She’s a maestro. She’s a maven. She’s a mutha. For the legions of who worship at the gilded and glittered altar of Pat McGrath, she is indeed the mother of makeup. Already widely recognized as “the most influential makeup artist in the world,” as 2021 began, McGrath’s boundless creativity, coupled with the success of her billion-dollar cosmetics brand, earned her another title, as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II elevated her to the rank of “Dame”—the first makeup artist granted the honor. Now, she’s our choice for The Glow Up 50's Dap Award, our lifetime achievement honor named for its inaugural recipient, fellow innovator and unparalleled creative, Dapper Dan.
What a lifetime it has been thus far for the 51-year-old McGrath. The only daughter of a single mother who emigrated to the United Kingdom from Jamaica, the makeup maven recently recalled in a cover story for Allure that her first muse was her mother, Jean McGrath. A devout Jehovah’s Witness who was also steadfastly devoted to fashion and beauty, the elder McGrath instilled a love of design as she created her own garments and undoubtedly laid the foundation for her daughter’s innovative use of makeup as she mixed her own foundations to match her brown skin.
“Literally hundreds of Fridays spent dragging me to pattern stores to choose the Vogue patterns, followed by the fabric shop to choose the materials, and then finally the makeup store to choose the products to pull the whole story together, our story that week,” McGrath shared with the audience as she accepted the 2017 CFDA’s Founder’s Award. She credited her late mother with encouraging her to follow her own vision, as she was told to: “Choose a job in the arts, dear. That way no one can ever tell you you’re wrong.”
No one would dare, as McGrath’s own daring—which began in the 1990s as a self-taught artist alongside fellow wunderkinds like photographer Steven Meisel and designer Marc Jacobs—has repeatedly raised the bar in the world of beauty. Indeed, her groundbreaking (and trendsetting) use of pigments, textures and materials—including feathers, sequins and even snakeskin—rival those of the fashion designers and photographers who clamor to work with her, including luxury labels like Prada, Miu Miu, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy, Gucci, Lanvin, Louis Vuitton, Versace, Maison Margiela, Yohji Yamamoto, Valentino, Bottega Veneta, Balenciaga, Nina Ricci, Calvin Klein, Loewe, and Alexander McQueen, “to name a select few,” reads her biography.
“In my career, I have chosen to embrace freedom over fear,” she told Allure. McGrath’s fearless approach to beauty has informed the cosmetics lines of Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, CoverGirl, and Max Factor, the latter two she oversees as Global Beauty Creative Design Director. Since 2015, McGrath’s genius has further inspired her followers to create, experiment and play via her now billion-year-old brand, Pat McGrath Labs. But while she is stratospheric success in both the beauty and fashion worlds, McGrath remains rooted in her identity.
“I am an entrepreneur, but I am a Black woman first and that undoubtedly influences everything I create,” she says. “I know what it is not to see yourself represented and not to have a seat at the table.”
This year, Dame Pat McGrath is at the head of The Glow Up 50's table as this year’s well-deserved recipient of The Dap Award. Long may she reign.