Friday, 14 May 2010

Katy Messer - independent makeup artist at Fenwick's Brent Cross

Disclosure - Katy is someone I know personally, which is how I learned about this service

Makeup By Katy is a blog you may be familiar with, and a fine blog it is too - but it barely scratches the surface of Katy Messer's immense makeup know-how. With 13 years' experience under her brush-belt, she's a fount of knowledge and is more than happy to share it around. Her expertise is now available to customers at Fenwick's, Brent Cross, where she offers one-on-one appointments with personalised consultation, skin care and full makeup.

I've met Katy a few times at events and we've chatted frequently via Twitter, and I was delighted for her when she announced she was going freelance and working part-time at Fenwick's. On a less personal level, I thought the service seemed like a wonderful alternative to the usual beauty-hall model, where advice and demonstrations are heavily biased towards one brand or another and finish up with a sales pitch. The beauty of Katy's service is that she's totally brand-neutral, doesn't work on commission and can offer you her honest advice and some quality playing-with-makeup time.

With that enticing prospect in mind, I jumped on a bus over to Brent Cross Shopping Centre in north London to experience the service for myself.

Katy met me at the entrance to Fenwick's and escorted me through to her private treatment room at the back of the store. It's a small but peaceful space with a large mirror, lamp, chair, sink and tea and coffee facilities. It's down a corridor away from the busy shop floor, so it's quiet and relaxed.

After making me a refreshing cup of chamomile tea, Katy invited me to take a seat in the chair for my two-hour appointment. She asked me about my skin and we chatted about my various skincare concerns - I'm pretty lucky but I do get some congestion on my cheeks, which I'd always found bizarre since I have a fairly dry nose, chin and forehead. Wisely, Katy pointed out that congested doesn't have to mean oily. I was probably more of a dry-all-over skin type, and maybe the congestion was to do with how my hair lay on my face. This made brilliant sense to me.

That established, she asked about what kind of texture and performance I want from my skincare, and found me some light-textured, easily absorbed products with SPF (the latter is a requirement since I rarely wear foundation) - Laura Mercier moisture lotion and a Darphin serum. (I'd come bare-faced to the appointment, so a full cleanse and moisturise wasn't necessary in my case, though Katy offers a full cleanse, treatment and moisturise as part of the service.)

I loved the fact that Katy has a bespoke library of products to work with - she told me she'd literally been able to take a basket and go around the shop floor choosing products to equip her treatment room. She took a leaf out of Beauty Mouth's book, asking the staff at each counter what they themselves ordered from their brand and couldn't live without. The result is a Messer-approved dream-team of beauty products from a wide range of brands - although I must say that Katy's love for Laura Mercier, with whom she worked for several years, does shine through in the selection.

I wanted Katy to have a totally free rein over my makeup. I find it far more interesting to see how someone else will approach my makeup than just watch them follow my own directions - you learn much more with a fresh perspective.

She taught me a lot - firstly that I'm more cool than warm (total shock). She "reads" colour from the chest and neck area rather than the face, as the two will always need to coordinate. Matching my foundation shade to my inner wrist rather than my face had also meant that I'd been wearing paler colours than I needed to - surprisingly, the foundation she chose for me wasn't the lightest shade from the range. Unheard of, for me.

I watched in total fascination as she filled in my brows, first with pencil and then with powder on top. Pencil is better for sparse brows like mine, she says, because it adheres to skin whereas powder adheres to hair. She drew fine lines in line with the "grain" of my brows using a Laura Mercier brow pencil in Blonde, a great ash tone with no red in it (saving me from the "ginger brow" curse that results from most brunette-themed eyebrow colour products).

After applying eyeshadow primer and concealer, she contoured the crease of my eyelids with a warm colour - she told me she never uses cool tones in this area as they can look grey and ashy very easily. A wash of pale colour finished the lids, and she also tightlined my top lashline with Benefit Babe Cake cake eyeliner.

I was really interested in Katy's rationale for my eye makeup, which worked with the shape of my eyes - lining underneath to open them up instead of loading up my relatively small top lid. She explained that as my lids are hidden while my eyes are open thanks to their particular shape, any colour on the top lid is only going to show as a flash when I blink. For me, and other small-lidded people, a coloured liner is the best way of wearing strong colour on the top lid.

Katy has her own face-charts which she fills in during and after the session with all the product and shade names, so that if like me you can't remember everything used, you have a reference to take away.

After we were done, I decided I wanted to buy a few products I'd taken an interest in during the session and Katy put them through the till for me. All of them were totally new to me - the Laura Mercier brow pencil was my first ever purchase from that brand. I also amazed myself by choosing Benefit Erase Paste and Babe Cake. I'm normally so busy trying to avoid the Benefit sales staff's psychotically hard-sell traffic-stopping techniques that I don't even think about buying Benefit products, but having seen them in action thanks to Katy, I have made two exciting discoveries.

The session is extremely thorough, and although I had a pre-existing connection with Katy I found her to be superbly professional as well as friendly. She's someone who is passionate about her work and obviously enjoys what she does, which goes a long way towards putting the client at ease. She's down-to-earth, very intelligent and clearly an independent thinker, making products work for her rather than following brand guidelines. She's very much a master of her craft, which inspires great confidence. The absence of any pressure to buy also totally changes the timbre of the interaction - Katy's there to provide a service, not sell a product, which for me is priceless and extremely rare in a retail/beauty hall setting. I can't imagine sitting in a room with a commissioned counter assistant for two hours without running out screaming; but with Katy, the two hours pass enjoyably and easily.

Katy Messer's makeup service is available at Fenwick's, Brent Cross. The 2 hour session costs £50, which is fully redeemable against products from the store. To book, call 020 8202 8200 and ask for extension 2372. There's a bit more info here - (scroll down).

Verdict - if you live in London and want to treat yourself to expert advice along with your makeup purchases, this service is highly recommended, and well worth the journey to Brent Cross.


  1. Sounds like a great experience, I'd be extremely interested to go for it too! Let me find a job first though ;) Joys of being a recent graduate...

    I love Katy's blog as well, excellent writing and great tips. Glad to hear she's got her own service now :)

  2. fab post, I really want to go and see Katy! She is also on my Twitter too and she really is a lovely, friendly funny lady!


  3. I'll be blunt but to the point. Good lord you look good.


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