Christabel Draffin: Australian make-up artist in London
Christabel Draffin is an Australian make-up artist who works with leading celebrities, fashion designers and magazines in London. I caught up with her to find out about her work and life.
Christabel works between London, Australia and Europe. I asked her about the hidden challenges of an international life.
“Travel is part of the life of a make-up artist. I’ve been living back and forth between Sydney and London for over 20 years now. The first time I definitely had that Antipodean desire to see the world although, needless to say, I arrived in London and only left for the briefest of holidays to Europe. London well and truly sucked me in!
I met my French husband when I first lived in London and we went back to Sydney to have my son where it's easier to raise young children. Work opportunities now mean we have moved countries quite a bit - which has been challenging at times - but it also means we now have friends all over the world. And my son has discovered a love of languages! The hard part is that you’re always missing someone.”
I asked Christabel to explain how London has shaped her career.
“London is constantly inspiring and the buzz and energy are incredible. You get to work with the best people in the world, and the aesthetic is always evolving and pushing the boundaries. London has a sensibility that is unlike anywhere else, and it’s at the absolute forefront of fashion, photography and art. London has been so good to me. I’ve met amazing people and so many dear friends here.
I’ve created a body of work of which I am proud. I’ve been able to work with celebrities like Pixie Lott and Benedict Cumberbatch, as well as supermodels like Jourdan Dunn, Kristen McMenamy and Daisy Lowe. My work has been published in British Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, many L’Officiels, Marie Claire and Vanity Fair and I’ve worked with brilliant photographers like Rafael Stahelin, Aitken Jolley and Jacob Sutton.
The work is also highly creative so you never know what makeup you’ll be doing next."
Christabel Draffin was born in Bowral, NSW, but lived for most of her childhood and teenage years in the state's capital, Sydney. I asked when her love of makeup and design first appeared.
“I had always loved make-up even as a kid, buying my first eyeshadow - a pale blue Aziza eyeshadow duo, I still remember it - at the age of seven and reading Dolly magazine from the age of nine. I was always fascinated by fashion and beauty, which continued on as a teenager. I had the rooms of my bedroom literally wallpapered with fashion pics from Vogue."
After finishing school, Christabel studied for an Arts degree at Sydney University and then moved to London where she worked in fashion PR. I asked how she made the transition from PR to make-up.
“After working in PR in London for a few years, I met my husband and then we moved back to Sydney to get married. It seemed like a good time to make the move into being a makeup artist which is something I had secretly wanted for years. I did a six-week makeup course and started out in Sydney by assisting a lot of Sydney’s top makeup artists - Kellie Stratton, Sarah Tammer, Linda Jefferyes etc - and then got my first agent.
After a couple of years I moved to Paris where I started assisting at Jed Root which was, at the time, a major creative agency. That very afternoon I was helping the incredible make-up artist Alex Box in Paolo Roversi’s studio, who is one of my all-time favourite photographers. Eventually, I ended up in London where I began doing the Fashion shows each season, which was wonderful.”
I asked Christabel how other Australian women could break into the scene here.
“There are many ways to get into make-up. I took the assistant route which I do recommend, but now with Instagram there are so many more opportunities to market your work, and connect with other creatives.
My advice is to constantly be working on your portfolio and putting your work out via Instagram, and use it as a way to meet photographers and stylists whose work you like. Literally everyone in fashion is on Instagram, and it’s the best tool there is for getting yourself known for the work that you do. I have met all my assistants through them contacting me on Instagram – you don’t necessarily have to go via the agencies anymore.
I like giving new artists the opportunity to work with me as it is a good way to learn both makeup and equally important things like set etiquette. It’s also a way of passing on knowledge that I have learnt from the amazing artists that I have been fortunate enough to work with.”
Apart from the breadth of her work which readers can see on Instagram, I was amazed by her schedule and the complexity of her work. I asked Christabel how she managed her day-to-day life.
“You do need to have a big kit. Each day is different. You might be grooming male models, dipping a model in glitter, creating different looks for editorial - which can range anywhere from pre-raphaelite to punk or goth (it’s different every day) - or working with a celebrity for a magazine cover or the red carpet. So you do need to have makeup for every eventuality!
London can also be quite draining to get around. The sheer quantity of people everywhere and constantly doing shoots mean you need serious time to unwind and decompress. It’s very unglamorous, but there are definitely some weekends where nothing but a tracksuit and Netflix will do!"
Christabel works with leading photographers, performers, models and publications. I wondered, amidst all this, what keeps her truly engaged and focused.
“Every day is different, and my favourite part of my job is meeting so many interesting and inspiring people. I love the diversity of it and there is always a new level to aspire to. It’s a constant journey of discovery."
Artists need inspiration and cultural nourishment. I asked Christabel to share her approach to this.
“I love visiting art galleries, particularly photography exhibitions, and also spending time with the different make-up brands to see their new products is very inspiring. The technology on make-up gets better all the time so there are always amazing new products out there to play with!
I also have a whole wall of vintage fashion magazines, so anytime I need a bit of inspiration I just turn to them. I’m slightly obsessed with fashion history - I’m basically a fashion photography nerd - so I also love finding interesting historical pics online on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram etc.”
I asked Christabel about her favourite places in London and she was generous with her secret tips.
“I love SkyGarden in the Walkie Talkie building – it’s a magical space and it always makes me feel like I’m living in the future in this beautiful garden with sweeping London views.
Leggero Restaurant in Soho is my new favourite restaurant. I’m really allergic to gluten and Leggero is a gluten-free Italian in the heart of Soho, with amazing staff and a good wine list.
"Honest Burger is great because sometimes you just want a burger, chips and onion rings, and this place is the biz. One of the few places I can have all those things gluten free (not quite guilt free but at least gluten free!)
The Dandelyan Bar at the Mondrian is the ultimate place for cocktails or Friday night wine time. It has a great drinks menu, nice staff and you can watch the sunset on the Thames whilst enjoying a drink.
Bill’s in Soho provides the classic Aussie brunch and coffee place and it is my favourite place for meetings in Soho.
Try make-up shopping in Covent Garden with standalone stores from Bobbi Brown, NARS, Urban Decay, Kiko, 3ina, MAC and Charlotte Tilbury. It’s a makeup lover’s dream day.
Sunday walks on Hampstead Heath followed by a cheeky drink at The Flask are always good.
I’m always keen for a trip to the Tate Modern for amazing exhibitions and an incredible standing collection of modern art."