It’s late February, and we’re swiftly striding down the London streets to swerve the typically English rain. When we enter the studio, Sharon Dowsett, an international freelance Make-up Artist and Beauty Consultant for Chanel, greets us with the poetic duality of a self-proclaimed perfectionist who also believes that there is beauty in imperfection.
Words by Sandy Aziz.
A true Londoner, Dowsett has been consulting with Chanel for almost two decades – though she cares more about lauding the UK and French teams for being “so warm” and humbly leaves out all her own impressive accolades over the years. As she approaches her 59th birthday, she brushes over the subject of retirement by saying that she feels completely “re-energised” in her role and isn’t planning on stopping anytime soon. A refreshing sentiment to hear in our rapidly shifting, and often expendable job environment. “It keeps me out of trouble,” she jests, “and sometimes gets me into trouble, but it’s the good kind of trouble!”
There is a good type of trouble and it includes her memories of her mother showing up to her school “open evenings” wearing bright blue and green make-up. Chuckling, Dowsett remembers, “My teacher complained about me wearing make-up and then looked at my mum and just kind of changed the subject.” In all seriousness, Dowsett’s mother being “glamorous” and wearing “a lot of make-up in the seventies,” did help contribute to her fascination with the craft, but she didn’t step into the world of make-up artistry straight away. Instead, Dowsett studied languages – a subject that is “totally different to make-up,” and she also had various jobs and experiences that helped to shape her perspectives and sharpen her duality. “I couldn’t find a job that I was particularly settled in,” she says as we discuss her office temp jobs. And though Dowsett started working in make-up at 23, her defining moment in her career came when at 30 she got an agent. “That is when you’re proper, when you get an agent,” she says smiling confidently. We all know how it goes – 30 and thriving. And, indeed, continuing to thrive. Dowsett’s current role is to translate the creative studio members’ vision at Chanel – something that’s usually done through internal tutorials, training, or giving advice to the beauty programme. Confirming that she’s involved in the whole process from start to finish she adds, “It really is about conveying everything so it ends up with the customer.”
As expected, Dowsett doesn’t hold back. She is bold with her long, signature silver locks – a lockdown beauty decision – and she elaborates with energy on what beauty means to her. “I like things a little fucked up… disco trash, maybe?” She giggles with mischief and explains. “I don’t like things too constructed or when people try to look like someone else. There is an element of strength in freshness and softness.” A very rejuvenating chord in our sometimes overly cookie-cutter-craving culture. She highlights that when she feels stuck, she religiously refers to a book her parents gave her – Disco Beauty by Sandy Linter. “It is my favourite book ever! It has a face chart on one side and a picture on the other… and mine is falling apart because I use it so much!”
When we talk about the notion of freshness, Dowsett analyses the new (and recurring) challenges that beauty brands are facing. After all, the beauty industry is booming and, with it, demand can be demanding. Not to mention that there is also a surge in corporate social responsibility with an emphasis on sustainability standards – and Dowsett is proud that Chanel has always been met with the highest regard in that space. “The Chanel manifesto is that they don’t standardize, they personalize.” We agree that with how the beauty industry is and where it seems to be heading is from strength to strength as it presents an open dialogue.
From dialogue to discourse, focusing on social media, Dowsett proclaims, “We should really put our phones down a little more often.” Overall, she feels that it is “fantastic” that things are more accessible, including education and opportunities, due to our social media ecosystem. But when playing devil’s advocate, Dowsett thoughtfully points out that sometimes social media means that people aren’t actually attempting to “embrace their true selves… Sometimes it feels a little warped and distorted.” It’s an idea that makes us ponder the diversity of expression for people in how they use and view make-up and beauty in general. For some, it is about self-expression, while Dowsett admits that she uses it mainly to achieve a “better, healthier looking version” of herself. Through that, she also gains a sense of “empowerment and encouragement.”
With that empowering encouragement, we are reminded that her wisdom and energy precede her. Dowsett is truly dynamic in her movements on set and there is a fluidity to her skill. Which then presents us with an opportunity to also talk about debunking make-up myths. Dowsett quickly hones in on the myth, “I can’t wear red lipstick” – something that we have all either said or heard someone say at some point. “I never thought I could wear red lipstick,” explains Dowsett, remembering her own temporary indoctrination, “and now I wear it every day.” It’s another example of her fluidity – an important quality as each assignment demands a different version of her skillset. For example, when Dowsett is doing a campaign, she explains she views herself as a technician. “I pretty much do as I am told because I know there is a very strict brief and there is less of a democracy on creative elements.” For editorials, however, Dowsett claims that being part of a team means you can input more to the particular job. Finally, she outlines that shows are more “last minute” and they demand a meeting of the minds on clothes, hair and make-up. “If the hair is going to be 60 per cent I can’t then be 80 per cent with the make-up,” she laughs, acknowledging it is a little like make-up-by-percentages instead of paint-by-numbers.
Needless to say, Dowsett and her impressive career, especially her hallmark of duality, is a reminder that despite conventional constructs and notions surrounding beauty, embracing our flaws and imperfections is far more rewarding.
You can find Sharon Dowsett's piece inside the Spring Summer 2023 Issue 10.
Purchase your copy here.