Born and raised in Japan Eli Wakamatsu is an extremely well respected fashion and beauty makeup artist and Japanese beauty brand consultant. Eli, who has lived and worked in Paris, New York and Milan, has been based in London since the 1980s and has worked with some of the biggest high fashion brands in the world, along with world renowned photographers including Mario Testino, David LaChapelle and David Bailey. Eli has headed makeup teams for numerous catwalk Fashion Shows including Fendi, Gucci, Jean Charles de Castelbajac and Clements Ribeiro. Her celebrity clients include Alexa Chung, Keira Knightley, Helena Christensen and Gwen Stefani and her commercial brand CV is a long list of high-end luxury labels and well known commercial brands such as Prada, Joseph, Whistles, Paul Smith and Firetrap. Over the years her work has been published in all the major glossies and fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, i-D, Face, Elle, Arena, Allure and Marie Claire. Eli sat down with me to tell her fascinating story and, of course, share some of her wonderful tips and kit must haves.

A snapshot of a 20+ year fashion and beauty career

MANW: How did you start your career and what was the progression it took?
EW: A few years after I arrived in the UK from Japan, back in 80's, I visited Z agency with my portfolio and asked If I could join them, speaking only my pigeon English! Back then Z agency was the epicentre of London's fashion and trendy, new ideas. They represented young talent such as models, actors, stylists, hair and makeup artists, photographers and film makers in all areas of both art and commerce. I had noticed their credits on all the fashion magazines I loved, such as ID and Blits and I boldly decided to go see the owner, Ziggi Golding, with a self-built portfolio of a few black & white photos where I had done the casting, styling, hair and makeup and editing, basically everything to produce a story apart from taking the picture and printing it. To my complete surprise she gave me my very first chance and took me on. I started doing 'test' shoots to build my portfolio and I began working as a fashion and beauty makeup artist.

I worked for early iD magazine, Blits and I assisted Mary Greenwell at London Fashion Week who was also then represented by Z. During the 90's I carried on working with young and talented photographers such as Eddie Monsoon, Enrique Badulescu, Norbert Schober and Sean Ellis for the fashion magazines; ID, Face and Dazed and Confused, as well as newspaper fashion supplements. I also worked with the big music artists at the time; Eternal,Texas, All Saints and Mary J Blige, doing music videos or other appearances in and out of the UK. Work steadily progressed to the international campaign for Prada and Fendi, editorials for US and French Vogue followed, then catwalk shows in Milan, Paris and London throughout  the 90's into 2000's. I have been represented by the Emma Davies Agency since 2009 and since the birth of my son in 1995 I have had the privilege of being a working mum and making it work! My consulting work for London's BeautyMART, as their Japanese maven to introduce new brands from Japan to the UK and vice versa, came from my duel culture background. 

MANW: It's hard enough to break into the industry, was it very hard coming from Japan and finding work?
EW: I believe a handicap is only a handicap if you see it that way. Of course there was a cultural and language barrier which took me some time to grasp but, looking back on my career, my own uniqueness worked as nothing but an advantage and kept on giving me opportunities with each step I took.. I am deeply grateful to the tolerance and open minds of the creative world! Besides, as soon as you start to work internationally you find yourself working with teams from all over the world so I was no longer an 'outsider'.

MANW: You mainly do fashion and beauty makeup, were you ever tempted to work in TV or film or do any special effects makeup?
EW: I've done commercials, music videos and many shows with music artists, actresses and personalities for TV appearances but I haven't worked on a full-length feature film, I enjoy working on both big productions as well as intimate editorial shoots. My special effects makeup is totally self-taught which I've used on fashion shoots in the past and I have worked along side special effects teams which was very exciting. So far I mainly work in the fashion and beauty world but I never say never, who knows what is on offer next! 

MANW: Which do you prefer doing; editorial shoots, celebrities or fashion shows and why?
EW: I design and apply make up on all, so there isn't preference for me. Makeup always has its purpose, whether for editorial or commercial, appearance or cover shoot and it is always about team work and communication within the team. I feel that the element of team work is the most important part to achieve the best result.
I have always done a fair amount of location shoots in all sorts of extreme conditions like the African Savannah, South American deserts, in the icy Arctic or Urban Asia..extreme heat and cold! I guess I travel well because I enjoy it so I get to booked to do a lot of location shootings. Through this was not the case at all when I was starting off, I worked closely with photographers who worked solely in a studio, so even if I would fly all the way to America or another continent I would go straight to the studio from the airport.

MANW: You have had a very successful career with your work published in all the major glossies and numerous high profile campaigns.  Can you tell us about some of the stand out moments of your career? 
EW: I can tell you about some of the moments I got excited in my career which were largely when I had a lot of freedom to produce stories, sometimes it wasn't just for the makeup but for the overall process of making the story. These include my first editorial cover for ID magazine with model Rachel Wise in 1987 and a fashion story for The Face magazine in 1996 when I met  Alexander McQueen and Julien McDonald for the first time. My first US Vogue shoot with Stella Tennant in 1998 was very exciting, as was my Prada Campaign in 1988/89.  The Fendi campaign and catwalk show with Karl Largerfeld Spring 2000 was a big moment for me as was Italian Marie Claire in 2005, this was shot in the dark after sunset over San Pedro de Atacama, Chile which was one of the most memorable locations I have ever been. Marie Claire UK 'Orient Express' story in 2012 was also very special, we shot this story while travelling on the Orient Express train between Thailand to Malaysia for 3 days. I can still feel the shake of the train and Asia's humid air blowing through the open windows. And finally I am always most excited by my latest work! which is my New Empire Lines story in the April 2013 issue of Marie Claire UK.

MANW: You've been in the industry a long time, how do you think it has differed and what advice would you give to new artists starting out?
EW: Oh I think starting out is EASY compared to staying! You just do what you can, doing make up and anything related with it, just keep going. It might be to your advantage if you can do hair as well so that you are available for more jobs. The challenge is how you sustain your passion and enthusiasm in the industry. Within my career technology in both makeup and photography has changed so much, plus the way information is shared is totally different now so inevitably our outlet is more diverse and naturally there is more to do. With the current economy there seems to be more to do with less time, which means less time for the 'fun' part of work! 

I always preferred to work with a young assistant without much makeup training but very much a fashion enthusiast or film and art lover as I found it easier to communicate ideas. Anyone can master the technique, it's really not that hard, but it's much harder to develop creativity and intuition. 
When I started designing catwalk shows I needed to have my first assistant with a minimum height of 5'10. Due to my 5ft height I could not reach the models to do last minute touch ups once they were dressed with heels on!

MANW: All artists have 'the wish list'; a face they would love to work on. My current one is Jennifer Lawrence, she manages to have that Hollywood glamour while still being so young and beautiful. Who's on yours?
EW: I honestly can't think of one. I recently worked with Kelly Brook for the cover of Easy Living magazine and she was a joy to work with. We gave her a very pure and no make up look and she was so beautiful with it.

MANW: On to the good stuff, what are your tricks for flawless looking skin?
EW: Good prep always. First I use a good toner water as this gives plumpness to the skin and then I use Decleor Aroma Essence Oil, first by inhaling the aroma in your palms to relax and then releasing facial muscle tension with a light facial massage. This helps to uplift the face, it increases blood circulation to the face which gives a healthy glow. If the model needs it I will use a face mask while she's getting her hair done. A lot of the models I work with will have flown in to the shoot from abroad and will be dehydrated and suffering from the time difference. When their skin needs lots of TLC I use Shiseido Benefiance Pure Retinol Intensive Revitalizing face masks.

MANW: What are your top 5 holy grail kit products? 
EW: Shu Uemura Deep Sea water spray and Cleansing Oil, Decleor Aromessences, Dr Hauschika Lip balm, Sisley Eye Contour Mask which reduces fine lines and puffiness and Sisley Fluid Body sun cream SPF 30 (I love it so much that I use this whenever body needs slight sheen on a shoot). I also love Le Sourcil De Chanel eye brow kit, Dior eye shadow palettes, Bobbie Brown BBU Face Palette, Giorgio Armani Maestro Foundation, Becca Shimmering Skin Perfector and my own hand made lip palette.

MANW: What's your best make-up artist tip to give women?
EW: Good Skincare and use SPF protection from UV rays and other harmful factors.

MANW: Finally, false eyelashes - the longer the better or enough already they look ridiculous? 
EW: I think it is totally depends on what you want to achieve by using it and what you can carry, if you want to be bold go for a false look if not don't go there! There is no in between with these things, you either do it perfectly well and understated so you can't tell it's false or totally wear the false look.

To find out more about Eli you can visit her website, agent or talk to her on twitter.

If you liked this interview and would like to read other leading industry makeup artists stories have a look at the rest of the 'Meet The Artist' series here.

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