From Aberdeen, Mississippi to Hollywood and beyond. Billy Brasfield, better known as Billy B. to the makeup industry has taken the world by storm. With a sly wit and sheer determination, he has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become one of todays most sought after makeup artists. It all started in a little town in Mississippi, a small town boy with big town dreams. Billy has said that all he wanted to do was get out – and get out he did. Smack dab into the center of it all New York City. He was originally enrolled in The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but that’s not where his heart was. He has said it was only a way to get to New York. Eventually, he landed a job working behind a cosmetics counter at Macy’s and discovered he had a hidden talent, makeup artistry. He fine tuned his skills and started freelancing. The rest as they say is history.
Billy has worked with oodles of celebrities such as Lauryn Hill, Pink, Sharon Stone, Beyonce, and Missy Elliott just to name a few. His work has appeared in countless music videos, and in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Vibe Vixen, Essence and Lucky. Billy now has a book deal, a reality TV show in the works and a burgeoning line of makeup tools. He always maintains that he has been blessed to be doing what he is doing and the one thing that everyone says about him is that he is down to earth and a southern charmer. I spoke with Billy recently and found all of the above to be more than true…
Lianne: When you first came to New York, you worked at Macy’s behind a cosmetics counter. Once you discovered your “hidden talent” what was it that drew you to hone your craft and forge ahead beyond the counter?
I do not consider myself a “book smart” person. I struggled as a student in school because of dyslexia, which at the time, I didn’t know I had, so I had been told my entire life that I was stupid and lazy and was choosing not to apply myself. What I realize now is that I was incapable of applying myself in school because of this challenge. So when the opportunity of being a makeup artist was in front of me, I took it and because of my desire to make something out of myself I pursued it with all the passion I had.
Lianne: I have read that the late Kevyn Aucoin was one of your inspirations early in your career, did you ever get a chance to work with him?
Sadly, I never had the pleasure of meeting Kevyn in person, but without knowing him, he gave me one of the greatest personal and professional gifts I’ve ever received. He thanked me along with other makeup artists in his book Making Faces. In his dedication page, he thanked “the makeup artists past and present who have taught and inspired me”; and in the list was my name. I had no idea that Kevyn even knew who I was. It is still, to this day, one of the most validating things that has ever happened to me. I wrote Kevyn a letter of thanks along with a bouquet of his favorite flowers and he responded with a thank you note to my thank you note, which to this day is framed in my home and one of my most prized possessions.
You have said, “Clients trust me to transform their face when necessary but they also understand that I have the wisdom to know when NOT to…”, that is such a fantastic statement because being a makeup artist and former model, I always hear of horror stories and I have been on the receiving end of some pretty bad makeup jobs. How do you decide when to transform and when not to??
That’s a great question and difficult to answer. Part of being a great makeup artist is judgment, and judgment has many factors. I try to weigh all the factors in making my decision and just pray it works.
If a woman is not used to wearing makeup, but they want to have a nice natural look – what items do you suggest they use?
Number one, start with great skin. Obviously the least amount of makeup for the greatest amount of effect is the goal. I think the rest depends on what God gave them and what’s left for us to do. I like to use as little foundation as possible and prefer a silicone-based liquid foundation. Sheer, colorless, translucent powder, a soft blush with sheen to reflect light and give the illusion of dewiness, a nude lip with a touch of clear gloss (again, to reflect light), a great eyelash curler for the lash followed by mascara.
What tricks do you have for African American women and foundation? There are so few really good shade matches out there because we come in all colors and tones from light to dark and yellow to blue.
Unfortunately, there are no tricks when it comes to foundation for women of color because you are exactly right—you come in all colors and tones. You really have to shop for the perfect foundation for your skin tone. As a makeup artist, luckily cosmetic companies have gotten wise to expanding their shades for women of color. My best advice or tip when shopping is to apply the foundation on several areas, like forehead, cheek, chin and neck. Step outside into natural light and choose the shade closest to all of those areas. In some cases, it means more than one shade.
Lianne: You have worked with some amazing African American celebrities, most notably Lauryn Hill, Tyra Banks, Beyonce, and Mary J. Blige just to name a few a number of times. Who was the first one that said, “Oh yes honey…get me Billy B.”
LOL, luckily I guess all of them did at some point, maybe not at first—who knows? I am blessed that all of those mentioned have asked me back over and over again. They’re all amazing women.
Lianne: One thing that I admire about the looks that you create is how it looks so clean even when it is a decidedly “made up” look, what gives? How do you do it??
If I had to give one answer, it is blend, blend, blend and blend again.
Lianne: Let’s talk a little about how you are single handedly trying to re-furbish your hometown of Aberdeen, Mississippi. I know that this project is very close to your heart and I so admire you for taking it on. What do you ultimately plan to do with the houses that you restore??
That’s a great question and I wish I had the answer. Sadly, the same people there that can’t afford these homes in the first place certainly can’t afford them after I have restored them. The most important thing to me is that the houses are saved and I will worry about the rest later. I’m not a very good businessperson, that’s why I’m a makeup artist. LOL
Lianne: Do you think your artistic eye has helped in your restoration projects??
Absolutely. The transformation process fascinates me whether it be transforming a face or transforming a house. That is what my pending reality television show for Bravo, The Beauty Foundation, is all about. It will contrast my life as a makeup artist in New York and Hollywood with my life saving these houses in Mississippi.
Lianne: When you are working on a photo shoot or a video how do you decide which way to go with the look – for example Lauryn Hill’s “X-Factor” looked so amazing…her skin had this blue tint but it glowed like she was lit from within. Was that something that the director came up with as far as lighting and you just rolled with it?
I love working on music videos and have had the pleasure of working with the most amazing directors out there. It is truly collaboration. Malik Sayeed directed that video and is brilliant. I certainly cannot take all the credit there, but to this day, it is one of the videos I am most proud of. The overall look was achieved with both makeup and light; part of being a great makeup artist is listening to the director and understanding the light. I got lucky and it worked.
Lianne: Do you like to listen to music when you work??
I do, but it’s not always my choice of music. To be honest, sometimes I find it hard to concentrate, but it’s not about me, so I get over it and do the best I can.
Lianne: Let’s talk brushes! You launched your own line of makeup brushes called Billy B. Beauty Paintbrushes. Brushes are such an important tool …but they tend to be expensive. That being said, when you decided to launch your own brand the set was reasonably priced at $249 when you consider you are getting 13 well made brushes. Was that one of the main factors for you going in – did you see a void in the marketplace for an affordable set?
Absolutely. I’m just a poor boy from Mississippi and haven’t forgotten where I’m from. I remember what it was like struggling as a new makeup artist. I wanted the brushes to be accessible to everyone no matter their success level. I appreciate you noticing.
Lianne: If you can’t afford the full set, which brushes would you recommend?
That’s hard, almost like picking your favorite child, but my two favorite brushes are numbers 13 and 12. (keep that under your hat; I don’t want the other brushes to find out!)
Lianne: What else can we expect from Billy B. Beauty? Is there a book in the works
Yes, I’m excited to say that I have a book deal with Palace Press (the company that put out Kevyn Aucoin’s book). It is a dream come true for me and I couldn’t be happier. I have some great ideas that I look forward to sharing with the world.
Lianne: Would you consider having your own makeup line?
I never thought that it was something I’d ever be interested in, but I try to be awake and acknowledge opportunities presented to me. It was never a dream of mine, but never say never.
Lianne: I missed you at TheMakeupShow this past spring, but at the Powder Group’s American Beauty Tour, you are a speaker and you are teaching. How did this come about?
I’ve known Michael Davellis of the Powder Group for years and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. I am honored to be a part of whatever he’s involved with; he asked and I said yes.
Lianne: Teaching seems like it would be big fun, what is the thing you enjoy the most about it?
Meeting other makeup artists. When I work, I never have the opportunity to meet makeup artists. Teaching has given me that opportunity and I’ve learned from that. I love it!
Lianne: You are blowing up all over the place Mr. B! As you mentioned earlier, Bravo has greenlighted a documentary called The Beauty Foundation starring YOU. How did this come about??
I was working on a shoot with an editor/writer on a job (Isabel Gonzales). I mentioned what I was doing in Mississippi and a couple of months later, she asked to write about my story for the New York Times. It ended up on the front page of the Home & Garden section and producers from World of Wonder productions contacted me; the rest is history.
Lianne: The documentary is focusing on you going back and forth from the glam life of a Hollywood makeup artist to your restoration project in Aberdeen. Have you always been able to make that transition between the two seamlessly?
Yep, you can take the boy out of Mississippi, but you can’t take the Mississippi out of the boy. I will never forget where I came from.
Lianne: Last question, when are you going to do MY makeup??
Name the time and the place, sugar; it would be my pleasure if you don’t talk back.
To Learn more about Billy B. please log-on to www.billybbeauty.com
Meet Our Guest Contributor: Lianne Farbes, www.themakeupgirl.typepad.com
Lianne Farbes is a professional makeup artist and writes TheMakeupGirl Blog, a no nonsense beauty blog and product review site. Her lively writing style makes you feel like you are a friend over for a sleepover and her extensive knowledge of makeup and skincare make the reviews and advice invaluable.