In the Raw: The Makeup of HBO’s Girls

I remember watching the terrible soap All My Children with my mom after school and that was the first time I ever noticed TV makeup (and terrible acting). Heavy, lip-lined, glistening, cakey monstrosities. But at the time, I thought those women were goddesses. Husband-murdering, conniving, sexy goddesses. And not much has changed, if you’re watching Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Bachelor(ette), or even the evening news. But then the heavens opened up and gave us Girls. Shit got real. Even if you don’t watch the show, you have to give it praise for its commitment to authenticity: Girls shows sloppy, disappointing sex, bodies that are soft and lumpy and wonderful—bad haircuts abound. Because women in their 20s make a lot of mistakes, from the men they try on, to the tennis shoes with unnecessary wedges, the jobs they think they want, and the credit cards they thought were bulletproof. But we’re here to talk about the makeup. And so we went straight to the source: the show’s lead makeup artist, Patricia Regan, who spoke to ITG about how she crafts each character’s look to match their personality, after-sex mascara, and what every 20-something should stop doing to their beautiful face.

—Marianne Harris

ITG: If makeup is a reflection of your personality, what does each character’s look say about what’s going on inside?

Patricia Regan: The show is raw and sometimes there’s very little makeup. I try to keep Hannah really, really natural for a lot of it, which is slight corrective makeup—which you’re not supposed to see, and I don’t think you do! When she’s kind of bummed and down and out, that’s not a time when Hannah would get dolled up. Hannah likes to wear makeup when she goes to a party or something like that, she’ll decide to throw a little lipstick on.

ITG: And speaking of which, tell me about Jessa’s red lipsticks.

PR: In the episode where she confronts her friend who she thought was dead—Season 3’s “Dead Inside” [5]—it’s Revlon Certainly Red, which is a true red, almost old-fashioned, a 1950s color. The other color that I would have on her is Medieval from Lipstick Queen, which is a real Jessa color. She likes those dark colors. She doesn’t wear a lot of makeup, but she likes to throw on a lipstick here and there; it changes her entire complexion. Lipstick changes [Jemima Kirke’s] whole face—it suddenly looks like it’s much more made-up than it actually is. Some faces do that.

ITG: A lot of women say that wearing red lipstick makes them more confident, powerful even.

PR: I think a red lip transforms most women’s psyche. It’s empowering and you can’t put on a red lipstick and feel shy about it. It makes you stand up and say, ‘Hey, here I am.’ It commands attention.

ITG: Right, and there are some women who will never wear it.

PR: They’re shy; they would feel so self-conscious.

ITG: Marnie seems like one of those women.

PR: [For Marnie], we do very soft, very gentle makeup. She’s so pretty. Initially we put a little more makeup on in the earlier run of the show, but we’ve dialed it back a lot.

ITG: Why the change?

PR: We thought she doesn’t really need it—her character is just natural, with a little bit of mascara. She has such an open, bright face. She’s inquisitive of what’s out in the world.

ITG: Tell me about Shoshanna’s makeup.

PR: Now, Shoshanna is pretty natural. This season, she goes through a little bit of exploring, but I don’t want to give too much away. There is a change. Every season, we see them going through transformations and growing up slowly—they’re all coming into their own lives, coming into their own person, finding out who they are who they want to be.

ITG: Her naïveté can be frustrating to watch.

PR: But you know there are so many girls out there just like that! By having her on the show, they have somebody they can identify with.

ITG: So how does that come across in beauty?

PR: In the first season, we had bright pink lipsticks, and choices that were a bit awkward, like too-fuchsia lipstick, or maybe too-sparkly eyeliner. That was really pretty, but it was a little much. She went from nothing to all the way! We would try to make the choices a bit awkward, so they didn’t look like they were made up by a professional makeup artist, but something she saw in a magazine and thought was so cool. ‘Oh I’m going to do that, too!’

ITG: Speaking of seeing things in magazines, do you think people can really replicate step-by-step tutorials or editorial beauty looks and have it work in real life?

PR: It’s like Beyoncé at the Grammys! People saw that opening performance, and now on the way to the train you see girls trying to wear makeup like that. You think, ‘You’re not going to the Grammys, you’re going to school! Where are you going? You’re going to the grocery store?’

ITG: Do any trends frustrate you?

PR: We have lots of tattoos on the show, and I live in Williamsburg, but I’m so sick of looking at tattoos. I see some work that’s beautiful and I totally get it, and then there are others, where you think, ‘Were you drunk? Were you stoned? How did that happen?’ [Laughs]

ITG: Lena has a lot of tattoos—does she know you feel this way?

PR: Lena’s tattoos are childhood stories, and they’re clearly intricate and beautiful, and very Lena. When I first started working on the show, I read the script and it talks about the tattoos, and they’re so intricate and I thought, ‘Wait a minute! I’m going to paint these tattoos on every day?!’ I was like, ‘Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! I’m a makeup artist, I don’t know if I can paint all of that!’ I had worked with [Lena] before but on [the HBO series] Mildred Pierce and she played a nurse, so I didn’t see any skin. So when I saw her I said, 'Do you really have those tattoos?' She looked at me with a big smile and said, 'Don’t worry, I have those tattoos.'

ITG: What about the after-sex makeup look? What’s the secret to that?

PR: Really, really smudge the eyeliner with a Q-tip or a sponge. Sometimes I get lucky and we didn’t get all the makeup off from the night before and I can incorporate that into my work. That makes it look really real because mascara travels, and it will, in some places, be totally off. After sex, people get a bit sweaty, so that eyeliner or mascara can travel quite a bit!

If I paint on the liner, I paint it on really sloppy, more like sketching or watercolors. There’s a lot of distressing, a lot of taking things down.

ITG: So what would be a basic makeup routine you’d recommend for someone in her 20s?

PR: A nice eyelash curler is a really great investment—the Shu Uemura one. You don’t want to crimp your lashes, you want to curl them. Then I go with soft mascara, just a little coat, especially for daytime. If you go to a party you can add more. Then, I would groom the eyebrows, just brush them so they’re not unruly. A little lip gloss, like a tinted Burt’s Bees rose one, and that’s it. I say: don’t try to wear any makeup that doesn’t make you feel good. The point of makeup is to make you feel pretty. If you put on makeup that doesn’t do that for you, why wear it?

ITG: How do you make sure the makeup on the show doesn’t look too ‘done’?

PR: Sometimes, when I want the lipstick to be a bit quirky, I’ll ask them to do their own—to throw it on really fast, because sometimes that makes it more real. Especially with red lipstick, when people wop it on really fast, it’s a little bit asymmetrical, which makes it real. Or I’ll try to do the eyeliner a bit sloppy, especially on Hannah. Those are the nuances that I love.

I don’t want it so perfect. I don’t want it to look like a magazine cover that’s been airbrushed. These are supposed to be real girls. What girls do you know who have absolute perfect makeup?

 Photos [1, 7] Craig Blankenhorn/HBO; [2-6] Jessica Miglio/HBO.

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