Today we’d like to introduce you to Katey Denno.
Katey, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’ve worked as a makeup artist for just over a decade, painting the faces of celebrities (if you want names: Amanda Seyfried, Amber Heard, Connie Britton, Natasha Lyonne, Beanie Feldstein, Felicity Jones, Isla Fisher, etc) and models for red carpet events, fashion and beauty magazine shoots, and a whole lot more. Not long after I started my career, I launched a blog to share product information about the just burgeoning ‘green beauty’ movement, and have since worked with clean brands like Burt’s Bees, Weleda, True Botanicals, REN, Vapour Organic Beauty, Juice Beauty, Biossance, BITE beauty, and countless others . I went on to establish myself as the only ‘green beauty’ makeup artist in Hollywood and used my connections with beauty editors to bring recognition to the need for US regulators to create laws keeping known toxins out of beauty products, and to showcase the strides being made in the non-toxic skincare and makeup industry. I teach classes, hold workshops, and am often brought onboard with new and established brands as a consultant. I’ve helped hundreds of clients ‘green over’ their makeup and skincare regimens via the in-person and FaceTime sessions I offer on kateydenno.com, and through my how-to tutorials on youtube.
As I’m very aware of the holes that still exist within the green beauty market, I’m slowly (and excitedly!) working on bringing some of my own creations to life.
Before my life as a makeup artist began, though, I put myself through graduate school, with the intention of living my life as a social worker, just like my dad had done for his entire career.
I started my career working in a shelter for abused women and children fleeing their living situations. I felt was an intense mixture of heartbreak and empowerment working with these women. I did everything from sitting in the hospital with them as they got a broken bone set in a cast, to holding their hand and encouraging them to tell their story to the lawyer I helped them secure, and sitting beside them in court as they faced their abuser. One thing that always struck me was that no matter the situation with which most of these women were faced, they would still wake up in the morning and put on some sort of makeup, or at the very least, follow a skincare regime. My mom had always taught me to put my best face forward, and in these situations, I was seeing a much deeper meaning behind the statement.
Years later when I started working with male-to-female transgender clients who were living their lives, at least in part, as women, I was overwhelmed by how transformative the makeup they wore could be for them. It wasn’t just their exterior that was transformed when they shaded their cheekbones and chests and applied the perfect lip liner, but their confidence and inner beauty really shone through.
I’d moved to NYC from Washington DC and taken a job as a social worker in a clinic serving men, women, and children living with HIV and AIDS in the Bronx. I loved working there and especially loved working with the large population of male-to-female transgendered clients. It was these clients who were the most supportive of my decision to leave the world of social work for something we all imagined was far more glamorous and exciting – the world of fashion and makeup artistry.
It was really all about being at the right place at the right time. One night at a dinner party, I met a woman who was working as a makeup artist assistant to a very famous makeup artist. I’d never thought about makeup artistry, for myself as a career, or in general. I didn’t grow up drooling over VOGUE or researching makeup application techniques. It wasn’t until this dinner party, and my late twenties, that I’d even considered the idea. She suggested I take the day off from work and accompany her on a job. She told me, I’d likely make $300 for the day of assisting, and that she would show me the ropes. I couldn’t believe I could make $300 for one day of work, with no experience, and doing something I imagined would be so much fun.
Everything happened so quickly from that point on. I started intensely researching photographers, makeup artists, and magazines whose work I liked. I spent hours in the magazine shops in NYC, with a pen and paper spreadsheet I’d created, taking notes. I went from agency to agency, unannounced, introducing myself, asking to assist their top artists. I slowly began building up my makeup kit, with the little money I had, and the leftover products donated to me by the artists I began assisting. Timing being everything, I happened to meet a woman who had just been hired by one of the top agencies in the world to start a division that represented brand new makeup, hair, and wardrobe stylists. She quickly took me on, despite my having no experience and no portfolio. I know now that this path is highly unusual, and that most artists struggle through years of assisting and lots of rejection by the various agencies. I’ll be forever grateful to everyone who made this path so seamless for me, particularly to my first agent, for taking a real leap of faith and helping to make my career what it is today.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
It’s been a surprisingly smooth road in the sense that I just keep plugging along. There haven’t been any intense spikes to catapult me to a new level of success (not yet!) and there haven’t been any major struggles or downfalls either.
In an effort to fill the holes in the beauty industry, I’ve been working on developing some of my own products, of course within the green beauty scene. It’s been quite an intense learning experience and it’s one of those: the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. I’ve been looking for partners recently, as I’ve learned that with my busy career as a makeup artist, I can’t develop a business by myself!
We’d love to hear more about your business.
What am I most proud of is what sets me apart: I took a chance early on in my career to stand for something I believed in: transparency of ingredients and the demand that known toxins be removed from all cosmetics. It seems like a no-brainer, something that everyone would agree is important, however, it’s been a surprisingly lonely battle, especially during my first 6 or 7 years. Now I feel so well supported and in such great company with the opening of so many clean beauty stores, the development of amazing clean beauty makeup and skincare brands, and other makeup artists incorporating clean beauty products into their kits. It’s been a fantastic ride, watching the industry take root and gain notoriety. I’m so excited for the next chapter!
What were you like growing up?
I was a sweet and sensitive kid, always wanting to make everyone feel good. I loved to laugh and play and was most content when I could hole up with a good book and my journal and reflect on, and plot out, my life.
- Website: kateydenno.com
- Instagram: kateydenno
- Facebook: thebeautyofitis
- Twitter: kateydenno