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Originally from London, England, new CMU faculty member Nilofar Mussa’s journey as an artist has taken a diverse path. From her time at internationally renowned makeup brand Illamasqua – where she worked her way up to become its Head of Artistry – to magazine work, music videos and commercial opportunities, Nilofar’s determination and a life-long love of makeup has guided her through a very bright career so far. Learn more about Nilofar’s journey as a makeup artist, and what brought her to teach at CMU.

When did you first become interested in doing makeup? What were your first inspirations?

I’ve been fascinated with makeup and the art of transformation ever since I can remember. I have early memories of being around six or seven-years-old and watching films and TV shows I probably shouldn’t have been watching, like Nightmare on Elm Street or Spitting Image and Red Dwarf. I remember being completely obsessed with the faces I was seeing and how unusual and fascinating they were to look at – I was mesmerized and terrified and couldn’t get those images out of my head, but couldn’t stop watching.

Music and art also play a huge part in my love of makeup. I was a bit of a goth in my teenage years and experimented with a lot of different looks! My love of music still influences my artistry to this day and my style is quite expressive. 

I studied graphic design initially, and that was how I began to learn a visual language. Through graphic design, I learned about shape and form, and how to structure an image. I soon realized that the parameters of graphic design were too restricted for me and that I wanted to pursue a more creative direction. I then went on to study special effects. Alongside my study, I got a part-time weekend job working at M.A.C. It was at this time that I began to sharpen my beauty skills and learn the fundamentals of beauty and makeup – eye shape, skin tone, correction, etc. 

What’s your educational background/experience in the industry? 

I’ve been in the industry for 11 years now. Apart from my SFX degree, I have no formal education in makeup – I’m completely self-taught. I’ve been hugely lucky and have worked with some incredibly talented makeup artists all over the world from whom I’ve learned a huge amount. I spent eight years of my career with the British beauty brand, Illamasqua. I started as a retail artist, and over the years worked my way up to senior educator and eventually Head of Artistry for the brand. As Head of Artistry, I led artistry for brand campaigns, hosted global masterclasses, collaborated on new product development, and devised training and education strategies to bring the brand’s vision to life. I also managed the Illamasqua School of Make-Up Art, where I wrote and delivered courses to beginners and professionals. 

Nilofar Mussa’s beautiful woman with brown skin and curly hair

What has changed over the course of your career in terms of beauty trends and the industry in general?

The biggest change I’ve seen in the industry has come from technology and social media. When I first started as a makeup artist, social media platforms did exist but on a more passive/secondary scale. Makeup and beauty trends were inspired by celebrity, fashion, and music, and you would look to professional makeup artists for personalized techniques and advice. 

As social media became more accessible, a handful of these professional artists began producing short videos detailing how to achieve professional results at home. Fast-forward to now, and social media has become such a powerful business and marketing tool, with almost all of us using these platforms to look to others to learn new skills for free in our own time, and from the comfort of our own homes. The result of this is that the average beauty enthusiast is now fully equipped with advanced, technical knowledge on how to apply makeup that most of us wouldn’t have had only a few years ago. Most 10-year-olds now will grow up with a makeup brush in hand and a strong understanding of their facial structure and features. 

I think the evolution of technology and its effect on the industry are really exciting, but we’re now seeing a very homogenized style of makeup. Our smartphones allow us to look up anything within a matter of seconds, but it can often be a shallow pool that we draw inspiration from when it comes to technology and the internet. With social media influencing globalization, it’s now more important than ever to look beyond Instagram and Pinterest to seek out authenticity and draw inspiration. The positive side is that makeup and artistry have been given a huge platform, and generally, we are more confident to experiment with bolder looks. 

Do you have a favourite type of work? Why is it your favourite?

Editorial and runway is where my heart is. I love the collaboration in an editorial and working with other artists to create a visual story. There’s more creative freedom and an opportunity to try something you wouldn’t get the chance to try otherwise. I also love the runway because it’s so transient and temporary. You spend all this time designing the final looks, and those three hours backstage are totally chaotic and frantic. Then the models walk out and 15 minutes later the show is over. It’s so exciting! 

Being a huge music lover, I also love working on music videos. Music has always influenced my makeup style, so I love collaborating with artists and bands to marry sound and imagery. 

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned while working with/for a client?

To listen to the client and fully understand the brief. Whether it’s a bride, a fashion designer or a celebrity, it’s your job to collaborate with them to bring their vision to life; and to also understand how to adapt a makeup to complement any face shape or skin tone. And also, you can never be too prepared!

What’s the most memorable job you’ve done to date?

There have been so many! But the most memorable job was creating the Dark Magiq beauty campaign for Illamasqua (pictured at top of article.) I worked alongside an incredibly talented team to develop the concept of the campaign through to the makeup, set designs and the final brand imagery. To this day, it was one of the best teams I have ever worked with – every single one of them is so talented and inspirational, and we all pulled together to create something really special. To walk into a store and see your work displayed on the walls and in the windows is amazing! 

Nilofar Mussa’s woman in red with claws in a bubble bath

What’s the most important quality a makeup artist should have?

Applying makeup is actually only a very small fraction of the job. The qualities that determine your success in the industry are adaptability, problem-solving, professionalism and time management. If you turn up to a job fully prepared, with a great attitude and are able to bring positive energy to the team all whilst delivering the brief, that is what will get you noticed and rebooked. You can be the most technically skilled artist in the world, but if your attitude is negative very few people will want to work with you. I go into each and every job as a problem solver, and it’s my job to find the perfect solution for each client to be able to fulfill the brief as best I can.  

“Editorial and runway is where my heart is. I love the collaboration in an editorial and working with other artists to create a visual story. There’s more creative freedom and an opportunity to try something you wouldn’t get the chance to try otherwise.”