Look east for beauty

A make-up artist develops years of experience, a celebrity client list and then goes on to start a make-up line.

This may sound like an all too familiar trajectory; a route taken by François Nars, Kevyn Aucoin, Charlotte Tilbury, Pati Dubroff and Troy Surratt.

But as predictable as it all sounds, Surratt, 44, who has worked with the Kardashian sisters, Charlize Theron, Janet Jackson, Mindy Kaling and LeAnne Rimes, is all for giving women something unexpected.

"In the beauty market place, there tends to be a 'me too' mentality. When someone comes up with a product, everyone else responds to it rather than working to create unique products.

"I'd rather offer women a solution that she didn't know that she needed," says Surratt, who was supposed to be in Berlin with actress Uma Thurman, but chose to be in Singapore for the brand's launch two weeks ago.

His make-up line, Surratt, is in the Beautique area of Takashimaya Department Store. Located at Level 3, it is away from the hustle and bustle of the beauty department on the ground floor.

The Japanese-inspired make-up line offers mainly eye make-up, blushers, lip colour and make-up tools. Powders are based on Japanese formulations and the brand's eyelash curler is made in Tokyo.

In the coming years, he plans on adding foundation and skincare products to his brand.

To borrow a term from the Japanese, he says his line has been developed for beauty Otaku's (geeks) like himself, who appreciate high-quality cosmetics.

His mentor, the late Kevyn Aucoin, had worked on a collection of make-up called Inoui that was only available in Japan. This fomented his own obsession with Japanese beauty products, which he says are better in textures.

"I always say that you should buy shoes from Italy, handbags from France, watches from Switzerland, cars from Germany and cosmetics from Asia. There's so much innovation in colour cosmetics from Japan and skincare from South Korea," says Surratt, who also co-founded the cult beauty brand Tarte. He left the brand in 2001.

Taking a leaf in innovation from Japanese brands, the make-up maestro has created products like the Expressioniste Brow Pomade ($39), Smokey Eye Baton ($55) and Autographique eye liner ($55). These products also happen to be among his best-selling products.

"There are brow gels, but I wanted a product that would help to hold the brows in place without that crunchy feel," says Surratt, who showed no signs of jet-lag as he showed off his products excitedly.

The refillable Autographique eyeliner, inspired by Japanese calligraphy, has a nylon brush with a fine tip to create a sharp cat eye. It was a product that he developed while working with singer Adele, who is known for her winged liner look.

As for the Smoky Eye Baton, with a creamy pencil on one end and smudger on the other, it was created to demystify the look by making it easy to achieve with this product alone.

Blush and eyeshadow palettes are customisable, according to what colours women want in it, which he says will encourage women to experiment with colour.

Prices range from $33 for an eyelash curler to $65 for concealer.

The brand has found quick success since launching in the United States last October, exceeding sales projections for the first year. It is available exclusively at Barneys New York in the United States. It is also stocked at Liberty department store in London.

He says other make-up artists have recommended his products in magazines, despite his not sending them any free products.

"The fact that they went out to purchase them feels very rewarding," says Surratt.


With two make-up brands to his name and a life in New York City with his partner, celebrity hairstylist Nathaniel Hawkins, Surratt is clearly not in Kansas any more.

The son of a boilermaker and a housewife grew up on a farm in Herkimer, Kansas, close to the border with Nebraska.

"The most glamorous thing that would happen was when the Avon (door-to-door sales) lady would come to our house and I would get to see all the make-up she had for my mother," he says of his early memories associated with make-up.

At eight, he "got a sign from God" that make-up would be his calling.

"The church in my town burned down and there I was, crumbling bricks and charred wood, pretending that I had my own little make-up factory," he says.

Early in his career, he oscillated between beauty and fashion. His first two jobs was as a visual merchandiser for Gap and the now-defunct The Jones Store Co.

At 19, his window display for the beauty brand Lancome was so well received that the brand's executives gave him a job as a make-up artist. There, he saved up three years' worth of salary to pursue a degree in fashion design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.

Upon graduation, he landed coveted design jobs at DKNY and Randolph Duke, but beauty remained his first love.

"While I was in fashion, I could always feel the make-up pulling me back into beauty when I was backstage at fashion shows and on shoots," says Surratt, who has also worked at Maybelline and professional make-up brand Alcone.

Despite his illustrious career, the most memorable moment for him has nothing to do with his achievements.

"It's being able to be on the side of the stage when my music clients perform. It never fails to give me goosebumps because their gift is so obvious."


This article was first published on Nov 28, 2014.
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