Grace Ahn is a freelance makeup artist based in New York City.
Interview by Brooke Frischer
HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH JONATHAN COHEN?
I knew of Jonathan Cohen through seeing features on Vogue. I was first acquainted with JC when I did one of the early shoots for the brand.
THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS CHANGING AT SUCH A RAPID PACE. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE OF FASHION? ADDITIONALLY, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE FUTURE OF FASHION?
I believe one of the biggest challenges is this pandemic. It has forced the whole world to stop and start up again (slowly). But this pandemic forced a lot of important conversations to begin and I think it’s starting a lot of change. Especially in the fashion industry. So I am really excited to see what the future holds. I do believe it can create a lot of opportunities in representation, equal human rights, environmental consciousness, and accountability.
YOUR MAKEUP JOURNEY BEGAN WORKING BEHIND THE COUNTER AT A MAKEUP STORE IN LOS ANGELES- DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENT WHEN YOU REALIZED YOU WANTED TO PURSUE BEING A FREELANCE MAKEUP ARTIST AS YOUR CAREER?
The moment I dreamed of being a freelance makeup artist was when I realized such a job existed! In the 90s, I noticed magazines like Allure would have articles about makeup artists who worked on the shoots. Until then, I had no idea such a job existed. While working at makeup counters in LA, I would meet friends of friends who moved out to NY and worked on shows and assisted amazing artists. Making the leap to move across the country and start a new career from scratch was not easy, but I knew it had to be done. So after years of thinking of moving to NY I finally did it and basically hit the ground running by assisting anyone and everyone.
HOW DID YOUR APPROACH TO MAKEUP AND STYLE CHANGE OR EVOLVE AFTER MOVING FROM YOUR HOME OF LOS ANGELES TO NEW YORK IN 2010?
I believe my approach to makeup is always changing. I never stop learning. But the first several years of moving to NY and assisting, I was a sponge. Soaking up techniques, creativity, and styles from the many different artists I got to assist. Learning the differences between photo vs red carpet vs videos was an eye-opening experience. In terms of style, I always defer to the face I’m working on, always starting with the canvas and building from there (depending on the creative collaboration of the job).
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR WORK ETHIC AND ENERGY CHANCE WHEN YOU'RE ON SET FOR A PHOTOSHOOT VERSUS WHEN YOU'RE BACKSTAGE AT A RUNWAY SHOW?
Most of the time, the difference between shows and a photoshoot is night and day. Shoots are more or less a process and there is usually some time for creating a look. At a runway, showtime is not a luxury, so everything is in high-speed mode. All of your energy and work ethic are forced to work in overdrive.
Backstage at Jonathan Cohen FW20 Runway Show
OVER QUARANTINE, IT FEELS LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE STARTED TO FURTHER EXPERIMENT WITH NEW MAKEUP TRENDS AND "HACKS." HOW HAS QUARANTINE AFFECTED YOUR APPROACH TO YOUR WORK? HAVE YOU DEVELOPED ANY NEW TOOLS OR IDEAS OVER QUARANTINE THAT YOU'VE BEGUN TO INCORPORATE IN YOUR WORK AND STYLE?
Quarantine has really forced me to use my own face as a creative outlet. This led to me posting my own face in makeup on social media for the first time. And also to participate in live stream talks about beauty. Without realizing it, the lockdown has really helped me to be more comfortable in front of a camera when I was always only behind the scenes.
YOU'VE BEEN QUOTED AS SAYING THAT "SUCCESS IN THIS INDUSTRY IS A COMBINATION OF LUCK AND SEIZING (OPPORTUNITIES)." DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR OTHER YOUNG ARTISTS WHO ARE STRIVING TO MAKE IT AS FREELANCE ARTISTS ON HOW TO BEST FIND AND SEIZE THE OPPORTUNITIES AROUND THEM?
My advice for new artists is to be FEARLESS. Do not second guess yourself! Starting this career is not easy. It is a lot of cold calling (or emailing), getting rejected, and being patient. When an opportunity does come by, dive in headfirst and take in every second of the experience. This industry is all based on relationships. People help people get hired in all capacities so never be afraid to show your best. Not just in makeup skills, but your point of view and personality.
YOUR "MAKEUP HOUSEPARTY" SESSIONS AIMED TO ENCOURAGE CONTINUING TO PLAY WITH MAKEUP EVEN IN QUARANTINE. WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE THEME THAT WAS EXPLORED THROUGH THOSE GROUP VIDEO CHATS? HOW DID THESE SESSIONS HELP YOU TO CONNECT WITH YOUR FELLOW MAKEUP ARTISTS?
The Makeup Houseparty sessions really filled the void of a collaborative team environment. Makeup artists always work with people and since we couldn’t be together for jobs, my friends and I were able to have a fun and creative reason to get together remotely. We treated the themes for makeup like a photo shoot. Coming up with ideas and pulling references. Even getting hairstylist friends involved to make wigs. I would say my favorite theme was doing vintage makeup ads. We are a group of makeup nerds so we really got to dive deep and had the best time coming up with looks from the yesteryears that have always inspired us.
Backstage at the Jonathan Cohen FW20 Runway Show
WHILE WE ARE MAKING GREAT SHIFTS OF AWARENESS OF WHAT GOES INTO EACH GARMENT, WE ALSO FEEL WHAT WE PUT ON OUR SKIN IS IMPORTANT. WHY IS NATURAL SKINCARE AND MAKEUP IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Natural skincare and makeup can be important because we have to be so aware of what we put directly on our largest organ. And because it’s something we wear for hours at a time, having ingredients that are good for our skin is absolutely necessary.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEY WANT TO WORK AS MAKEUP ARTISTS BUT AREN'T SURE WHERE TO START?
If you already have experience putting makeup on other people, I would say start by offering to assist makeup artists. Not only will you learn new makeup techniques, but you can build connections with fellow assistants on the team. And most importantly you can see firsthand how the business works and what to do on a photo shoot or show. If you don’t have experience yet putting makeup on others, do it on any and all friends and family members. I am self-taught this way which led me to work at makeup counters where I really got to experience makeup on a variety of people. I do not think makeup schools are necessary at all. Especially now with YouTube!
You can follow Grace and learn more about their work on Instagram @gracegraceahn.