Forgive my brutal honesty, but as a beauty editor that is somewhat (read: very) fussy with her makeup, I struggle to find makeup artists I really trust. I'd like to clear up that, considering I have the makeup skills of a potato, I'm fully aware of just how toxic this trait of mine is. The truth is, my makeup tastes are pared-back. I like things to look natural, effortless, and generally take next to no time at all. As soon as a makeup artist starts talking to me about contouring, baking, and filling in brows, I'm out. In short, my dream aesthetic embodies the laid-back coolness of French-girl beauty.
It's needless to say, therefore, that the makeup artists I turn to most are French. French makeup artists just get it. They understand that not everyone has three hours to do their makeup in the morning, they champion fresh skin, and have a wonderful way of keeping things low-key. And while my ears prick up whenever any French makeup artist has some wisdom that they wish to impart, there is one in particular who, in my opinion, is the queen of French-girl makeup—Violette.
As a journalist, I have put a lot of effort into trying to get some time in with the French makeup artist-turned-brand-founder, wanting to pick her brains on anything and everything makeup. Having followed her for years on Instagram, barely a working day has gone by that hasn't involved me fawning over her low-key, but impossibly chic, makeup looks. However, being one of the most in-demand people in beauty, pencilling any sort of time in with her appeared so difficult that I had almost given up.
But when news broke in the beauty world that Violette had been appointed Creative Director of Makeup at Guerlain (a French beauty powerhouse, no less), not only was I excited for what this meant for one of my all-time favourite beauty brands, I also knew now was my time to reach out for an interview. And if you're sat there wondering what on earth it is that makes Violette so special as a makeup artist that I've spent the best part of five years trying to interview her, let me enlighten you. It's not just that her work embodies the coolness of French women so effortlessly, she herself is also the chicest woman I follow. Everything from her beauty choices to her fashion choices oozes chicness. She has a way of being creative, playing with colour, textures and shapes, while tying together a sense of playfulness with that iconic chuck-it-on and pull-it-together French mentality. I can only describe it as an art.
So when the opportunity arose for me to finally sit down with Violette, I cleared my schedule. For half an hour, we chatted all things makeup and discussed the art of French-girl beauty. As I left, I realised that, for one of the first times in my career, I felt truly schooled on makeup. I left feeling as though I could actually give some of her makeup tips a go (so much so that I actually executed a blue winged liner on my friend the following weekend after Violette showed me exactly what to do). So if like me you can't get enough of that effortlessly chic look, without further ado, these are the only French-makeup-artist-tips that really matter.
1. Embrace What Mother Nature Gave You
I have known that this is a key part of makeup application for some time but I have never been able to put it quite as eloquently as Violette does. The most crucial thing when applying makeup is to embrace your natural features. "Makeup isn't here to fix you because you don't need fixing. Once you've anchored that in yourself, you'll find yourself naturally reaching for less," she says. "French women do the same with our hair, too. It's always about taking care of what mother nature gave us."
It is, I have learned, a key part of French life that simply works its way into their beauty choices. "Even in terms of food—we have a balanced way of living. It's about being happy in your life. If I use makeup to please you, I'm going to chase that and never be happy," she adds.
2. Use SPF To Your Advantage
It's no secret that French women champion skincare. In fact, every French person that I speak to says that skincare always comes before makeup. When trying to nail a natural makeup look, it's important to treat them one and the same. "French women are educated and brought up to take care of our skin. We're in a dermatologist's office from 15 years old. We're not the sort of people to watch a skincare 'expert' online and be influenced by them—take us to a doctor, give us a routine, and we'll follow it. We're very educated on skin," says Violette.
When it comes to looking after skin, Violette informs me that the concept of 'skin types' in French skincare doesn't exist—and she considers this an advantage. "We have skin tendencies, instead. Our skin changes based on diet, age, and hormones. It's far more important to follow expert opinion," she says. And when it comes to products they choose? The French pharmacy is key. "French pharmacies never use the term 'clean', but it's the same mentality. It's great skincare for a minimal routine—the more you put on, the more chance of reaction," she adds.
One hidden skincare secret, however, did surprise me. Violette says that SPF is a non-negotiable product, not just for skin (which we already know, of course), but for makeup application. "It gives a glow, making it a really nice base for makeup. It gives a stickiness to the skin that really helps," she says.
Lightweight but moisturising and dewy, this suncream acts as the perfect base for makeup, allowing a moisturising base for concealer to merge with.
This suncream is basically French royalty. With maximum protection and a super-lightweight finish, it's the definition of a second-skin SPF.
3. Skip Foundation
Going without foundation might seem a little daunting, but Violette says you can still get your coverage. "You can use concealer as a foundation. Apply it over pimples and use a little bit (or in my case, a lot) to hide dark circles," she says. When it comes to French-girl makeup, it's important to let your natural skin shine through (which goes back to that first point). "Skin is always first. That's why we don't use foundation so much. There's nothing sexier than naked skin."
Creamy, blendable, and packed with skin-loving hydrators, this concealer is adored by beauty editors thanks to its ability to cover dark circles while leaving skin looking natural.
Expensive, yes, but this cult concealer is famed for its ability to cover up basically anything, without risk of cakeiness or creasing.
4. Pick One Battle
If there's one point Violette wants to get over, its that you can really be as creative as you like with your makeup and still keep things minimal. "It's like fashion. You don't want to put on your earrings, hat, and heels all at once. You pick one battle, one statement," she advises. "If you fancy a red lipstick, maybe leave mascara and keep the rest of the face low-key. That's one of the main rules."
When it comes to incorporating colour into your makeup look, the rule of one is key. "I might do a colour-block look on my eyes and it will still seem very 'French' because the rest is easy and toned-down. If you're scared of colour, just start with an eyeliner. Liquid liners are tricky to use so just wet a brush and use a shadow to create the liner. It's easier and looks much softer," she says.
Shop Statement Makeup
Violette was wearing this exact palette when I sat down with her, and the blue is exquisite. Use the included sponge applicator with the blue shadow to create an understated winged liner look.
Price includes case and refill.
Rouge G is considered to be the most iconic French lipstick of all time, and the handy refillable cases are just as chic. This new shade of red has a subtle metallic shimmer to it that really makes the colour pop.
5. Use Bronzer The Right Way
"I use bronzer as bronzer," says Violette. "I've never contoured before. I don't need to. "And by this she doesn't necessarily mean that she believes her face to be chiselled to the nines, but the statement is instead an example of her belief that no one needs fixing. "It's awkward. How do you know what shadows to put where? This is the face I have and it's how I was born," she adds.
She reveals that she uses Guerlain Terracotta (which I believe to be the single best true bronzer of all time). "I apply it over my nose and cheeks for a sun-kissed effect. If I didn't have bangs I'd put it over my forehead, too.
If you prefer a cream formula, this iconic bronzer gives a natural-looking sun-kiss that seamlessly buffs into the skin.
With a hint of subtle shimmer, Terracotta is probably one of the truest bronzers around. It gives the impression that skin has been lightly kissed by the sun without a hint of patchy orangeness.
6. Embrace A Boyish Brow
Besides contour, Violette also says that heavily shaped brows don't sit well with her beauty mentality. "I would love for people to stop with their super-sharp, shaped eyebrows. I want to see you. Drop the Instagram brow," she says confidently.
Instead, she reveals a natural, "boyish" brow is the way to keep your makeup looking soft but polished. "I love boyish eyebrows. If you do colour on your eye, for example, you have to pair it with a boyish brow. I don’t remove the hair, I just use a brow gel. It's like I said, if you add colour, leave the rest true to you."
Shop Brow Gels
Makeup artists and brow experts far and wide consider this gel to be the best around for a natural, fluffy look. Use the small wand to fix unruly hairs into place.
For a really natural look or for those that have naturally full brows, opt for a brow gel that has no tint, like this one from Chanel.
7. Limit Your Time
I'll be honest, this candid tip shocked me. Not because it's particularly controversial, but because it's so simple I can't believe I hadn't thought of it before. "I have a kid and two jobs, I don't have the time to spend on my makeup in the morning. I find when you do have the time though, you do too much. Actually, if you give yourself no time to do your makeup, you look more effortless," she says.
The reasoning is that, when you're short on time, you reach for products that do the most with the least amount of effort—some concealer to cover-up, perhaps some mascara (although Violette says this really isn't a necessity if you're going to put a bold lipstick on), and a swipe of lipstick. "I always have a red lipstick in case of emergency. For me, red lipstick makes me feel more empowered. There are so many times throughout the day when I need a pick-me-up, and a red lipstick is the quickest way to get it. You can swipe it across your lips and finish off by tapping it into cheeks as a blush," she says.
This best-selling mascara, created by Violette, delivers long, natural-looking lashes with a little bit of oomph. Without heaps of volume, it leaves lashes looking like yours, just a bit better.
With a sheer tint of colour, this glossy lipstick is perfect for swiping onto lips and tapping into cheeks when you want a glow boost but are in a hurry.
This story was published at an earlier time and has since been updated.
Shannon Lawlor is a renowned beauty journalist and has contributed to Who What Wear’s beauty content since 2020. As a leading beauty editor, expert and brand consultant, she has over eight years of experience working for some of the industry’s most esteemed titles, including Who What Wear (of course), Glamour UK, Stylist, Refinery29 and Fabulous.
Having also worked behind the scenes with some of the industry’s biggest brands and retailers, Shannon has a unique insight into what people really want from their beauty routines. Understanding that beauty lovers seek honest, open and responsible advice, she has it made her mission to demystify the intimidating world of beauty, taking a no-frills approach to the most relatable topics.
While Shannon is the first to admit she doesn’t hold the answer to every beauty question out there, she is dedicated to sharing her expert insights in a bid to help. As a self-proclaimed lazy girl, Shannon has an affinity for easy-to-use, foolproof beauty products and has made it her mission to scope out the best of the best.
When she’s not working, Shannon is likely soaking in the bath or giving no-holds-barred beauty reviews on Instagram from her bathroom floor.
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