• How to Break Into Fashion: Celebrity Makeup Artist Merrell Hollis

    You guys loved our Breaking into Fashion Interview with Teen Vogue Accessories Director Shiona Turini so much, I decided to keep the party going with a profile on celebrity makeup artist extraordinaire, Merrell Hollis.

    In addition to painting Wendy Williams to perfection every day for her talk show (how you doin?!?), Hollis has also worked with Naomi Campbell, Mary J Blige, Vivica J Fox, Selita Ebanks, Usher, Alek Wek, Monica, Faith, and Diddy.

    He put his brushes down for a spell to tell you hopefuls how you can one day take the plunge into the beauty business, and beat faces with the best of them.

    A native of Columbus, Georgia, Merrell gained inspiration as a young kid by watching his mother and aunts getting ready for work. He says, “I used to watch my aunt. Every morning, she would change her fingernail polish to match her outfit. She would paint polka dots, she could paint California Raisins on her nails, she was really talented! At the time I thought I was either going to be a queen or work with women (laughs). I’ve always put women on such a pedestal, that’s why I’ve always just been in awe. I figured the best thing to do would be to work with them.”

    After attending American Intercontinental University in Atlanta, Hollis went on to the International School of Skin, Nail Car, and Massage Therapy. He ultimately caught his big break in a bit of an unconventional way. He explains, “One of my friends was a video girl, and told me she went to audition for a video for the R&B group 112. I was a big 112 fan, so I decided to just show up.” After borrowing his mom’s car, he went to CVS, bought a brush kit, and found his way onto the set. He says, “I pretended I was the makeup artist. A production assistant eventually ratted me out, but the main artist on set, Maurice Beaman, needed an assistant.” The stars aligned at the right time, and Beaman, who now works for Tyler Perry, took Hollis under his wing.

    Atlanta’s music scene was hot at the time, and Hollis fittingly accompanied Beaman to numerous commercials and video sets. He said, “I used to commute back and forth on the weekends because I was still in high school. I had to graduate in summer school.” When he wasn’t working with Atlanta celebs like 112, Monica, Jagged Edge, Blacque, and Usher, he apprenticed under Beaman at his salon, shampooing, braiding, roller setting, doing brows, and applying makeup.

    Merrell’s reputation for hard and fantastic work preceded him. When a friend of a friend found out Wendy Williams was looking for makeup artists for her then new talk show, she threw Merrell’s hat in the ring. He said, “[Wendy] was going to try out different people. We ended up ki-ki-ing on the first day, and I ultimately got the job.” Wendy tapes live, so Merrell’s on call from 7-11am, then leaves in the afternoon for editorial shoots.

    I had to ask him about which beauty products he’d recommend! He said, “I love the beauty blender aka the little pink egg. You can get it at Sephora. It’s an anti bacterial sponge that you can rinse out everyday. It lasts forever and is great for the environment. I also love Makeup Forever’s Color Flash Kit. It has 12 colors from pink to gold and you can use it for lips, cheeks, eyes–you can even mix it in with your foundation! I also swear by Laura Mercier transluscent powder, L’Oréal Carven Voluminous mascara, and Du Wop lip stain (it plumps your lips–it’s the bomb!).”

    And what about tips for those looking to follow a similar path? He says, “Do it for the love of the job, not for celebrities or red carpets. Assist under someone whose work ethic and work you respect. There are people I truly look up to like Pat McGrath and Sam Fine. Those are the people I’m trying to pattern myself after. Also, stay humble. No matter if you are working with the top person, anything can be taken away from you.”

    He added a few pointed tips for those seeking to work with stars: “A celeb is a client, they are not your friend. Don’t drink, smoke, or get loose with your client. They lose respect for you. Lastly, speak when spoken to. Don’t add all your input. Stay out of their personal business. Just do lashes and lipstick, don’t get involved. Be extremely discreet. They hired you to be the makeup artist, not their sister, confidant, or friend.”

    Keep an eye peeled for Merrell’s forthcoming product line and book! Also, check him out at www.merrellhollis.com and follow him on Twitter @makeupbymerrell.

    What do you think of today’s Breaking into Fashion interview?


    Claire Sulmers is the publisher and founder of Fashion Bomb Daily, the #43 most influential style magazine in the world.

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