When Derek Miller began pursuing his career as a makeup artist, his only point of reference was his fine art background. With no training, he let the colours, shades, and techniques of art shape his approach to working on the human face. “Walking into makeup with no experience, all I had was that colour wheel that you live by in art,” he explains. For Miller, now global makeup artist for Estée Lauder, that history continues to inform his work. “Now I just have canvasses that talk back,” he jokes. “I love it.”
Based in New York, Miller splits his time between working with clients, giving workshops and talks, and developing new products. He explains that there are two main ways a new cosmetic item is created: one is to fulfill a customer need, based on trends in the industry; the second occurs when scientists working with the brand discover a new technology and use it to make something not seen before. The latter of the two, naturally, is a more difficult sell. “Those are riskier launches because you have to create that need [within the consumer base],” Miller says. But, he asserts, what they really do is “sell confidence”—and while it is a gushy sentiment, it holds some truth. Miller chokes up when recalling a time he was doing the makeup of a woman who was in a car accident that scarred her lip, and as a result, hadn’t worn lipstick in 20 years. “I said, ‘Just let me try something, and if you don’t like it, we’ll take it right off,’” he remembers. When she looked in the mirror after Miller was done, she was awestruck, saying it was the first time she’d felt like a woman in the two decades since the accident.
For a global brand like Estée Lauder, these humanizing moments are key—especially these days, when blogs and online campaigns telling women they don’t need makeup to be beautiful abound. To this, Miller says simply, “live and let live.” If a woman doesn’t want to wear makeup, that suits him just fine. And if she does, well, honey, pull up a chair.