Belfast Telegraph

Belfast make-up artist Oonagh Boman on working with Robbie Williams and 'horrific' make-up trends

Trailblazing make-up artist Oonagh Boman is bringing her dazzling style to Belfast Fashion Week which opens this weekend. She tells Stephanie Bell about working with Robbie Williams and James Nesbitt and why she worries about young women following ‘horrific’ make-up trends

Massive event: Oonagh Boman
Massive event: Oonagh Boman
Robbie Williams
Oonagh with daughter Skye

She was Northern Ireland's first professional fashion and photographic make-up artist and now, 25 years on, Oonagh Boman is still at the cutting edge of her craft in Northern Ireland.

Oonagh, who also established Ireland's first school of make-up, in Belfast in 1998, will be working her magic on the models taking to the runway in this weekend's Belfast Fashion Week.

While the latest trends in clothes hit the catwalk during the three-day spectacular, Oonagh and her team are also set to dazzle with the most current make-up looks.

A busy businesswoman with her own salon in Hillsborough and the Oonagh Boman School of Make-up, she is also sole distributer in Northern Ireland of LA-based Senna Cosmetics, a sponsor of this season's Belfast Fashion Week.

In a career which has seen her work with countless celebrities and on many red carpet events, Oonagh knows her stuff and it is this ability to stay relevant which she believes is the secret to staying on top of her game.

At 51 she is showing no signs of slowing down but when not working prefers nothing better than spending quality time with her husband Leslie Graham (39), daughter Skye (20), who works with her in the business, son Brad (16) and their adorable new puppy Alfie.

Talking work, home life, all things fashion and celebrities - including giving Robbie Williams a full body massage - she is proud that her make-up school has survived the recession to mark its 20th anniversary this year.

With many people now turning to the internet to learn from make-up tutorials, she believes her methods are more important than ever.

She says: "My school was the first in Ireland and our course in fashion and photographic make-up was also a first and is the best course of its kind in Ireland.

"It teaches classic make-up techniques for photographic shoots and the red carpet and we also have a course on the art of make-up for those who want to brush up on their skills.

"Online make-up tutorials seem to be the new way of educating yourself but I believe it is quite a stagnant way to learn.

"You are watching a one-off person who can do their face in their own bedroom and they are not being challenged.

"That same look will not work on someone with different eye shape and skin colour and it doesn't teach you to navigate round the face. YouTube is good to dip in and out of but to actually learn about make-up you need guidance from someone who has been out there. After 25 years I do know my craft and I have been up against many situations where I have had to think on my feet."

Oonagh has a confidence which only comes with vast experience and doesn't pull any punches when talking about make-up trends today.

The current look for heavily contoured skin and high definition brows favoured by younger women causes her to cringe and she doesn't mince her words, describing the look as both "horrific" and "unacceptable" in the fashion world.

She says: "I think it is really shocking. Young girls are obsessed with social media and they are using so many filters but what looks good on Instagram doesn't translate to real life and can actually look quite horrific.

Oonagh with daughter Skye
Oonagh with daughter Skye

"It isn't an acceptable look in the fashion industry and yet it is a look that you will see in every small town in the UK. It bears no relation to beauty.

"Every decade there is a brow evolution - this decade is going to be remembered for the uber-defined high definition brow. I know it won't last, but I think it could have another four years before it is phased out.

"It is too solid and you can't see the skin beneath it."

She is similarly scathing about contouring which was made famous by Kim Kardashian, but which Oonagh says was first introduced in the black and white movie era of the 1920s.

It is this more classic and subtle type of contouring that she and her colleagues favour for catwalks, but the trend for daily use is one she thinks we simply are not able to carry off.

She says: "Our skin is too pale for that level of contouring. I think young people feel the pressure to conform and I know what look they are trying to get with chiselled jaws and cheeks - but it just doesn't work in daylight or even on night out.

"If everything was taken 10 steps back it would look pretty.

"Young people are meant to experiment and we all do it, we all push the boundaries and I did it myself in the Eighties when I was running around looking like Madonna, but at least I could take it off and it stayed in the Eighties. Nowadays, every night a wee girl goes out there are about 30 pictures of them all being logged which will still be there in years to come.

"I believe there are going to be a lot of hang-ups with these kids who are projecting images which are not even their own."

Oonagh is thankful that her 20-year-old daughter, Skye, who followed her into the business as a beauty therapist, is more conservative about her look - although she too enjoys experimenting.

Oonagh says: "She dabbles and has such a beautiful, pretty face and is quite experimental, but thankfully she has bought into the same techniques as me, although going out she will wear her make-up heavier."

Oonagh met her husband, who is 12 years younger, through friends in the fashion world. The couple married eight years ago and live in Dromore.

She says the age difference between them has never been an issue and she puts this down in part to her career. She says: "It is not something we think about, thank God. At 51, my job has kept me relevant rather than younger. I don't want to be younger as I am happy where I am at."

Growing up in Belfast, Oonagh had a keen interest in theatre at school and after her A-Levels moved to London where she worked for seven years with a number of record labels.

There weren't any beauty courses in Northern Ireland at the time and, realising that the beauty side of the industry is where she wanted to be, she studied in London and Dublin, coming back home to launch her business at the age of 26.

She says: "There was only one other make-up artist in Northern Ireland at the time and I saw a gap in the market and set myself up as a fashion and photographic make-up artist.

"I was always interested in theatre and the fashion work I do is theatre to a certain degree.

"I've been to every hole in the hedge and it has taken years and years to build my profile.

"There was no social media to help spread the word and I relied on journalists to get the word out and target my market.

"I've worked with some great people in the industry and some brilliant designers who are still working today.

"Fashion is my heartbeat and I love doing it and I have done a lot of celebrity fashion shows."

When celebrities visit Northern Ireland for any event, more often than not it is Oonagh who is called upon to do their make-up. She has worked with many big names over the years, the most recent of which was model Laura Whitmore who attended the red carpet premier of Cinemagic's Grace and Goliath in Belfast earlier this month.

As she tries to recall the big names she has worked with, rather surprisingly is it mainly male celebrities who come to mind.

She says: "A lot of them have been male. When Robbie Williams was here on his last world tour I was asked to give him a full body massage after his Belfast concert. He is so lovely and seeing him now on X Factor he is coming across really well and he actually is a great person.

"His singing coach is one of my best friends from when we worked together in London which is how I got to do that job.

"I've also done James Nesbitt's make-up and Paddy Kielty and TV's Dr Hilary. It is more of a challenge doing men as it is basically a no make-up look.

"Today with high definition TV you can see make-up so easily and the trick is that they have to look like they are not wearing any make-up but you have to make them look better. Everyone has insecurities about how they look, even celebrities."

Belfast Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2018 is an exciting event for Oonagh and her team who will be working backstage with some graduate trainees.

Oonagh knows exactly what looks she is after to complement the fashions being showcased this weekend. She says: "I am proud to be part of it and also because Senna Cosmetics is a sponsor this year.

"I love the creative side and working with postgraduate students which gives me a chance to assist people learning their craft.

"My right-hand person is Jo Woosey who works with me and she will be coordinating make-up back stage.

"On Friday for the big one in St Anne's Cathedral, when the designers will be showcased along with some high street fashion, we will be taking references from the catwalks around the world in Milan and New York.

"We keep in tune with the rest of the fashion world so we will be on trend, we just don't dream up ideas. For Friday's show we will be doing solid graphic black eyes with a polished complexion and not too strong on contouring with nude lips."

The look for Italian designer Max Mara's Saturday show will be very polished with a very casual but sophisticated look using lots of natural nudes, while the afternoon show will feature models with wearable smokey eyes and glossy skin.

Finally, Oonagh will be heading the team for Style Sunday when the look with be classic with nude eyes and red lips.

She adds: "I always talk about the make-up wardrobe and if you get it wrong it doesn't fit with your clothes and doesn't look right. I believe everybody needs to update their make-up wardrobes with the seasons."

  • You can find out more about Oonagh at

Oonagh’s make-up trends for autumn


  • Natural, polished skin with soft contouring - a shadow rather than a sculpt.
  • A new dewy, gloss finish has superseded the former high shine and strobing associated with an Instagram make-up style.
  • A graphic eye, a kitten flick in solid black or deep deconstructed eyeliner is perfect, not only for the catwalk, but for nights out especially with party season on the horizon.
  • A matte brown, soft smokey eye with the classic nude lip is always an A/W favourite.
  • Deep lip colours in burgundy, berry or red are super for autumn.

Oonagh’s top tips for mature make-up

As the skin ages it tends to get drier and more prone to redness. I would recommend using a richer moisturiser (Domina 24-hr Cream and Filler gel for the eye area) and neutralising the redness with my green colour corrector. This is especially good if there is a hormonal change that brings about redness or flushes.

My go-to primer for mature skin is Senna's Moisture Drop Primer - this leaves a beautiful healthy, dewy glow on the skin and prevents the foundation from becoming too heavy.

I love, wear and apply Senna's Lasting Illusion foundation - this provides great coverage and does not settle in the fine lines or wrinkles around the eyes, mouth or forehead.

It is important to blend the foundation around these areas so that it doesn't become too heavy or cause creasing.

In my opinion, a mature client can really benefit from the application of colour.

Eyes can really pop with the correct use of an accent colour, and years can fade away with the correct colours on the cheeks or lips.

Colour should always compliment the skin tones whether they are warm or cool.

Make-up for older clients should reflect her personality and lifestyle - it is important to look at these factors. A bright lip can add freshness and vitality to the face as can a cream blusher.

I love Senna's cream blushers as they give the skin a natural blush without the added powder that can rest in the fine lines of the upper face.

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