If you’ve been following us on VERO, over the past couple of weeks you’ll have been lucky enough to catch James O’Riley’s vibrant new editorial featuring flushes of colour, glittering lids and avant-garde brows. Having worked for the likes of Vogue, Elle, Jonathan Saunders, David Beckham and Sophie Turner, the Australian makeup artist has a bulging contacts book and a jam-packed career, taking his first steps in the business under the watchful eye of Val Garland.
As James’s takeover comes to an end, we catch up with him to chat about his creative beginnings, his favourite look he’s ever created and drawing inspiration from Buffalo 66.
When did you first decide you wanted to be a makeup artist?
I’d started a hairdressing apprenticeship at 16. It was a deal I did with my parents to avoid returning to school. I loved magazines, imagery and advertising. This was well before the internet and Instagram were around. When there were shoots going on at work I was always so taken with the makeup and the temporary transformation of it. I decided after a few years that that’s what I wanted to do, to paint faces.
What’s your creative background?
I don’t have much of one. I never went to college and my high school was very sports oriented. It had one art class a week and that’s where I’d be.
You were mentored by Val Garland — what was it like working with her?
It was a privilege of course. Val’s the Queen. I met her not long after arriving from Australia and was on her show team for a couple of years thereafter. She was tough but incredibly generous with her knowledge and time. I remember well to what level of detail she actually saw your makeup, even from across the room. Nothing got past her. I was incredibly inexperienced, and she knew it, so I’m still not sure how I managed that one. Nothing else could have given me that level of experience. They were good times.
What’s the wildest look you’ve ever created?
I don’t see my makeup as particularly wild. I did an interesting project with the Photographer Perou a few years back when he invited 10 makeup artists to interpret him as a clown. For me it’s a dark and interesting makeup and image. MAC ended up getting involved and produced a magazine and masterclass off the back of it which was a lot of fun.
Any advice for young makeup artists?
Be prepared to work, to do extra, to assist, to be patient. I’d say from the beginning to invest your time in finding photographers, stylists and collaborators who share your aesthetic and taste and be confident in what you do and what you like. Reach out and have a point of view.
Let’s talk about your VERO makeup story: what was on the moodboard and what is it trying to convey?
A selection of colours and imagery. I was inspired by the banality of so much of what I see with selfie-filtered imagery and a lot of the “how-to”, mannequin-like makeup looks on social. I was trying to convey more of a sense of individualism through beauty.
Where do you find inspiration?
Film, art, music, street culture. Living in London you are immersed. I think subconsciously we are influenced by so much that we are unaware of. You cannot unsee what you’ve seen so in many ways we all influence one another. With so many platforms we are rapidly being fed visuals and content, so I suppose you build a virtual library. During lockdown I’ve discovered really old Top of the Pops, there are some amazing hair and makeup references.
Are there any films or tv shows you admire for their approach to beauty?
I remember seeing the film Buffalo 66. Christina Ricci and that blue eyeshadow, that’s an iconic makeup look to me. Drag Racehas done its service to open up people to the possibilities of extreme beauty. I really enjoyed the series Euphoriafor its take on youthful, progressive beauty.
Plan your perfect day out in London — what three locations would you head to?
I enjoy a good run through Hackney Marshes and around Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. This has been my neighbourhood for best part of 15 years, so I witnessed an incredible regeneration. I love to drive through London, it’s the best way to see it and to really observe people and landmarks. Regent’s Park open air theatre in summer is extraordinary as is The V&A Museum.
Where are some of your favourite beauty hotspots across the world?
Kyoto in Japan and Zambia in central Africa. People looked so incredibly radiant to me, it’s definitely had an impact.
Who’s your VERO essential follow?
Apart from yourselves I really enjoy Nowness.
What’s next for you?
My second jab. The return of human contact and hopefully many more well-mannered talented creatives to collaborate with.
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