and make-up immediately appealed.

How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft? 

Hannah Murray: I took a course at Glauca Rossi School of Make Up in London and then spent the next couple of years hustling and doing test shoots and knocking on countless doors. I would literally sit on the floor of WHSmiths getting every contact number from the mastheads of the magazines, and cold-call bookings directors and fashion editors to see if I could show them my portfolio and work for them. I was determined to find my way in! 

Assisting changed everything for me. After a season of working on Charlotte Tilbury’s shows, I became her first assistant for two years. It was a pivotal moment for me – travelling the world, being in the thick of the action in the early 2000s and working with the very best. It was tough and all-consuming but I learnt so much and many doors opened to me when I moved on to do my own thing. Hard work and dedication pays off in the end. People take a chance on you.

Why were you drawn to fashion make-up in particular?

Hannah Murray: I love the image. That’s what I’m passionate about. When everything comes together in this one moment, that’s when the magic happens.

Can you tell us a bit about your creative process, from initial idea to final image?

Hannah Murray: Sometimes it’s researched and thought-through before the day but I’d say 80 per cent of the time it’s very instinctual. Some of my favourite images I have worked on, the make-up was thrown on in five minutes, on set. You can’t be too precious with your work. You need to adapt to the moment, feed off the other creatives on set, be flexible... labouring over a look isn’t possible on a fashion shoot. And I think that’s a good thing actually. 

Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to “beauty” (whatever that word means to you)?

Hannah Murray: I love beauty. I love enhancing someone’s character and attitude but ultimately making someone feel the best version of themselves. Beauty is individual and interesting and captivating. We should celebrate who we are.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?

Hannah Murray: Take care of yourself along the way. I got burnt out early on from pushing myself too hard with travel and having no control over my schedule. I learned the hard way that balance is everything.

What are the projects that you’re most proud of? 

Hannah Murray: Working on Topshop’s make-up line for seven years was a brilliant time for me. Doing the majority of the American Vogue covers this year has been a pinch-me moment too. But I look back on those first shoots on my own, after leaving Charlotte – the French Vogue’s with David Sims, Marie-Amélie Sauvé, and Guido, that really shaped me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I had to really trust in my instinct and just go for it.

How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?

Hannah Murray: I’m hopeful for the day when we can move on from this unhealthy obsession with selfies and filters and cloned doll-like beauty. It saddens me, young girls completely painting their features away.

On the other hand, there is also a beautiful movement towards expressing and embracing individuality. Social media has given a platform to a much more interesting, weird and wonderful beauty that I love to see and hear about. That for me is exciting and refreshing and a positive thing!

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?

Hannah Murray: Do your homework (study photography, film, art, fashion history, wander through museums – see what inspires you), do test shoots, get on assisting teams, explore your aesthetic. Have a spotless kit. Be yourself and work hard. And be patient. The ones who really want it get there in the end.

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?

Hannah Murray: Esther Langham. My great friend and a brilliant talent.

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