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Living with a mental illness, I’ve spent a lot of time in chairs. Chairs with doctors, counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, youth mentors. A litany of experts tasked with seeing and helping me. And in nearly three decades, rarely have I felt more seen – more understood – than in Hilary Holmes’ chair.
Hilary Holmes is not a counsellor. Not in the traditional sense, anyway. Holmes is a Melbourne makeup artist who uses her trade to connect with her clients, creating what she calls ‘a space for much bigger conversations than just makeup on your face’.
Holmes’ South Melbourne studio is bathed in fluorescent light, as she unveils the newest addition to her Holme Beauty makeup line. It becomes quickly apparent to me, and the rest of the audience, that this is not your typical beauty masterclass. Holmes’ work – including the new highlighter she launches tonight – is built from a different foundation.
‘This is actually about talking about how you feel about yourself, and being seen for the first time in beauty,’ Holmes begins, her gold sequined dress sparkling as she addresses the crowd. ‘Because the beauty industry can really lean towards making you feel flawed.’ She smiles, and says ‘we’re trying to change that’.
Holmes’ ethos is borne of experiences that demonstrated exactly what she didn’t want to be. As a young person, she escaped an unhappy and abusive childhood by perusing the makeup counters in Melbourne’s CBD. She later discovered her love for makeup ‘off the back of some pretty low self-confidence’ in London.
‘I really struggled with the way that women would come in and ask to be empowered with knowledge and being seen,’ Holmes explains. After six years with beauty juggernaut MAC in the UK, Holmes was ready to make a name for herself in Australia. Without four months of returning to the country, she was totally booked out.
‘Having the privilege of having a vulnerable woman in my chair… I know that they’re scared, but I know that I’ve got them. And it’s a way deeper connection than just slap, slap, slap. I really want to translate the way they deserve to feel about themselves. That’s why I think the results are always there.’
I am sitting in Holmes’ makeup chair, as she expertly guides myself and the assembled guests to play with the product, to experiment and to learn about our own faces. Perhaps the reason my mind turned to the many other professional ‘chairs’ I have occupied over the years is Holmes’ honesty about her own experiences.
‘A part of my trauma work from my childhood was that I seek new connections,’ she replies. ‘I sought those clients and I genuinely cared for them. I could see myself in them in their insecurities.’
Over the next hour, Hilary teaches us how to apply the various concoctions: moisturiser, primer, foundation and, of course, her new highlighter. She is positive when describing how to draw attention to your best features, how to lengthen and how to complement. But Holmes is not God. She shies away from hard and fast rules, and instead encourages us to do what we like best.
‘I really want to make sure that we’re changing the way that we’re viewing [makeup] because I’ve been at weddings before where men have come up to me and said, “I hear you paint faces for a job”,’ she shares, to laughter from the room.
‘And I’m like… No, I’m using this as a vehicle to really transform the way that women feel about themselves. This is huge.’
Throughout my life, I’ve been painted, plucked and preened for most of my major milestones. I imagine that many of you reading have too. While I’ve always felt beautiful afterwards, I’ve left feeling a little heavier too. Weighed down by the catalogue of flaws and imperfections that have been dutifully hidden and overwhelmed by a face that no longer resembles the one I know.
Sitting in Hilary’s chair with my lips glossed and my face painted, though? I feel beautiful. More than that, I feel like myself. Just a little shinier. So much of the beauty industry is about making ourselves feel bad, so we make purchases that might take that feeling away. What is so much more special is rediscovering the fun of play and experimentation, and simply being yourself.
Holme Beauty’s new foundations, Flux and Flame, are available now. Purchase yours here.
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