From the Beauty Counter to the Red Carpet: One Makeup Artist's Rise

Emily Cheng on how she made it happen

Emily Cheng
(Photo: Christina Hallida)

Name: Emily Cheng

Job title: Makeup artist

Age: 33

From: Taiwan and Vancouver

Currently lives in: Los Angeles

Education: BA in general arts, University of British Columbia; diploma in freelance makeup artistry, Blanche Macdonald Centre

First job out of school: Makeup artist at the Laura Mercier counter at Holt Renfrew

For makeup artist Emily Cheng, moving from Vancouver to Los Angeles in 2014 was kind of like starting over in an industry that’s all about connections. In a city where she didn’t know anyone, Cheng hit the ground running, cold-calling agencies and assisting other artists even though she already had 10 years of experience under her belt.

“You really have to hustle and constantly be open to putting yourself out there and not feeling shy about inquiring about work,” she says. All of that hard work clearly paid off. Today, Cheng is represented by the Wall Group, which has offices in L.A., New York, Paris and London. She counts actress Yara Shahidi as a regular client, and her red-carpet work has been spotted on the A-list likes of Kate Bosworth, Janelle Monáe and Constance Wu.

You don’t get to this level without a lot of passion—and practice. Cheng was working as a busser at a fine-dining restaurant  following her general arts degree when she decided to enroll in the cosmetics program at the Blanche Macdonald Centre. From there, she got a job at Holt Renfrew, floating between various counters like Laura Mercier, Nars and Bobbi Brown, and says her time there was invaluable. “It really hones your skill because you’re working with so many different faces, all ages,” she says. “You really practice your skill.”

Working the bridal beat helped her develop her signature aesthetic, which she describes as “light-handed.” “With bridal, you’re bringing out their natural beauty and enhancing certain features, which is generally what you want to do day-to-day.”

Assisting other makeup artists, like Britain’s legendary Pat McGrath, was also invaluable. “I’m so thankful that the people I met were so sweet and to this day still so supportive; that’s something I will always want to emulate as well,” she says, advising up-and-coming artists to do thoughtful things like remember the birthdays of those who’ve boosted their career along the way.

In an industry that’s constantly evolving and presenting a variety of demanding opportunities, from red carpet to editorial, makeup is something Cheng can’t get enough of. “I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.”

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