Sofia Tilbury might be celebrity makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury’s niece but she still had to learn the ropes from the very bottom, starting on the beauty counter at Selfridges and eventually working her way up the ladder to supermodel Irina Shayk’s face and the bright, star-studded lights of LA. Here she talks to GLAMOUR about her career highlights, fav celeb clients and her all-time best products.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Were you always destined to work in the beauty industry?
“Growing up I really wanted to be an artist. My grandfather Baba (Lance Tilbury) is a painter, and in Ibiza we were surrounded by artists, so I think I was just constantly soaking up the creative passion of everyone around me.
I went to Millfield School and photography and art were my favourite subjects, so I used to recreate my aunt’s makeup looks on the girls in my dorm and then we’d take photos. It was the perfect way to combine all my passions like creating, painting and capturing an image. I just loved it, and it’s so funny how these skills are now what I use every day on my Instagram and in my job!”
Did you go to university or was it not for you?
“I didn’t go to university as I was eager to start working right away. When you want a creative career, I feel like you really learn by doing. After school, I went straight in to an internship for Alice Temperley and then Charlotte took me under her wing and I started interning backstage at shows, learning her techniques and assisting her on shoots.”
How did you end up working full time for Charlotte Tilbury?
“When I was 18, Charlotte pointed me toward the shop floor of Selfridges and said, “This is where you have to start!” I worked full-time at the Charlotte Tilbury counter for two years and I learned so much. Retail is hard work. I was surrounded by all these incredibly talented and experienced makeup artists and I had to learn fast! I loved it. Then, behind the scenes Charlotte started asking me questions about what was selling well, which products customers were asking for and what was missing from the range. That was how I started working closely with Charlotte on product development and the brand side of things.”
What’s the best and worst part about working with family?
“I love working with my family. It’s the best part of my job. I’ve learned so much from being around my aunt, my Mum (Leah Tilbury—Charlotte Tilbury’s Creative Director) and my little sister Bella on shoots. I really look up to them and wouldn’t change it for the world.
There’s not really a bad part, but when you’re working with family you definitely feel like you have a lot to prove, almost more to prove in some ways. They didn’t make it easy for me! I had to start where any other makeup artist would, and I had to work my way up and prove myself like anyone else.”
How do you manage living half your life in London and half in Ibiza?
“I’m in London more often than Ibiza but, my dad and grandparents live out there, so I try to go as much as possible. London can be really chaotic and we’re always travelling for work so having that connection with Ibiza really grounds me. It’s such a magical, creative and hypnotic place. It’s like going home.”
Do you get to travel a lot for work? Where is the best place you’ve been?
“I’m really fortunate to be able to travel all over the world for work. Whether it’s visiting our labs, working at shows or opening stores in Asia, travel is one of my favourite things.
I always seem to get really fun jobs when we go to L.A. for awards season. I love it there and we’ve actually recently opened our first standalone Charlotte Tilbury store in The Grove! Definitely a good excuse to get out there more!”
Have you had the pleasure of doing any celebrity’s makeup? If so, who’s been your favourite client?
“I have been lucky enough to work with some truly awe-inspiring women since I’ve started working with Charlotte. It’s an amazing experience every time and I could never choose a favourite, but I always love working with Irina Shayk and the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was amazing. All of the models were an absolute dream!!”
What does a day in your working life look like?
“No two days are ever the same! One day I could be part of a campaign, the next I’m testing colours with the product development team or catching an unexpected flight to do a VIP’s makeup. I particularly love the opportunity I have to create content for Instagram. It’s always amazing and inspiring to see our followers testing out a look we’ve created and feeling like a more beautiful, confident version of themselves as a result. Charlotte has always talked about the power of transformation and in those moments, you do feel incredibly humbled by it.”
What’s one part of your job that would surprise some people that you’re responsible for?
“I think people would be surprised by how hands-on I am with new product development. Charlotte was really keen for me to be involved in this as I’ve learned so much from working closely with her and she thinks I have a good eye for colours, tones and textures. I love the whole process from start to finish, it’s like working in Charlotte’s magic workshop!”
If you could only use three Charlotte Tilbury products on yourself for the rest of your life, what would they be?
“That is really tough! I feel like my favourites change every time we launch something. We’ve always got something new coming up that I absolutely love!
Then, I’m absolutely OBSESSED with the new Hot Lips 2 in Glowing Jen. It honestly is my favourite lipstick shade we’ve ever created.
Magic Away Concealer is an absolute skin saviour. I wear it every day. When I’m tired, jet-lagged or a little hungover it just blurs out all the imperfections. That magic cushion applicator always saves the day if I’m running late for work!”
What’s the best beauty tip Charlotte has ever given you?
“I still learn something new every time I’m with my aunt. She’s a walking beauty bible! She always told me to keep my face out of the sun and wear Magic Cream (SPF 15) every day. One of my favourite beauty tips she’s ever given me is how to create the ultimate feline flick. Charlotte wears one daily and she inspired me to do the same. My version is a little bit different to hers but it’s the easiest way to elongate the eyes and create a sultry, smoky look.”
What are your career goals for the next five years?
“I am loving my path at the moment. You learn and grow so much when you work with Charlotte. Since I was a child, I’ve suffered with anxiety and it has taken me a really long time to get to a place where I feel like my confidence is constantly growing. Last year I was too anxious to do celebrity makeup and now I do it all the time! I also recently went on my first solo trip to Dubai and Kuwait to create content at Charlotte’s Beauty Wonderlands. That kind of thing used to be unimaginable! I love seeing myself grow.
I’m so lucky to have this incredible platform now and as I work to build up my confidence, I want to show others that it’s possible to do the same; to just love your path, believe in yourself and realise your potential. In the future I’d love to do more masterclasses, host more events and just continue to help grow this magical business.”
What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a full-time beauty career?
“I was really fortunate to have the opportunities I had, but my family made me WORK. Be ready to work hard! I started out by watching Charlotte—observing all her techniques and soaking up her tips and tricks—so I do think assisting someone is essential. Working on a shop floor is also amazing for your learning curve as a makeup artist as you’re not just being presented with perfect model faces all day. You learn how to do eyeshadow on hooded eyes, how to conceal scars and pigmentation, how to contour a rounder face; it gives you an understanding of variety of faces and skin tones that is vital if you want to be taken seriously in the beauty industry. So, WATCH, DO and stay as CURIOUS as you can!”
If you weren’t working in beauty, what do you think you’d be doing?
“Most likely painting or photography. I’m still very in to art—it’s just part of my DNA. That or working with animals. I’d love to run an animal sanctuary back in Ibiza one day.”