Nikki Wolff the creative force behind Nikki Makeup
How long is too long to spend on your morning makeup? 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes? Whatever you just said, triple that and that’s how long it took me this morning.
Like a Peterburgian craftsman working on a Faberge egg, I applied layer after layer of product to my face. On went the illuminating base, two shades of foundation, cheekbones were gilded with Fenty Killawatt and great pains were taken to highlight my temples in a homage to today’s beauty boss extraordinaire – Nikki Wolff.
Did she notice? Who knows. But I owed her respect and my painted mug would have to do.
Nikki is the UK’s top makeup artist and the original makeup vlogger. Her Instagram, nikki_makeup is a mecca of creativity and inspiration.
In many ways she is an icon for female empowerment. Although, the century-old preoccupation with female beauty is seen as retrograde by contemporary feminist society, the premise is flawed – and arguably in itself outdated. Nikki is a purveyor of confidence – making women beautiful and sexy, through the prism of how they want to look.
Empowerment and confidence are symbiotic. And although looks are not a determinant of worth – a woman who feels beautiful and strong is in no way inferior to one who feels empowered independent of her appearance.
Like every artist, Nikki has her own distinctive signature. Although professionally trained and incredibly versatile, the looks she’s known for are; natural dewy skin (almost glass like), the unmistakable Nikki “boy brow” and the feature eye.
Her work is an antidote to the overstated beauty trends of late – a welcome departure from the harsh contours, matte lips and overdone brows of people like Huda and Mario (my words, not hers).
We meet at the Art’s Club for cocktails and cake. She arrives fresh from a shoot in Mayfair (it’s a Sunday). She’s been working all day, but still manages to look glowing and chirpy. Nothing about her betrays her insane schedule or the fact that she’s been working non-stop this weekend, including a trip to Cyprus.
Close-up she looks exactly like she does on her Instavideos. She isn’t wearing much makeup and her skin is a poreless affair. Warm olive with a smattering of freckles. Her eyes are large and gazelle like, framed by long lashes and brows which have to be seen to be believed. She is completely English – but let’s just say that if Nikki Wolff was ever to rob a bank, her e-fit would place Princess Jasmine in the slammer.
She greets me with such warmth and friendliness that it’s like running into an old friend. In classic chicken and egg territory, it makes me wonder whether her effortless natural charm is the reason behind her success as a makeup artist, or whether working with skin, faces and beauty has simply made her a people person.
My first question – how on earth does she get her eyebrows like that? They are impossibly lustrous and impeccably groomed with each hair perfectly defined – does she use Latisse? “No – they are just naturally like that. In the 90s I had pencil thin brows, but luckily they grew back”, she laughs. “And the soap helps – it really holds the shape.”
Nikki_Makeup: where it all began…
We get our orders out of the way. A Colada for Nikki, an Aperol Spritz for me, with a pancake, apple crumble and banoffee pie chaser (no, seriously).
Nikki started in the industry 14 years ago.“Straight out of school I went to the London College of Fashion and did a two year hair and makeup course. It doesn’t teach you as much as you think it should. I was desperate to do makeup. But on the course it was just an hour of makeup a week, as well as things like the science of skin and hair styling. The main thing was that it gave me a professional qualification on which to build my experience.”
Her first job on graduation was working with a photographer she met on the course. “It was an evening gig doing editorial and very creative looks” she tells me. “As a young makeup artist I loved experimenting with colour and eyelashes – doing the unexpected”.
This first job was followed by three years at MAC Cosmetics, where Nikki was part of the events team. “I worked the TV awards and fashion around Europe. Until 11 years ago I decided to go fully freelance. I was still in my twenties, living with my mum and doing all the jobs I could.”
How Did Nikki Makeup hit the Big-Time?
Today Nikki has over 320,000 Instagram followers. Her clients are celebrities, models and VIPs. She’s friends with Alessandra Steinherr – skincare guru and beauty editor of Glamour (we review Alex Steinherr’s Primark range here). The two are often seen collaborating on Insta-stories, trying looks and goofing around.
To add to her achievements, in an industry saturated with wannabe influencers and beauty vloggers, Nikki is the real deal – working with some of the biggest and most influential beauty brands on the market; MAC, Lancome, Estee Lauder, the list goes on. She has single-handedly launched products (ahem, Soapbrows) and has popularised entire ways of doing makeup. Just how did she do it?
“I think the whole evolution of makeup over the past few years can really be credited to the makeup artists behind it. There was a point when being a makeup artist was not a respected career. When I started 15 years ago, people didn’t understand what a makeup artist did. ‘Oh, so does that mean you work in Boots or just do photoshoots?’ they would ask… Now it’s a respected profession. A makeup artist can make a shoot, a celebrity or a face.”
“To begin with I was never a social media person, but Instagram helped get my name out there. One day I was working with a model who said to me that ‘You’re doing the work anyway, just snap it and post it on Insta with a few hashtags’… I remember my first post, which was actually of that same model. It got 10 likes and I remember thinking, wow this is AMAZING – 10 people who I’ve never met have just liked my work!”
It was a different time when she started on Insta. “Back then people felt more free to follow” she says. “My followers picked up quite quickly. I was at about 500 followers after 6 months. And one morning I just woke up and had notification after notification. It was just non-stop and overnight my followers went from 500 to 5000. To this day, I don’t know who it was, but someone with a million or so followers had shared my work and my Insta account just exploded overnight.”
Who was her first celebrity client? “One of my first ever celebrity clients was the one my mum was most excited about” she says. “It was Tom Jones. I could probably shoot the cover of Vogue and my mum wouldn’t be fussed, but Tom Jones and she was ecstatic”.
“Was he a bit of an old lecher” I ask? “No! He was just so lovely and obviously VERY charming”, she responds, ever the discrete professional.
Nikki on Makeup Trends
Where does Nikki think makeup is going – surely, the whole sculpted, Ru Paul look is finally out?
“Things are definitely making a shift” she responds. “In recent years there’s been a desire for very prominent makeup, with the very sculpted super-sharp brows and the whole Instagram face, which crosses over into real life with people walking around with stripes of highlighter and crazy contour”
“But now I am seeing much more of a desire for people to look natural”, says Nikki. She tells me that even in the Middle East, where she does a lot of freelance work and high-end wedding makeup, the trend for that mask-like face is over.
“They want their skin to look fresh and natural – as if you’ve stepped out of a spa rather than a makeup artist’s studio”.
Nikki’s Hero Products and Skincare Secrets
Now’s the perfect time for the question that I’ve been bursting to ask since we met. I want to know Nikki’s skincare philosophy – her own skin is beautiful – how does she get it that way?
“I get sent so many products to try, so almost inevitably, I change my skincare a lot. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing” she tells me candidly. “Changing your products too frequently can result in an over sensitive complexion. Ideally, you should stay on a regime for about three months to get the most benefit”
What are her hero products that she would replenish, even if she weren’t sent them?
“There is an Obagi vitamin C serum which I use (Obagi Professional-C Serum 15%). It’s very strong, but superb for pigmentation. It’s best used during the winter months to help fade any marks, but avoid the sun at all costs. They tell you to use it in the morning, but actually I think it’s better at night.”
“I am also a big fan of Creme de la Mer, which is in my makeup kit. It retains a level of moisture and also gives you an instant plump. Skincare is so personal though, some of my clients love all natural products. Personally, I like to introduce a bit of science into things.”
“Speaking of science, there’s also this brand called Beauty BioScience. They have some nice products which aren’t too invasive. At the moment I’m using this scrub with an activating gel which goes over the top.”
I ask Nikki if she can tell when people take care of their skin. “You can definitely tell when people invest time in their skin. From a distance you might not immediately see it, but up close, you can really tell from the texture”
What does she think of acids and the controversy over their long term effects?
“Hyaluronic acid is an essential to have in skincare. A lot of people rave about retinol but I am not a big fan. It’s got its place and can make skin look amazing, but it’s also very harsh. Dermatologists will often prescribe you a course to use every day until the top layer of skin peels off revealing a fresh layer underneath. Yes, that new layer is a beautiful texture, but it’s also red, sensitive, thinner, and more susceptible to sun damage”
Who is her dermatologist? She must have been to quite a few, given that it’s her business.
“Dr Tatiana Lapa. I go to her for medical facials and send all my clients her way. She’s one of two dermatologists who I’ve met in my time in the industry who I think are very good.”
Nikki Talks Makeup
I would love to grill Nikki on the “best in show” of every product in its category. But let’s face it, that would result in a lot more hours and a very large drinks tab. So I stick to just the few essentials.
I tell her that I recently bought the Charlotte Tilbury eyeshadow palette and was quite disappointed with the quality. They really lacked pigment and were just a bit lacklustre (although the packaging kind of made up for it). “If you want a great eyeshadow, I’d try Natasha Denona eyeshadows”, Nikki tells me. “She’s an Israeli makeup artist who creates these amazing highly pigmented eyeshadows. The story goes that the factory she first approached said they couldn’t make something so highly pigmented – but she did it in the end and the product is amazing. I think you can get them in Selfridges”
So what does Britain’s hottest makeup artist think about the future- and more importantly, whose makeup would she love to do?
“I would love to do Rosie Huntington Whiteley’s face. She’s just so beautiful. But it hasn’t happened yet as she lives in LA. Then there’s Irina Shayk, who I was actually booked on a shoot with, which didn’t go ahead. Such such a shame, because she is the epitome of sexiness.”
And how about long-term career goals?
“I always want to work”, says Nikki. “There’s definitely something exciting on the horizon which will change the way I work”.
I wonder whether she’s referring to the product she mentioned earlier. When I asked Nikki if there was a product she wishes existed but doesn’t she replied…
“There’s one particular thing I’ve been making myself for years and it’s in every makeup look that I do. It’s to do with skin and glow. Everyone I’ve used it on has said ‘What is that? Where can I buy it?’ So that’s what I’m working on at the moment.”
For all our sakes, I hope she releases it. And soon. Because if her prodigious talent for making women look beautiful is anything to go by, it’s gonna be a cracker.