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Makeup Artist Pati Dubroff Thinks Out of the Box

Her best a-ha moments come while walking in nature.

“The way I use color is more like how it would appear as a watercolor, as opposed to an oil painting,” said celebrity makeup artist Pati Dubroff. “Because I like things that have a soft blurriness.”

While working with clients such as Margot Robbie, Priyanka Chopra and Laura Dern, she also eschews powdery textures. Less is more.

“The more product you put on someone, the more you’re taking over their face, as opposed to letting who they are shine through,” said Dubroff, whose craft starts with the skin. “By enlivening the skin, you’re enlivening the whole canvas, so then everything else has an extra spark and a charge.”

Dubroff herself is high-wattage, alight with creativity, and with a star still perpetually rising. Three decades after starting in the trade, she’s a favorite of the fashion and celebrity worlds, and an influencer in her own right, with an Instagram following of 257,000 and counting.

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Dubroff was born in Germany to a German mother and American father, and moved Stateside at age four. After high school in New Jersey, she hightailed it to the Big Apple. “I knew that I really loved all the objects and things on my mother’s little makeup table,” she said. “She had a few nice things, and I would just fixate and spend all my time there. I remember being around 10 years old and thinking: ‘I want to do this — or be around this — when I grow up.’ I didn’t really know what ‘this’ was, but I knew I loved those items and what they did.”

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Dubroff spritzed fragrance at Bloomingdale’s (“for, I think, a day”) in the late 1980s, then freelanced at a Bergdorf Goodman makeup counter. She did fill-in work at MTV studios, then got a gig at Cindy Crawford’s “House of Style,” putting her at the nexus of music and fashion.

Next stop was assisting makeup artist greats. She was François Nars’ first assistant (“he made everything look so easy and effortless… it was always quick”) and also worked with Stephane Marais and Linda Cantello.

Through Nars, Dubroff met photographers like Peter Lindbergh, Ellen von Unwerth and Patrick Demarchelier, and supermodels like Christy Turlington, who gave her opportunities.

Dubroff transplanted to Los Angeles 20 years ago and found Hollywood very satisfying, as it allowed her to do what she describes as her forte: helping real women look like the best versions of themselves.

Today, Dubroff is a Chanel makeup artist. “I love that I get to do education and be part of a really cool collective so grounded in fashion history, but also thinking about the future and how to make it young and current,” she said. She continues working with other clients and skin care brands, too, such as Beauty Pie, and is a partner at Forward Artists.

Dubroff soaks in information from everywhere. “The more open you are to learning, then you realize that everyone in front of you can be a mentor,” she said.

The makeup artist comes up with some of her best ideas wandering in nature. “Going for a walk is where I have the most a-ha moments,” she said. “It’s just being out, unplugged.”

While plugged in, she might delve into social media. “But I do find that the more I look at it, the less I focus on my own creativity,” she said. “I’m looking at others’ creativity, and then it becomes like a comparison study as opposed to more of an internal spark.”

Among her adored photographers are Helmut Newton (“for that subversive kind of sexiness”) and Irving Penn (“I love the sharpness, like when he would show products — especially with a visceral vividness [so] that you really felt like you were touching that thing”).

“A Basquiat painting can totally inspire me for a colorway,” she added.

Dubroff doesn’t like to overthink her creative process.

“When I’m thinking too hard or trying too hard, I’m blocking my flow,” she said. “My goal is to let go of my walls and boxes, be in my breath and open to stimulus. That’s where creativity flows, because that’s where life flows from.”

Dubroff also takes a pragmatic approach to her work, examining the goals and making sure what’s achieved is reasonable for a situation. She needs to understand her subject. “I ask them who some of their beauty icons are,” said Dubroff. “If someone says Brigitte Bardot or Kate Moss that says a lot. It gives you an idea of what they’re after.”

One of her personal icons is Turlington “because of her heart and soul — her real beauty. That’s a living icon and the most appropriate one for me because of lifestyle choices, beauty choices.”

Recently, Dubroff has become obsessed with Paulina Porizkova. “She’s one of the ones who are helping keep the door open for women to feel confident about aging gracefully, naturally and realistically,” said Dubroff.

Societal shifts today toward diversity and inclusion feel beyond trend-driven to her.

“Now you don’t have to fit into any lane — you could go opposite, upside-down, whatever,” she said. “It gives people more wiggle room to try things out, and not feel like the judgement is going to be so intense.

“It’s about being confident in your choices,” she continued, “because there are opportunities and space for all. It feels new.”

So does age acceptance, “not feeling like the only way that you are beautiful is if you conform to having perfect youthful skin … or hair that is not gray,” she said. “You can be who you are.”

The coronavirus pandemic had some upsides for Dubroff, who got to spend more time with her daughter and husband. She began making herself up again, too.

“I hadn’t put makeup on myself since I was in my twenties,” she said. “I’m not a big makeup-wearer in life, but during the pandemic, I felt like I wanted to keep creative and my skills up, and try out new things that had arrived — or really just find something to do.”

Dubroff started filming herself, learned how to self light and edit video. She realized her Insta feed chimes with people and allows her to educate and show beauty in an unconventional way.

The one downside is constant self reflection. “It’s like: ‘Oh wait, I’m looking way too much at myself,” said Dubroff.

Inside the mind

Favorite object: “It’s this necklace that I never take off. It’s the word ‘prem’ in Hindi. It means ‘love for god,’ and it’s a name that I was given by my meditation teacher. It’s also a reminder of what’s really important.”

Favorite podcast: “One of my very famous actress clients told me about this podcast she was listening to and so I started, am obsessed and can’t stop. It’s called ‘Red Scare.’ It’s these two women in their early thirties of Russian descent that live in New York, and they are radical in their socialism and activism, but also their take on society is so witty and sharp.”

Reading next: “‘Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives.’ It’s like the psychology of beauty, which I find super interesting.”

Favorite colors: “I like colors that feel like they come from the earth in one way or another. All shades of green I’d say are way up there.”  

For more, see:

Isamaya Ffrench: Creativity Unbridled

EXCLUSIVE: Violette Serrat to Create Makeup for Guerlain

Nicolas Degennes, Givenchy Parfums Parting Ways