Barbara Alexander knew from the age of 14 that she wanted to do make-up. Her fledgling passion turned into a career when she began doing faces for film and television shows, but her sights would soon be set on the most glamorous side of the industry – fashion. Starting off with a designer’s lookbook, Barbara began working with gorgeous faces and fun personalities, and decided it was the life for her. After achieving a certain artistic status in Canada, she packed up for Europe and lived and worked there for the next six years. Runway, print advertising and editorial for some of the business’ biggest stars were all on her path; “I did commercials in Rome, I did Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Grazia…campaigns for Moschino, Trussardi…an insane amount of work!”
It’s obvious that this kind of career is that of dreams – so how did Barbara make it her reality? “Preparation,” she says. “(And) I threw out my first book from Toronto when I moved, and started over!” Her ability to adapt a new book to appeal to a European client’s eye lead to meetings with agencies, which then lead her to connect with photographers who were shooting the hottest campaigns and editorials. Speaking of those days, Barbara says that she “got everything I wanted from life. The people, the traveling. My happiest time was living out of a suitcase, working – free as a bird. There was no responsibility, just focusing on the work.”
Along with making up some of the world’s most famous faces – Naomi Campbell, Isabella Rosselini – and spending countless hours on photo shoots, commercial sets and backstage at runway shows, Barb is also the co-founder of Cargo cosmetics; it was this position that lead her to Complections. “Part of what I did at Cargo was the hiring and training for new employees, many of whom came from Complections.” After leaving the company and spending some time traveling, Barbara channeled her interest in the training and educational aspect of make-up into a position as a Fashion instructor at the school; her experience, credentials and knowledge of fashion’s history help students form the foundational knowledge of what it means to be a make-up artist. Her hard work paid off once again in the form of a CNOMA (the Canadian Organization of Makeup Award) for Lifetime Achievement in 1996.
Now with a class of impressionable artists in front of her daily, Barbara has strong advice for her current, past and future students: “You are your own business. Learning to promote and develop your craft, but also merchandising and marketing yourself is so important.” Perseverance is also a key quality in a successful make-up artist, and she recommends fostering a love of fashion too – “Now, everyone knows celebrities. They don’t know as much about fashion.” Barbara also spoke of the need for passion in an artist, saying that it is “as important as the practical skills one would learn,” and her own passion undoubtedly inspires every student she teaches. With a career full of supermodels, international travel and glamourous clients, who wouldn’t want to follow in her footsteps!