EPISODE 159

When Fiona Stiles went to college to study photography and fine art, she never imagined that her canvas would be a face! As a celebrity makeup artist and CEO of Reed Clarke, she loves the unpredictability of her job and the challenge to create new looks and appearances. Growing up in the 70s and associating makeup with “the opera and maybe movies and special effects” it was after she moved to New York City that she discovered the realm of makeup and creativity. Hear the rest of Fiona’s stories, from working as a makeup assistant to being resilient in the face of life’s challenges.

 

AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey there it's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty™ podcast. Thank you so much for tuning in. This week's episode features Fiona Stiles. She's the owner of Reed Clark and also a very talented makeup artist. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured Joy Harare. She's the founder and CEO of Shore Magic. Hope you enjoy the shows.

Hey everybody. I am so excited to be here with Fiona Stiles. She is a very talented makeup artist. She's also the owner of Reed Clark. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty™.
Fiona StilesThank you. So happy to be here. I've been such a fan for a long time, so it's pretty exciting.
Jodi KatzThis has been, I think for sure, over a year in the making, maybe even two years in the making that we've been friends through Instagram, and I'm so glad that finally Zoom brings us together.
Fiona StilesAnd a pandemic. Well, I think I was originally supposed to come during Met Ball was when we had scheduled the in person podcasts. So yeah, a pandemic brought us... Finally, our schedules merged.
Jodi KatzSo let's talk about life during this crisis. We just got you out of a session teaching out of school to your child. So right now you're a part time teacher and part time entrepreneur and full time everything. Tell me what life has been like for you.
Fiona StilesI mean, it's the same for so many people. We spent decades honing our skills and then we're thrown into the role. One of the most important roles in our kids' lives is to be a teacher. And I'm pretty sure we're all woefully unprepared. I did not know how hard second grade math was. And also not just that it's hard, but that it was taught wildly differently when I learned it at her age. And so I've had to learn how to not only teach her, but how to actually teach in the way that they are being taught. So it's super challenging.
Jodi KatzWhen my son went through second grade math, I actually had to go and like get tutored by the teacher. I went early to school one day and she sat down and explained it to me because it's completely different. The language of it is different. The thought process is different. It's cool, but it's so different.
Fiona StilesIt's cool because there's more ways to get to one answer, but it... Anyway, it's just very challenging, especially for someone who went to art school. I really haven't done math in a super long time. And part of me loves it, and part of me feels very grateful for this time and figuring out what kind of a learner she is and what her strengths and stretches are. But it is a whole new set of skills that I need to hone. And it has challenges. I can't remember to do anything. I thought this was Pacific time and yeah, it's very hard to keep schedules.
Jodi KatzHow have you been trying to organize yourself like between work and school, like your daughter's schoolwork and other needs for your child?
Fiona StilesIt's very hard not having a calendar that I look at every day. This is very challenging for me. And I'm used to a paper notebook, a proper schedule, but it's mostly empty. So looking at it, it's a little depressing and I'm finding scheduling very challenging. Other than that, I wake up at five Monday through Friday to work on Reed Clark before school starts and before I start getting everything prepped for the day. And then when she's done with school at about 2:30 or 3:00... Well, I give her an extra half hour with me at the end of school where I'm nice to her. Like mom time, not teacher time. So we try and do something fun and play for a little while so that the teacher leaves and the mom comes back, and we can have some quality time. And then I try and work from 3:00 to 6:00 on my business.
Jodi KatzWhen are you going to bed at night to wake up at five every day?
Fiona StilesLater than I should. I'm super sucked into The Great on Hulu right now. So I don't go to bed til like 11, which is really tough. We're getting up at five, but I can't stop watching that show. It's so good.
Jodi KatzSo you said that you always had a paper calendar, like a book
Fiona StilesYes, for decades.
Jodi KatzWhat do we call it?
Fiona StilesDate book. I don't know.
Jodi KatzDate book. Date book. So now that it's not stacked with places to be, do you find that there's this sort of effect, like the less you do the less you do because you're not stacked with your schedule day after day? Is that why it's harder to schedule things because you're not as crunched in that schedule?
Fiona StilesI think because everything is happening in the same place I don't have to actually physically go anywhere or be anywhere. It's like, yes, I have to do XYZ. I feel like I've actually am busier now because I'm so in charge of everything happening in the house with my... Because I decided to take on teaching solely. It felt like it would be less confusing, but I don't have to actually be anywhere at any time. So I have a harder time when it comes to actually scheduling specific blocks of time. I tend to get everything done and I'm quite a good taskmaster. It's just time is very fluid. I find it very challenging to pin down.
Jodi KatzWell, let's talk about time because you said this thing to me on our intake call that I thought was so interesting. And it was about you called yourself a day worker or something. What was the language you used?
Fiona StilesYeah, it's like a day player.
Jodi KatzDay player.
Fiona StilesMost of the time I don't know what I'm doing two days from now. Now I know exactly what I'm doing two days from now. It's the same thing I did yesterday. But it makes us very fluid, but it also is hard to section your life into periods because everything feels so different, but also so much the same.
Jodi KatzOkay. So explain to someone who's not a makeup artist what this means to be a day player. Tell me what it's like to live this in this world every day, week to week, month to month.
Fiona StilesSure. So my happy place would be knowing exactly what I was doing every single day for a month out so that I could really plan my life, but that's not how our industry works. Often jobs come in the day before, two days before. You may have a few things that you got to plan a month out, but for the most part, things come in very quickly. And I guarantee anytime you buy a plane ticket for a vacation or put some sort of money forward for personal time, you will get a large important job during that time. You'll have to cancel. Be it a wedding, a birth. It doesn't matter like. The more important, the more likely you're going to get booked on that day. It's just Murphy's law has a very strong hold in our industry, and it makes planning your life very challenging.
Jodi KatzOkay. So let's talk about that because you've been doing this for many years. What is life like really when you're looking to achieve personal time? Are you really making decisions about livelihood versus friendships or livelihood versus-
Fiona Stiles100%. Here's the thing about being a freelance makeup artist or a hairdresser or stylist or whatever. We don't know when our next paycheck is coming. We don't know when the next job is coming, other than what's on the books and it all can disappear like it has with the pandemic. My calendar was wiped, clean indefinitely. There is no date where we're coming back. We have no idea when we can actually return to work. And I'm sorry. I also have a very hard time right now, pinning down... So can you please tell me your question again? I'm telling you, my mind is like a sieve.
Jodi KatzWell, I want to understand someone in your field, are you really making decisions between livelihood and important family vacations or livelihood and family events or friends events?
Fiona StilesSo if someone said to you, they would give you... I'm just going to throw an obscene number out there. They would pay you $10,000 to miss your dad's 80th birthday. What are you going to do?
Jodi KatzWell, what do you do?
Fiona StilesYou're going to take the money. You're going take the money because you don't know when your next check is. And the other thing is some days you get paid a very small amount of money or free. You work for free. Like an editorial is often a very nominal fee or there is no fee. So you work with your client. You work for the opportunity. You work with the photographer. You're not working for that paycheck, but then your next job might be an advertising job and it's not a substantial amount of money. So it all sort of evens out. People think, oh, we have this amazing glamorous life where we make all this money. Well, some days we make zero money and sometimes we don't see that money for three months, six months, nine months. I mean, there have been times where I haven't been paid for a year.

So it's a very challenging way to plan your life. And things are very unpredictable. And what I was referring to as a day player is you just don't know where you're headed. And I've been doing this for 25 years and I'm still thrilled when I get a really good job because there's no stability to it. So you have to have a lot of tenacity and you have to have a lot of faith in your ability and in the industry. And then when something like COVID happens and everything is pulled out from underneath you, it's kind of shocking.
Jodi KatzSo tell me all the reasons why you love being a professional makeup artist.
Fiona StilesYou bet. Even though sometimes I fantasize about being someone who sits and files papers all day because it's very finite; the freedom and unpredictability of our job, which is double-sided, is the most exciting part is that you don't know what your next job is. It could be incredibly glamorous or fabulous, or it could just be like going to someone's house and doing their makeup. But there's a sense of wonder to the unknown about it.

And I also love the challenge of working with the same person over and over again. So I have some clients that I've been working with for over 10 years and to work on the same face repeatedly and get to know them so intimately and the mapping of their features and to try and make them look different over and over again is a really wonderful exercise.

I love working with creative teams. I think that doing makeup on myself in my house would be a nightmare because I love bouncing ideas off the hairdresser and references with the stylist and this beautiful alchemical connection that happens between all of us as a team when we create something really special, that is lovely. And there are very few jobs where you get that.
Jodi KatzSo how are you filling that void right now during COVID, that collaboration, that community, that sense of play and artistry?
Fiona StilesIt's challenging. I try and channel some of that into schooling and trying to find interesting ways to teach my daughter. I've just started following a ton of embroidery feeds on Instagram because I think needle work is very peaceful. I've been sewing masks. I mean, I hadn't used my sewing machine in 15 years or something, so we're going to make doll clothes. I'm really channeling it all into my kid. And now it's I'm focusing on how to make like the best home summer camp ever. And baking.
Jodi KatzOh. Can you make like a video tutorial about making a great home summer camp?
Fiona StilesIf I had the time. I'm too busy playing the best summer camp ever.
Jodi KatzI actually got really anxious a couple of weekends ago and it was not productive about what are my kids doing for the summer? What are they doing for the summer? And it was giving me so much anxiety because for whatever reason I felt like I had to solve that problem in that moment, which I didn't and I don't. But I was getting really kind of wound up about it because I'm working and I work a lot now, and my husband works a lot now. I don't want them on screens all day, every day. And I know there's going to be some days where it's just is that way and I'll accept that, but I can't accept five days a week of that all summer. So I was really working myself up about it. And then I just gave it up and I'm like, "I don't need to solve this today. I can solve this another day."
Fiona StilesI think it's hard for people who have A type personalities. I like to say that I have like a B+ type personality. I'm not quite as intense as some people, but I can be pretty intense. I think it's hard for us to not be able to solve all these problems. And we're used to solving problems, but this is a whole new thing for us. And I need a plan and I need a system, and trying to systemize all this is very challenging.
Jodi KatzYeah. So let's go back in time when things were a little simpler.
Fiona StilesYeah, to the before time. I love the before times.
Jodi KatzLet's talk about you going to art school.
Fiona StilesSure.
Jodi KatzWhy did you go to art school?
Fiona StilesI always really enjoyed art and was not the most academic kid. It was also like the seventies so no one's really paying attention much and that's fine. I had working parents and they did the best that they could, but art is where I felt comfortable. And I ended up going to the Rhode Island School of Design to study fine art photography, and really thrived in this arena of misfits and self-expression. It was just so much fun. It was truly like the best four years of my life. And I got a lot done, but it was also just a very freeing experience to go to college with a bunch of kids who just wanted to make weird stuff. I mean, that's basically my job. I work with the arty kids who want to make weird stuff, but we just use people as our canvases.
Jodi KatzSo I think when I was in high school, it was... Yeah, my art class, it was fringe. I guess I always felt on their fringe, so I felt like I belonged there. But all these other people who felt like they didn't belong anywhere else, came to art. Is this still the same way in like schools today?
Fiona StilesOh, I have no idea. I don't know. I can't really speak to that. I have an eight year old. So they all like art.
Jodi KatzI wonder if things have evolved where everybody can like art. I almost think that... I'm 44. I almost think that when I went to high school, you couldn't like art if you were XYZ. Everyone was sort of put into this mold that they had to stay in.
Fiona StilesRight. I mean, I hope people are a little more accepting and that there are not such rigid, like John Hughes boundaries. I never went to a school that was jocks and nerds. It was a private school, so everybody was really quite gentle. You know what I mean? And the school I send my kid to I love because she went to an upper school basketball game recently in the before times. And during the halftime show, some science kids came out and did a science experiment and then some drama kids came out and did some theater. And I was like, "This is great. This is exactly what I want." I want the blurring of boundaries. I want art kids to love math. And I want science kids to love sports. And I just feel like everybody should be able to dip their toe in every pedagogy and every category and not feel like they have to be pigeonholed into these archaic ideas of what it is to be a person.
Jodi KatzThat's so awesome. I want to go to that school. That sounds so cool.
Fiona StilesRight. I would like to go to that school. I would like to trade places. She can stay home and teach, and I'm going to go to her school.
Jodi KatzOkay. How did you find your way into makeup? You went to school for photography.
Fiona StilesRight. So I always dabbled in makeup, but back then, it was not really... I mean, it was certainly not in the public consciousness the way it is now. I mean, everybody knows what a makeup artist is and I certainly didn't. I associated it with the opera and maybe movies and special effects. And even though I have always read fashion magazines, it just didn't maybe dawn on me that it was like an actual job. And I went to New York City after I graduated from college and literally fell into it and then never looked back. It just felt right. And it made sense. And I felt confident in that space, and I feel really fortunate to be where I am. But it was also a lot of hard work and some luck and good timing.
Jodi KatzSo tell me what it took. What was it like in the beginning?
Fiona StilesThere was no Google, which I always mention. There weren't home computers really. Maybe I knew a couple of people who had them, but it was really you just have to figure it out. You had to be scrappy and persistent. And I remember looking through the Yellow Pages for modeling agencies so that I could reach out to them. But they're not in the Yellow Pages. You have to know their names and go to the White Pages. And for anybody who is not in my age demographic, these used to be books with all of the phone numbers of places that existed in your city. They're very large books.

So I finally figured out the names of a couple of modeling agencies and found them in the White Pages. And I would read the credits in fashion magazines. And I ended up just calling the artists at home and seeing if I could be their assistance. I was scrappy. I figured it out. But the kids today, they've got the Googles and they've got the YouTubes and they've got access to these incredible artists and can really learn where I was looking at books and magazines and trying to figure it out.
Jodi KatzSo back then was the coveted role like being someone's assistant, their consistent assistant? Is that the job you were hoping to get?
Fiona StilesYeah. I mean, I didn't even know what job I was hoping to get. I knew nothing. I had no idea how it worked. Zero and I ended up landing an opportunity to work with Pat McGrath when she was still living in London. So she wasn't here full time. So when she was in New York, I was her assistant but most of the time she was in London. So I didn't have the first assistant position that you would normally have where you're working every single day. But when she was in town, I was her first. So it was a really incredible time to be working with someone, especially when I was so young and seeing everyone at the absolute top of their game. And being in that environment, I'm sure I was not the best assistant. I didn't really know the protocol and I'm probably horrified when I think back on it, but I did the best I could and I really wanted to be there. And it was amazing.
Jodi KatzDo you get calls from aspiring makeup artists to be your assistant?
Fiona StilesI get a lot of DMs. And let me give a little word of advice. And this is not just if you want to be a makeup artist, this is for anything in life. And I think there is a lot of informality in our world currently with how you can access people. You don't have to write a formal cover letter. You can get into someone's DMs instantly. Use full sentences please and full words. This is your first impression. Like that old adage, you only get one chance to make a first impression. And when someone says, "do u need an assistant," I delete them because if that person can't take the time to write me a full sentence, I can't imagine what their set etiquette will be like. So I have definitely hired assistants from DMs. Again, persistence and a tenacity goes a long way. If someone keeps reaching out to me, I take notice. But generally I'll pass their information along to my agent and then let them sort of filter stuff out.
Jodi KatzSo the same skills that you needed to thumb through the white pages or find the names of these modeling agencies. I mean, it's the same skill set now. The medium is different, but that idea of being persistent and consistent. And I guess the balance between like being annoying and being persistent-
Fiona StilesYes.
Jodi Katz... is important too.
Fiona StilesYou can be politely persistent, right? There does seem to be a little bit of an attitude of people are owed something and that's not the case. I don't owe you a DM back if you can't write me a full sentence. But if you were kind and thoughtful and polite, I will write back to you for sure.
Jodi KatzWell, let's move ahead because you are a woman of many talents. Not only are you a makeup artist, but you also have formulated your own products.
Fiona StilesI did.
Jodi KatzRight. And you also own a really cool online store called Reed Clark. So when did this sort of entrepreneurial bug bite you to start venturing out beyond your daily makeup artistry?
Fiona StilesRight. Well, so the unpredictability of my industry makes it very hard to be an entrepreneur because it's very hard to commit to the time you need to... I mean, it takes a lot of time to run another business. It's a full time job to run another business and then to have a full time job doing something else and then to also be a parent is a pretty big struggle.

I guess I've always wanted to do something outside of makeup. And then it sort of struck me one day that I wanted to be able to have a place where people could find very interesting things that they may not be able to find. I've been fortunate to live in New York City for a long time and to live in Los Angeles. And there are a lot of very cool things that you can find here, but that's not the case for everywhere. And when I started Reed Clark, six years ago, it was still a little bit... Things were still a little bit more underground for finding small, independent brands and underground products. And since then, it's definitely become a lot more top of mind for people. But back then it was really hard to find a lot of the things I carried, and that's what I like about it. I like that it's a little special treat that people get to find.
Jodi KatzBut finding cool things and creating cool things is not enough of a reason to start a whole business. What really motivated you to say, "I'm going to do this. I'm going to make this happen."
Fiona StilesWell, you want a little stability in life, right? In a job where you have zero control over your life schedule trajectory, whether or not someone wants to book you, whether or not you're going to get that big job, you want to have some sort of a foothold. And that's really what having another business was. And I had tried in New York to have like an eyebrow business out of my apartment or just doing something else for when there's downtime or for when you feel like you need a little extra cash. But having something that was mine and mine alone, it feels good. And it's something I'm in control of when there's very little control in my job.
Jodi KatzRight. That makes sense. So what about the product line, did that give you a sense of control?
Fiona StilesThat was a partnership and I was the creative director of the line. I developed every single product. I think we started with 123 skews.
Jodi KatzOh my gosh. That's enormous.
Fiona StilesIt was huge. It just was out of the gate huge. It was such an incredible opportunity. And I found it also wildly challenging as the creative person in a very business oriented business. And also someone who perfection is a very important quality and goal. If things weren't perfect, I found it very upsetting. And there are a lot of cooks in the kitchen and there's also like a lot of expenses. So you need to figure out what's going to be the most important thing. And sometimes it was I couldn't get the color exactly how I wanted it, which felt devastating sometimes. No one else noticed, but it was a terrific learning process. I learned so much from it. I wished the opportunity would come again in a much smaller format in a much more independent way. And I do often fantasize about just taking my love and passion for Reed Clark and turning that into a small product line. But that was another full time job that was on top of two other full time jobs.
Jodi KatzSo is that brand of products gone now?
Fiona StilesIt is no longer in production. Yeah. Yeah. It was pretty short lived, which was also disappointing and heartbreaking because I think that where we are... And maybe in the aftertime or our current time things will slow down a little bit, but things were so breakneck that if you weren't an instant success, there was no time to grow or room for error or happy accidents. If you just didn't crush it immediately, then you were pushed to the side and I don't think that's healthy for a business model.
Jodi KatzRight. Well, that would be pretty indicative of the experience most small brands would have with a retail partner, right?
Fiona StilesYes.
Jodi KatzOnce you enter this work with third party wholesale, there's demands on you. But if you're willing to play the slow game and you do direct to consumer or you sell your products on Amazon, then you get the chance to be in more control, right?
Fiona StilesYes.
Jodi KatzWith your expenses, obviously it's still cost a ton to market a brand, but eliminating that third party gives you control the timeline.
Fiona StilesYes. If I was given the opportunity again, I would 100% do direct to consumer and avoid a big box store. It was fatal. Sadly.
Jodi KatzRight. Right. And you know that you're not the only brand that experiences that. We hear that story really often. It does seem like for entrepreneurs, the, I guess, misconception is that entering a Sephora or a Saks or Ulta or a Target is like the holy ground. It's like it's going to fix everything and be amazing. And the reality is the cost so much to do business with those players and to support those business and to drive traffic. And you're right. If you're not producing fast enough, they're going to kick you out while they don't have the room for low performers. Right?
Fiona StilesThat's right.
Jodi KatzSo it really can be the death blow to a brand.
Fiona StilesYeah. I remember Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics, which was a great little brand. They had a little shop down on the Lower East Side. Their products were phenomenal. Their colors were great. The formulations were amazing and they went into Sephora and then they disappeared. It just killed the brand. And that just makes me so sad. I think it's such a flooded market, you need time to discover your people, your tribe, the people that love what you do. And if you don't do it in six months, to be sidelined is really hard. It's really hard, but it was truly like going to college very quickly, like doing four years in 60 days. I learned so much. And for that I'll forever be grateful.
Jodi KatzYeah. I see making what people call mistakes. It's the cost of doing business. You have to do that to be able to learn from it and then do other things. You can't go from point A to point B in a straight line. This doesn't happen.
Fiona StilesRight. And I hope that these are also lessons I can teach my daughter and pass on to her. That resiliency is important. That just because something doesn't work doesn't mean you're a failure. That you can take these beautiful life lessons for something that was very painful and hard to go through. If you don't get to do it again, at least you are a stronger person with a greater book of experiences.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting you mentioned that, Fiona, because when I have a work challenge, I typically would beat myself up about it quite a bit. I would have, I should have, I could have. And the advice I often get from other people is, "Well, how would you talk to your kids about that if they went through that?" I would never, ever, ever be like, "You could have, you should have." Like never in a million years. So I started to learn how to talk to myself the way I talk to my kids and be like, "Okay, well, you did it. That's cool. It happened. Now it's over. You learned stuff, met people." So yeah. I'm learning how to be kind.
Fiona StilesIt's a good lens to look through life. The lens of being a parent.
Jodi KatzYeah. It's been super helpful for me. Well, Fiona, I'm so glad that we got to do this together. This is so incredible to finally get to see your face this way.
Fiona StilesThank you so much. I know, I know. I'm really grateful that you made it happen because it was all you.
Jodi KatzWell, thank you so much, Fiona, for your wisdom today. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram at Where Brains Meet Beauty podcast.
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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