‘I thought my dreams were so out of reach, I contemplated coming home’

Wild Geese: Kate Synnott is an Irish make-up artist working with A-list celebrities in the US

Los Angeles-based make-up artist Kate Synnott: “When you look at the news, you think the US is the worst place in the world but it’s great here.”

Los Angeles-based make-up artist Kate Synnott: “When you look at the news, you think the US is the worst place in the world but it’s great here.”

 

From working with London’s fashion elite to Hollywood’s A-list celebrities, Kate Synnott had her sights set high from the beginning.

The Malahide native kick-started her career in beauty at the age of 17. She got her first job as a make-up artist before finishing school in 2006. “I worked with Paula Callan at Brown Sugar hair and make-up. I’d do make-up in the store three days a week and then spend the rest of the week on fashion shoots, red carpets, doing editorial and weddings,” Synnott says.

After two years, her beauty portfolio was growing but she and her now husband wanted to see the world. “We spent a year in Africa where we climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, then we spent another year in Australia, travelling and working on a farm. It was an amazing experience and gave me the desire for embarking on a life outside Ireland. ”

In 2010, the couple decided to move to London. “In Dublin, I had a great portfolio but when I got to London, I had to start afresh. The style in Ireland was big and bold. Hair and make-up was inspired by the Kardashians. In London, the look was much more pared back.”

Synnott found London a tough city to break into. “There’s so much competition and talent. I remember thinking my dreams were so out of reach, I was contemplating coming home.”

But a job in retail at the Charlotte Tilbury make-up and skincare brand changed her fortunes. “I was asked to be one of Tilbury’s personal assistants. She was just turning her brand into an empire and I was part of it. The shoots we did were high pressure, working with the likes of Mario Testino and Kate Moss. It was the most amazing experience. Everyone was so professional and hard-working.

“You really push yourself. I taught myself to make a mistake once, then learn from it, but don’t make it twice.”

New beginning

When it comes to fashion and film, London is the place to be. “There are always events, shoots and red carpets. It’s a big, busy town.” But after five years building a career there to become national lead artist for the Charlotte Tilbury line, Synnott and her husband decided to start a life in Los Angeles. “It was a difficult decision as it meant starting from the beginning yet again, but my family were very encouraging and wanted us to spread our wings.”

Australian-American actress Nicole Kidman is among Kate Synnott’s clients. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA
Australian-American actress Nicole Kidman is among Kate Synnott’s clients. Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

In 2015, when she first arrived in Los Angeles, Synnott had work lined up with Charlotte Tilbury, but as the capital of celebrity, fame and fortune, her client list soon grew exponentially.

To date it includes Kate Bosworth, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Nicole Kidman, Cara Delevingne, Emma Stone and Ashley Graham, among others. Her work has featured on the covers of Hollywood Reporter, Bella magazine and Vogue UK while she has worked with top designers such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein and Armani, to name but a few.

Synnott works freelance and is on the books with the Wall Group management company, which has offices in New York, Los Angeles, London and Paris.

“There’s not one path to follow to get to that point. You just have to be good at your job and easy to work with and you get clients who will want to hold on to you,” she says. “In a way, my job is easy as the women I put make-up on are incredibly beautiful.”

A working day used to include red-carpet make-up for the Oscars, flying to Cannes for the film festival or to Milan, Paris, New York and London for fashion weeks.

“I do press and lots of red-carpet stuff but it varies. In Cannes, lots of events take place during the day, so you’d have a different look than for night-time events.” Synnott would be in a hotel suite close to the red carpet to ensure her clients’ looks were as fresh as possible.

Covid-19 impact

The start of 2020 was busy, she says, but the beauty industry has suffered the effects of Covid-19 more than most.

“Work stopped in March. Not only did red carpets and fashion shoots end but beauty in general wasn’t on top of people’s agenda. Luckily, I had just had a baby, so I got to spend precious time with my son, which was priceless.”

Model and actress Cara Delevingne is another client of Kate Synnott. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters
Model and actress Cara Delevingne is another client of Kate Synnott. Photograph: Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

Work has picked up, however, and Synnott is now working at about 20 per cent capacity. “By the looks of things, the big events will be taking place behind closed doors in 2021 too, so I’ll have to branch out.”

California has just imposed stricter lockdown restrictions in response to a fresh wave of the coronavirus, but Synnott says it’s bad everywhere.

“When you look at the news, you think the US is the worst place in the world but it’s great here. We have the sea, the mountains and it’s such a big place. Cases are high but there are so many people living here and it really depends on where you are. California is huge.

“On the downside, they just closed outdoor dining here, so I do feel for staff at restaurants. People being out of work for so long here is awful. The queues for food banks are miles long. The effects the lockdowns have on people in various businesses is devastating.”

Synnott gets tested for Covid-19 regularly. “I get tested around two to three times a week. When I come home at Christmas I will get tested here, then get tested when I land with my family in Dublin, then go into quarantine and then get tested again after five days. It’s a lot of hassle but it’s so worth it,” she says.

“Seeing my family again will be amazing. That’s all it’s about really. Christmas in Ireland is special.”

Synnott says no one quite knows what 2021 will bring but things are certain to look up again. “Once we get back to the US there will be new adventures and new opportunities. You just need to be flexible and adapt. I’m positive for the future here.”

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