Episode 10: Tracy Murphy, Founder of Lash Star

Meet Tracy Murphy. At the age of 17, Tracy learned how how have a career as a make-up artist beyond working in the mall. Listen as she shares her experience working with the world’s most recognizable faces as she builds a distinctive beauty brand.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHello everyone. I'm so excited today to be joined by Tracy Murphy who, for the past twenty something years, has been a phenomenal working makeup artist, and who is also now the founder of Lash Star Beauty. Hi Tracy.
Tracy MurphyHi. Good morning. How are you?
Jodi KatzI am good. I am suffering from allergies today. How are you feeling?
Tracy MurphyMe too. So I might be sneezing in this call, but that's okay.
Jodi KatzOkay. If you sneeze I'll cough, and then everyone will know it's springtime in New York.

So, welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty. Our listeners are curious about the career path and journeys of executives in the beauty industry and not the shiny, pretend PR version of the story that we hear a lot, but something really honest. I think you have an incredibly interesting story to tell. We're so excited for you to be here.
Tracy MurphyI'm so thrilled to be here, and thank you so much. I mean, if anyone wants to learn about makeup and lashes and business, I'm thrilled to talk about it because it's been a journey. As you know, women in business in general is intense, so if we're helping anyone that's fantastic.
Jodi KatzYeah, you know, I think what people get out of the show, and people of all different stages in their career, you know, some people make them feel better. Like, "Oh, this is hard," or "I'm scared," and then they hear people who are doing it say, "Yeah, this is hard and I'm scared" and I think it's comforting. We see so many picture perfect stories and "Yeah, I started my company and then I made a billion dollars and everything is so easy" and that's just not the reality. But, it messes with our heads when we think it is.
Tracy MurphyRight. I think there's something about, also, the shiny perfect life of your curated Instagram story. We all do it. I like taking pictures of beautiful things, but the hard times you can't really photograph that. Well you can, but people don't really share that. It's not really real. I think, I don't want to get too far away from the subject matter, but I think, in general, this idea that it's really easy to do just because social media makes it seem that way, that's totally not the story. So, it's interesting we're moving away from that, having real conversations. So, podcasts like this are very important, I think.
Jodi KatzWell, I can't wait to jump into your story, and I really want to go back in time. You told me this incredible story about wanting to be a makeup artist as a teenager and wanting to pursue that but thinking that your only opportunities were to work in the mall. Can you tell us a little bit about the mindset of a teen who was interested twenty years ago in being in this profession? The lack of opportunities that seemed to be in front of you at that time?
Tracy MurphySure. Yes. As long as I can remember, I was obsessed with magazines and makeup and beauty and makeovers and ... I don't know, I just loved it. That's all I thought about. My walls were covered in pictures of models and art and all this kind of stuff. When I was eleven I made my first magazine, called Eleventeen. It was before [crosstalk 00:03:37]. Me and my friend ... It's hysterical, I still have it. By Twelveteen, I was just behind the scenes, I just took pictures of my friend. So, from that young age, I loved it so much.

My parents were super generous and encouraged it. My mom is a painter. They had no idea that there was a career in makeup artistry. I didn't know I could do that either. But, Sassy magazine came out, and that was a revolutionary publication for young girls, because it talked ... Seventeen was your mom's version of how you should be a teenager. This was written by kids in their early twenties. It felt very punk rock. It was very ... Like your bad older sister telling you all this good advice. Not your bad older sister. Your rebel older sister telling you all this great advice.
So, they had their first ever reader produced issue. I about lost my mind. I was like, Oh my god, I can do makeup on people and it's going to end up in the magazine? I didn't understand that was a job. So, I sent in ... It was the last weeks of high school, and instead of studying for the tests and doing all my big reports, I just did this crazy week long shoot. I shot all my friends, my mom, family, everyone. Before and afters, pictures of my room and my art and all this kind of stuff. I sent it in to Sassy and I won the contest.
Jodi KatzThat is so insane Tracy. As a kid, I would have entered contests or called in for radio contests, I remember calling in to be the number whatever caller. No one ever won. And here you are, someone that won. That's insane.
Tracy MurphyIt totally blew my mind. I also remember my dad saying, "What if you don't win?", and I was like "Oh, I'm going to win". He was like, "What if you don't?". I was like, what is he talking about, I'm going to win. I just was so dumb and seventeen, and I was like "I want this so bad, so I'm going to have to win it". But I did, I won it, it totally was incredible. I met all these amazing people. Andrea Linett was one of the editors and she lives down the street from me now. We're friends. She's my neighbor. When I see her, I'm still, like, she's the cool girl at Sassy. You know. I get a little bit nervous. But, that was a really great opportunity and that's when I connected the dots. I was like "Oh, I can do this. This is a real job. I don't have to work at the mall". I always liked the artistry part of it. I liked the creative part of it. I didn't like the people. No, everyone needs their mall makeup artist, but I just felt like I wanted to do it differently, so it was really exciting when that happened.
Jodi KatzI think that this is so exciting because through Sassy you saw a whole new world. I think at that time, twenty years ago, we didn't know what those jobs were. We didn't know there were [inaudible 00:06:53] director jobs, [inaudible 00:06:55] jobs, makeup artist jobs, all these behind the scenes jobs making commercial work and editorial work. It just wasn't as revealed, you know, as it is now. So, I just love thinking about how this Sassy opportunity gave you the vision for a career beyond what you already knew, living in Michigan.
Tracy MurphyYeah. It was pretty next level. At the Sassy contest, I met all these other winners and they were all other teenagers. There was a photographer there, who I wasn't on his week shoot, there were two shoots and I was on a week long shoot with a different photographer, but he said, "I go to this school called FIT, you should go there". I was like "What's that?", you know. I'm from Flint, Michigan. I have no idea what FIT is. Then I found out it was the Fashion Institute of Technology and that's where I ended up going to college. That's where I met all these amazing friends and that formed everything for me. To this day.
Jodi KatzHow was your family in this time? Here you go, off to New York to have this experience at Sassy, meet people, ultimately say I want to go to New York for college. Were they supportive? Were they confused?
Tracy MurphyYou know what, they were very supportive. My mom is from Cleveland but her sister and brother both live out here in New York, in Connecticut and Upstate New York. She felt like, there's family nearby if anything happens. I mean, I know it seems insane. I, looking back, I was living in New York City when I was eighteen years old, in the dorms, going to the Limelight. It was crazy. But, my parents, I think they thought "Oh, she's in the dorms and family is close by so it's fine". I'm not a totally insane person, so I was very Midwestern and I was kind of scared. It was fabulous, it was amazing. I met all the most amazing people. We would get dressed up and go to the clubs. We weren't anyone but they would let us in because we made the effort to dress up. It was really fun.
Jodi KatzDo you feel like you took advantage of that time, being so young in New York? Or, do you feel like you weren't ready to be yourself yet? New York, I feel like, is a complicated place. There's so many opportunities. There's so many things around. But, yet, because there's so many things it becomes overwhelming. I think when I was younger, in my early twenties, I stayed in my lane and I didn't know how to veer out of that lane to try a lot of new things. Were you very comfortable to do that at that time?
Tracy MurphyI always knew I wanted to do makeup, so I just did it in the dorms. I would do photo shoots or tests for actors, or whatever. The focus of makeup was always my number one priority, and so ... I would go out and do lots of different things, but my love was always makeup and I never steered away, or veered away, from that.
Jodi KatzWas it hard for you to make opportunities beyond doing makeup on your friends in the dorms at that age? Were you able to make connections with working makeup artists or get jobs or internships? How did you navigate that?
Tracy MurphyI had an internship at Sassy, so that was great. I worked at Sassy. The internship was supposed to be two months. I worked there for a year for free, because I just wanted to be there so badly. They couldn't get rid of me. I just stayed working with Sassy and doing stuff in the dorms. Plus I was going to college full time and I had a job. It kind of all worked itself out. I think one big thing is, I would do everyone's makeup before we would go to the clubs. My friend Chucky, who is now a famous hairdresser, he would do their hair. I would do their makeup. Someone would make the outfit. Then we would go to the club. So, it was really fun. It was a great learning experience. It was a little incubator for people in our jobs now.
Jodi KatzThat's so awesome. They make movies and books out of things like this. Midwestern girl goes to the big city, gets the cool job, meets a lot of interesting people, right? That's a great story. It's sort of storybook-ish. Right? The fact that you were able to make it happen?
Tracy MurphyYeah. I feel very, very, very, very lucky.
Jodi KatzCan you walk us through, a little bit about how you transitioned from being in school and working with your friends to actually having a job and a career as a working makeup artist?
Tracy MurphySure, yes. Thanks. Basically, I finished FIT and there was an opportunity to get a work Visa to live in Europe. So, I moved to London for about a year. It was probably the only year that was a little bit ... I was still doing makeup stuff, but I worked at a record store and it was my first European experience, so it was exploring and traveling and I had a really great time. When I got home, I'm like, "Okay, playtime is over, I need to focus". So, I interviewed for a job at Mademoiselle magazine and I was assisting this stylist Kim Meehan, who ... Our first job was producing a shoot for Madonna and I thought I was going to die. Madonna called one day to speak to Kim and I answered the phone, and she was like "Hi, it's Madonna" and I remember being like, "I'm going to officially pass out". I was like "I just spoke to Madonna on the phone". But, Kim wasn't there and I'm like "Oh, can you call her back" or whatever.

But anyway, this woman Kim was so great. She said, I think you should interview at Mademoiselle magazine, my friend works there. So, I went for the interview and then I didn't get the job. I was so bummed out, because I was like "Oh, it would be so great to work at a magazine, I would love magazines". So, about two weeks later they called me and they're like "Actually, you did get the job". I realized when I got the job, the reason ... They hired someone else but she quit, because the job was so hard, it was torture. But, I learned so much. I was working twelve hours a day. I was making $21,000 a year. I had a twitch in both eyes. It was so hard. I worked for a really intense woman. No one would work with her because she was too crazy, and I was like "I'll do it". My other boss was Ana Luisa Herrera, Carolina Herrera's daughter. She was this wonderfully kind, generous woman who bought me an air conditioner because I didn't have an air conditioner. She just took me under her wing. She was so lovely. So, I had these two different bosses and two different experiences.
I worked there about a year and a half. I learned a ton. I worked in the fashion department and the market department, so I would get all the clothes for the shoots. I remember being like "I just don't like clothes this much. This is really interesting, but this is not my passion. I need to get cracking on this makeup stuff". So, someone said, "Come to one of the shoots". It was with ... I'm spacing on her name ... This wonderful makeup artist who is working today. It was a weekend job and I [inaudible 00:15:05] for two days. And, Monday I walked in and I quit my job. I was like "I am out of here. This is what I want to do, is makeup, not get clothes. I don't care that much about a skirt, I just don't".
So, that was when I started assisting. Calling different agencies and this was the days of carrying around a giant portfolio and walking into offices and trying to have a meeting and meeting people. Through that ... It was also a different time, it was probably 1995. It was a different time in terms of, there were just not that many people in the industry. There was a lot more opportunity. I would just assist, for free. I would just do anything. I would clean their brushes, I would paint their toenails, I would stand there, just get coffee. Whatever they wanted. I wanted to be on those photo shoots.
So I assisted everybody under the sun, which was so great because I learned different techniques and ... I think one of the biggest things I learned was how to be on set and be with people. Because, you're walking into this Vogue shoot, and there's Christy Turlington, and I'm freaking out. Twenty-one years old, freaking out. Seeing how to behave and how you, just, be around these people. How to be creative and work with people. So, I learned a lot that way, kind of on the sidelines, you know? Just working with different makeup artists and flying myself to Europe to do the shows and assisting different people. It was so great. I learned so much. I met so many wonderful people.
Through that ... I did that for a couple of years, and then I really, really wanted this one agency. They had Kevyn Aucoin and Dick Page, and those two are my favorite makeup artists. So, they asked me to come to the agency, which was Jed Root, and I was with them for twenty years. That really solidified me, like "I can do this, I'm an agent now, I'm an adult". So I did that for about twenty years. They just recently closed, but I was with them for twenty years. I still assisted, at the beginning, different people, but Dick Page ended up being my main person I would work with exclusively. So I learned a ton from him. He's just really fun and cool. We like all the same stuff. Like makeup and music. So it was interesting, and so many great opportunities. I'm getting so nostalgic talking about all this.
Jodi KatzYou know, I would love to hear about something that probably a lot of freelancers are probably thinking about, which is how you were able to, in your head space and your emotions, deal with a freelancer lifestyle. That's basically what you are, right, you're a working makeup artist. You have a gig one day and a different gig the next. You probably don't know sometimes what you're doing the next week until that week arrives.
Tracy MurphyRight.
Jodi KatzI think people [inaudible 00:18:10] in their career. There's this lack of rhythm. I guess the only consistent thing is that it's inconsistent.
Tracy MurphyRight.
Jodi KatzSo, scheduling, making sure you get the jobs you want to get. But, with a freelance lifestyle comes things. Are you getting paid on time? Are you getting booked for the right jobs? How do you deal with that from an emotional, head space perspective?
Tracy MurphyIt's an emotional roller coaster and it never ever stops. It never stops. Sometimes, I'm like "Why didn't I just get an office job?". I would know what I was doing, I could plan my life. But, of course, I don't really mean that. But there's something that seems attractive about that. Knowing when you're going to get paid. Being able to schedule family vacations. Showing up when people need you and not being out of town for your friends baby shower. I don't know. It's been really... There's so many great rewards, but the hard consequences have been, yes, there have been months when I didn't make very much money and I was really, really, really, really broke.

2008 was the worst. It was a really rough year with the economy. It was just rough. Then, weirdly, the next year I made the most money I've ever made in my career. So, it doesn't stop. The hustle never stops. You're only as good as your last job. Every day you're walking into work, it's like the first day of school. You have to be on. You cannot be sick. You cannot be late. You cannot have a doctor's appointment. You cannot have a root canal emergency. You have to be there. You cannot cancel. You know, people ask you "Come to my wedding in August". You're like "Maybe, I don't know". Because, if you have a job that goes over that, I always tend to take the job. It's like Sophie's Choice of family and friends or job. I don't know. It's really hard, it's still not easy.
I know I miss a lot of important events for different friends and family. I took the job. Like, I got to go to Bali but I didn't get to go to someone's wedding. But, I got to go to Bali for a two week really big job. It's really hard. You don't know what is going to happen with your money. It's a crazy way to live, now that I've been doing it long enough. Only in the last couple of years have I calmed down a little bit with worrying so much about what the next job is. I know really famous makeup artists that are still worried about their shoots because it's like I said, you're only as good as your last job. Especially now with so much newness, with Instagram and Social... Everything has to be new. No one cares about your job you did two months ago. What are you doing today? It's really increased. Anyway.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting to me the way you talk about that topic, because for me ... So, I've been running a business for ten years and I was freelancing a little bit before that. The idea of financial security, that weight on my shoulders, never goes away even when things are okay. I always feel like it's lurking right around the corner. Are we not going to get paid on time? Are payables and receivables going to be kosher? What's so interesting about the way you just spoke about it is, without missing a beat, you were able to point to the worst fear financially in your business. So, it's something you think about. You know that 2008 sucked.

So, I know that there was a year for me, I don't think it was 2008, but, where the babysitter that worked literally six hours for us in the afternoons three days a week, made more money than I did that year. Very part-time babysitting. So it's so interesting to me how people like us who live this lifestyle ... It never leaves, this weight and pressure. I too long for, at moments, the job where there's regularity, where a pay cheque just lands every two weeks, I don't even think about it. In fact, the go-to job for me would be the person in Penn Station who's calling the Tracks, like "Track One for", you know. And she reads the list. It's always the same. This sense of rhythm and repetition. She knows she's going to call Track One, for the 608, she knows it's going to happen. Maybe it's delayed. Maybe she has to say "We're on Standby for Track One". Then [inaudible 00:23:21] and I realize that I have control over my time, how I spend my time.
I want to talk for a few minutes about what you're doing now, which is leaving the freelance world and embarking into another level of entrepreneurship, which is running a full fledged business with product, which I think probably has a lot of the same emotional challenges as the freelancer lifestyle. Things like, you've primed yourself well to run a beauty brand in the sense that you're used to that kind of craziness. But, it's different. Now you're producing product. Now you're having overhead. It used to be just you and your kit. Now, it's other things. Can you talk about how that transition has been for you in terms of how you organize your time and manage your head space?
Tracy MurphyThat's such a great question. I don't think I've figured it out completely. I'm still figuring it out. It's a day to day kind of thing. I'm switching to makeup artist brain and then switching to business brain. Kind of going back and forth. So, I know this seems silly, but I think one of the biggest challenges has been that, in my day job, I'm used to getting a call sheet. I know where I'm going, I show up, I do my job, it's tangible, we made pictures. And then, I wrap my kit up and I leave and the job is done. There's a sense of beginning, middle and end. It's done and accomplished. On to the next.

Whereas, with business, it's a very long project. Like, you're working on developing an eyeliner. Just one eyeliner will take you months. It's this sense of, you're never completely done and there's a lot of different balls in the air. It's a totally different way of how I've worked for the last twenty years. So, it's taken me a minute to be, oh, okay. Figuring out how to get into that rhythm and also how to use my time too. So, it's been very challenging. I'll be on set, and then at lunch I'll schedule a meeting with the lawyer or whoever, the lab, and then have a thirty minute meeting. Then try to follow-up after work with emails and stuff. So, it is very challenging. But, it's been very challenging. It's been interesting. I've learned so much and anyone that wants to start a business, I'm like "Call me, because I will tell you all the pitfalls and the challenges, what to do".
I've been trying to keep my head down and focused on keeping the product really beautiful ... Knowing what I have control over, which is keeping the product beautiful and promoting and doing the best I can in that way. It's challenging having your own business. It's a different thing where you're also ... 24-7 you're thinking about it and you can't really ever ... There's no real downtime from it, you know.
Jodi KatzRight. It's like a puppy. You have to feed it and you have to walk it. Of course, you want to show it love and attention. Then you realize it's two o'clock in the morning and it's time to go to sleep.
Tracy MurphyRight.
Jodi KatzTell me a little about mentoring. When we first talked, you revealed to me that you have asked advice of someone who is super well known in our business and she was really willing to help you. Can you walk us through a little bit about what it's like to approach somebody who is super established in this business and actually have it pay off?
Tracy MurphyYes. You know what's interesting. I'm sure you have people that are asking you for advice, and you're like, "I've got all this stuff in my head now, and I would love to share it with someone". I think, especially women entrepreneurs, are very generous with their ... Women are that way anyway. I think we're very caring and, I don't want to use the term mothering, but we like to share, women do? So, it's interesting that I've reached out to many different women who have been established, and they're extremely generous with their time and their words and their advice. So, it's been really fantastic.

When I do reach out to people, like my main woman that I talk to, I make sure that I'm hyper-focused. These are the questions, keep it focused. Because they have very little time, and I want to just get the information, be grateful, and always follow-up and explain what I did or what happened. So, it's also beneficial for them, knowing that they're not just wasting their time talking to me.
Jodi KatzRight, because you're following through. You're actually heeding their advice, or doing it. Isn't there a difference between somebody who approaches you ... I'm sure plenty of people approach you and ask you about your career, and then you see them two years later and they're in the same place. They haven't done anything or tried anything outside of their comfort zone. I'm particularly amazed when people come to me and ask me questions and follow through, follow-up. That's somebody I actually want to work with. That's somebody I'd want to do business with. There's a real difference between people asking for help and people actually taking advantage of the help. I guess that's a piece of advice for anyone looking to approach someone who's done what they want to do or been in their shoes. Until you're really ready to do it, wait. You don't want to waste those connections, right?
Tracy MurphyIt's funny that you say that, because now saying this is jogging my memory of all the people over the years that have said they wanted to get into makeup. I've been very generous with my time, talking, going makeup shopping even, helping them build their kit. And then nothing. Never hear from them again. It's very strange, you know. Very strange. Not everyone has that follow through.
Jodi KatzYeah. They're not ready, or they're not ... I guess some people need to see what it's like and then they realize it's not for me. Makeup shopping or figuring out which black eyeliner is the best one to use in moist weather. Maybe it's not that interesting to them. But, I think even a follow-up to be like "I've learned so much from you and I realize this isn't for me". I think that still shows some sort of quality that you'd respect.
Tracy MurphyRight.
Jodi KatzI think the follow-up is really, really important. I think it's about respect. Respect for your time and your generosity.
Tracy MurphyRight, right.
Jodi KatzWell, Tracy, this has been so incredibly interesting and you have such an awesome journey. I'm sure our listeners of all ages are just amazed by how you've been able to keep moving forward, find what feels right and keep at it. Then, of course, to launch your own brand and be promoting it on QVC and other places is so incredible. So thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today.
Tracy MurphyThank you so much for chatting. Thank you. I appreciate it.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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