Pat McGrath Talks Makeup, Technology, and the Future of Beauty

Pat McGrath. Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Honorees at the annual CFDA Fashion Awards are — unsurprisingly — fashion folk and their ilk. But this year’s top prize, the Founder’s Award, will be awarded to the “mother” of beauty: Pat McGrath. It makes sense, of course, and it’s long overdue. There’s no one as fashion who isn’t — for technicalities’ sake — a fashion person, as McGrath. Her portfolio puckers with nearly three decades of runway and editorial makeup wizardry. Linda Wells described her as the Velázquez of beauty, but she’s also kind of the category’s MacGyver: Mundane materials like foil, feathers, and mesh make up the secret sauce in her makeup palette (drop her off on an island with rubber, a glue stick, and string and she’ll still conjure a masterpiece). To boot, the woman elevated glitter from gaudy to glamorous, which is no small feat.

Ahead of the awards tonight, the Cut reached out to McGrath. She explained why being the first makeup artist to receive CFDA’s Founder’s Award was especially meaningful, how she envisions the future of beauty, and what makeup means to her.

What does being honored at the CFDA Fashion Awards mean to you?

To be the first-ever makeup artist honored with the Eleanor Lambert Founders Award by the CFDA was a uniquely “full circle” moment. When I found out I’d won, my mother [Jean McGrath] immediately came to mind. In a way, I feel this award is for her. I also feel this award serves as additional momentum to continue using fashion and beauty to communicate my vision, philosophy, and beliefs to the world through the work I’m doing at Pat McGrath Labs. This wonderful acknowledgement, especially since it struck like lightning in such a big year for the brand was a sign that let me know I must continue pushing the boundaries of the possible, playing with societal perceptions of beauty while celebrating diversity and individuality.

Makeup means a lot different things to different people. What does it mean to you?

Makeup is an extraordinary tool that allows me to share my inspirations, my fantasies and my vision with the world. Makeup is malleable and mercurial: The biggest joy I have everyday is the opportunity to create, to play and to invent with something I’ve loved forever. What I love most about makeup is that you can’t get attached to one thing, one idea or one approach — and once you’ve achieved perfection, you have to wipe it all off and start over the next day.

Where do you see makeup heading in the next few years?

Since the early ‘90s I’ve been obsessed with pushing the boundaries of beauty. It’s so amazing to see all those wild couture looks we did years ago — 3-D makeup, Swarovski lips, molten-liquid metallic lips, pearl-adorned faces, layered metallics, the list goes on and on — have now become the everyday staples of the makeup obsessed. It’s been such a pleasure to watch everyone experimenting and I hope, in terms of trends, that continues.

You use so many different mediums to construct your makeup looks. Is there any material that you haven’t used that are itching for the right opportunity to try?

Something most people don’t know about me is that I’m obsessed with technology. With that in mind, the “material” I’d most like to experiment is the material that has yet to be invented.

Can you hint at the next Pat McGrath Labs product?

All I can say is: Something is coming.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Pat McGrath Talks Makeup, Tech, and the Future of Beauty