Belfast woman made-up to be working at London Fashion Week
Debbie Finnegan tells Una Brankin about her dream job (and the miracle products we should all know about)
Jet-setting Debbie Finnegan had barely time to unpack her bags from New York Fashion Week before dashing back to London for the UK version – only to find her boiler wasn't working and she had no hot water. Originally from the Hannahstown hills in west Belfast, the top MAC make-up artist recently moved in to a new rented flat in south west London with her boyfriend of two-and-a-half years, City finance worker Oliver Sullivan.
"It's the usual teething problems with a new flat but I was able to get a wash on last night and this morning. Oliver had left me a heart-shaped box of Love Hearts for Valentine's Day before he headed out to work," she says, chuffed. "He's awful good like that. He's English but his great-grandfather was from Cork."
For anyone aspiring to work in the beauty industry, Debbie (32) has a dream job. As MAC Cosmetics senior make-up artist for the UK and Ireland, the former pupil of St Genevieve's High School travels the world working at the leading fashion and red carpet events. She's backstage at most of the major international fashion weeks – including the current London Fashion Week – and entertainment award shows, including the BAFTAs, MTV music awards and film festivals.
"I've done make-up for so many famous actresses that it's hard to keep count. They include Joanne Froggat from Downton – she's super petite – and Olivia Williams, who's ever so nice. Oh and actresses Olivia Coleman, with the dark curly hair, and Helen McCrory – her husband Damien Lewis, who's in Homeland, is a lovely man, and very, very handsome."
Despite her hectic schedule the good-natured blonde gets home as often as she can to see her parents Dennis and Carol, sisters Alison and Denise and her young niece and nephew – "I don't like the thought of them forgetting me!" she laughs down the line from London.
An arty child and animal lover, she grew up in the countryside with wide-screen views of Belfast, drawing portraits and horses, and attended the Art College briefly before going to work with MAC at the CastleCourt shopping centre in Belfast.
"I always had a flair for it – I'd do all my friends' make-up for formals, so I took a chance and applied to MAC with no real formal training," she recalls. "I did lots of weddings and all the fashion shows, and just kept my head down and took every opportunity that came my way. I've been very lucky."
After a stint in Sheffield, Debbie moved to London three years ago. Since then she has worked with all the top models and the world's leading make-up artists and stylists.
"Cara Delevigne is a really sweet, lovely girl," she says, Belfast accent intact. "She's a right little joker too; everybody loves her. She's just effortlessly beautiful with those striking eyebrows and lashes, and she has the cutest little face. Jourdan Dunne (aka the new Naomi) is lovely and Kate Moss has the most amazing bone structure – in real life it's easy to see why she's so massively successful. She has the sort of face that's a canvas for so many different looks – a chameleon."
Although Kate Moss has the perfect facial symmetry and proportions that photograph so well, Debbie believes imperfect faces can be just as beautiful.
"Sometimes it's the flaws that make people even more striking. Take Erin O'Connor – she's unconventionally beautiful. She's super tall and graceful and has the most swan-like neck."
So, what can be done for the rest of us who get a fright when we look in the mirror every morning? Unfortunately, for water shirkers like me, Debbie swears by drinking gallons of the stuff for the complexion, despite what TV health guru Dr Michael Mossley says.
"It does make a huge difference – dehydration causes fine lines, especially round the eyes. I carry a bottle of water with limes and lemons and mint in it backstage to flush out toxins and help the digestion."
I also wondered how she coped making up hard-partying models arriving for shows with puffy eyes.
"People don't realise it but prepping the skin is a huge part of my job and I do get presented with faces that are tired and dehydrated and girls that maybe had a few too many drinks the night before! I use a very lightweight MAC cleanser and vitamin/mineral spritzer to wake up and hydrate the skin quickly, then blend some oil into the Complete Comfort moisturiser and massage it in for two or three minutes to get the circulation going and plump up and pinken the skin.
"For puffy eyes our Fast Response eye cream's brilliant. It has caffeine and gets everything moving, just like your cup of coffee does first thing in the morning. But I'd advise anyone to try samples first at home to see if the products suit your skin type – that's the key to good make-up."
I could talk to her all morning for tips but she has to dash to the catwalks. She says I can ring her anytime for advice and I wish she was back in CastleCourt for face emergencies, but she's too busy heading right to the top of her game.
Debbie adds: "I've only started to be the key make-up artist at the fashion week shows and I just want to keep working. Dad had his own business until his health failed and Mum always told us if we wanted something we had to work for it.
"She's a very strong lady and brought us up to work hard. I'll always be the little girl who feels she has so much more to learn."
Debbie's make-up tips...
Always powder your skin. The skin should have a glow but it should never be shiny, because that just looks awful if you're being photographed.
Nowadays, at special events and the red carpet, the focus is on the skin tone, on how women can enhance their own features – for example, instead of hiding freckles, feature them in a positive light.
Keep a mini touch-up kit – I always give my clients one that consists of a concealer, lipstick or gloss, and powder, to keep them going for the rest of the night.
A good primer is an absolutely must-have range for a special event. I used this on almost all my clients this season. The MAC range prepares the skin for whatever products that you will be putting on your face. It tones down skin redness, anchors the foundation and has special formulation that illuminates for the perfect reflection on cameras.
Mineral foundation, concealer and blusher gives you the exact colour purity you want to match your natural skin tone. MAC Mineralize Range has a low level of pearls to give a luminous finish.
I can't live without my concealer! Our studio Finish Concealer is creamy and I sheer it out with other products to give the exact texture that I want.
...And what's in her cosmetic bag
StriVectin-SD Eye Cream, £49:
I love this eye-cream, as it helps reduce the appearance of fine lines and dark circles. I love anything that makes me look or feel more youthful. A firm favourite in my make-up bag.
Embryolisse Cleanser, £17.99:
I picked up this all-over cleanser on a recent trip to Paris. It's very gentle and it often found in make-up artists' kits.
MAC Haute and Naughty Mascara, £18
This is one of my favourite mascaras from MAC. I love the versatility from it. The dual opening allows either a natural or a dramatic look. Personally, I use the natural brush to lengthen and separate, then the dramatic, to add lots of product to the roots of the lashes. Instant easy, full lashes in a bottle.
MAC Brow Pencil in Fling, £1
I don't go anywhere without an eyebrow pencil – usually I carry a few just in case one runs out unexpectedly. I am that dedicated to brows! This one is perfect for blonde hair and helps me fill out my over-plucked brows to bring me closer to the dream Cara Delevigne brow.
Smashbox Lip Stain, £18
Strong lips have been around for a while, but no-one likes to touch up too often. I use these lip markers to create a stain and a base for my favourite MAC vibrant lipstick shades. When the colour wears down you're left with an effortless 'worn-in' lip that looks great.
MAC Studio Finish Concealer, £15
The best concealer for concealing my hyper pigmentation and my dark circles. I cannot live without this – it makes me look and feel human even after a long day.
For special occasions or extra long shifts at work, I brush a wash of MAC Studio Fix Powder, £21.50 on top to keep away shine and to perfect further.
Tom Ford Highlighting Pen in Liquid Bronze, £40
A touch of this on the bridge of nose, cheek bones and inner eye will add a warm molten summery feel to my skin.
Jean Paul Gaultier Classique,
I've been wearing this since I was 16 – it's my signature scent.