On Beauty with Rachel Goodwin
Photo: Katie Jones
Welcome to ON BEAUTY, a monthly feature highlighting creative, like-minded people who inspire us.
Rachel Goodwin is the makeup artist behind some of the most iconic celebrity looks of our time. And certainly, her experience, accolades, and A-List clientele set her apart. But it’s her genuine warmth, passion, and authenticity that give us a very real We’ll have what she’s having complex. We were so delighted to sit down with her in her charming studio and discuss what gets her inspired, the ever-changing industry, and the sacred art of transformation.
Photo: Katie Jones
I take very seriously the energy that I bring to each client. I’m there to lift them up and bring them into their strongest, boldest, most beautiful self.
First of all, this is a perfect little space.
Creating a sanctuary wherever I am is something I’m very good at. That’s where I get all my strength and resilience to go out into the world.
Ok, let’s start at the beginning—you have a unique story.
I was born in Long Island. My parents were awesome hippie teenagers who fell in love and decided after Woodstock to get married and have me—and, subsequently, couldn’t figure out what to do with their lives. There was a really bad economy and young men were not having the best time finding jobs, so my dad decided to join the Navy. That brought him to San Diego, stationed in Coronado.
We moved and I went to kindergarten and started my California journey right on the beach on a beautiful little isle, but we were, like, where the hell are we? My dad went out on a ship for months at a time and my poor young mom—who was 21—was lonely and felt alienated from where she grew up, so they ended up not being able to make it through that. My mom met a man who she fell in love with from Marin County and decided to move to the Bay Area. So I ended up in Marin County by the time I was six.
I just loved it there. It was an artist enclave back then, affluent in parts, but it wasn’t what it is now. It was mostly Deadheads. Lots of standing next to Jerry Garcia in line at the grocery store, all of Santana. Journey was a big deal. It was very musical, very artistic. It was also a time when music was colorful and bright and vivid and New Wave and New Romantic and there was punk…it was very free.
We didn’t have a stable life. I never went to the same school more than one year. I’d sometimes live in San Diego, then come back and live with my mom in Marin. And then I was adopted by another family when I was ten. It was my best friend’s mom who was, like, I’m taking you. I look at that with such wonder now, because she was already a mother of three daughters and I’m sure she thought four sounded nuts. She saw a little girl in need. As a mom, I see it for the absolute selflessness it was. So, I have a foster family, as well, and they’re incredible. I feel that was a turning point for me in the sense that I got a little stability in my life.
I don’t really have stories that played out for years at a time. I was a bit of a nomad.
How do you think that informed your career path?
Being able to step back from it now, I see that I was always able to adapt to any scenario, and I genuinely knew how to take care of myself. I was an only child, so I’m really comfortable being alone, I’m really comfortable having my own thoughts and ideas. I don’t get led down other people’s pathways. I feel autonomous. So that’s probably been helpful.
Can you pinpoint when you were first attracted to beauty and makeup?
I started drawing my mom and her friends when I was, like, five. My mom was super into fashion—and she was hot! She was stylish, she was chic, she knew all the models, all the designers. I knew who Norma Kamali, and Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent were very early on. All the other kids had Holly Hobbie lunch boxes—I had a Twiggy lunch box. So, when she and her friends would get ready to go out to the clubs, I was so enamored with what they were doing. I was, like, they have to be the most glamorous things I’ve ever seen.
I’m a naturally curious person. I’m inspired by what I see and what I encounter on a daily basis. There’s the self-care piece, which is getting quiet, and there’s the part that’s just participating in life. You have to be in life to be inspired.
Then it transitioned; I found a picture of Marilyn Monroe. I was nine or ten and I was just, like, who is this miraculous creature? I read every single thing I could possibly find on her, then I started recreating her face. I’d draw her constantly, then I started using my mom’s makeup to draw her exact makeup on my own face. And then I needed victims! I always say, not an eyebrow was safe. There was no one in my life whose eyebrows made it out ok.
It went from Marilyn—she was my gateway star—into all of my other love affairs: Jean Harlow, Carole Lombard, Marlene, Garbo. The screen sirens of the Golden Age became these archetypes for me to work through, and that became another obsession. If you can’t tell, I’m obsessive. I go in deep.
When did you realize that makeup artistry could be a job?
I’d never heard the words “makeup artist.” I knew that I was looking at images of women who I was enamored with and almost felt like goddesses of another dimension. I didn’t know that there was necessarily someone who was creating the makeup that was making me so enamored. When I was 15, my foster mom’s husband’s sister was a makeup artist, and we got invited to her wedding here in LA. It was a small wedding and her friends were all there and all the people she knew in the industry and I heard them talking…I took all this in and thought, I have to figure this out.
What was your first makeup job?
My first real formal paid makeup job was a music video for Journey. It was at the Skywalker ranch, and I was like, I get to actually go there!? I grew up next to it and never went. Another artist hired me to help her and I got to do all the guys’ makeup. I grew up loving Journey, so for me, it didn’t matter if they were on the other side—I still couldn’t believe it.
That was my first time being exposed to the idea I had to be using whatever my gifts were to support other artists and be in that artistic environment. I just wanted to be in their presence. It was like my life’s blood, my calling. Now it’s mostly actors, sometimes musicians, and obviously models, as well. They’re these weird, nomadic, creative tribes—that’s where I’ve lived for the last 25 years, and I love it.
So things snowballed from there?
Then I did a movie called Till Death Do Us Part—a low budget film. They were, like, we don’t have any money for you, but we can give you a budget to create a kit. I was, like, great! I had to go into a mortuary and learn how to make people look like cadavers. That was interesting. Then I went into learning stage makeup from a woman at the San Francisco Opera. And then I started working at different makeup counters. I got lots of experience and gathered all the makeup I’d needed for my kit. At the time it felt so out of reach to be able to get ahold of all the makeup you’d need to have a full makeup kit.
San Francisco is a liberal, fun, amazing, artistic town. There were lots of bondage clubs that used to do fashion shows at night—I started doing makeup for the shows. I would go in and create looks for these radicals…it’s really fun seeing all this stuff on Instagram and these drag shows now because that was my life for the longest time. I loved it. I lived for any time I could use glitter. That was really my aesthetic, it very much came out of the punk era, the New Romantic era of radical gender-bending. I didn’t understand people who didn’t understand that that was the way the world was. I lived in an area and a space in which all that stuff was not only accepted but fully celebrated.
Give us a glimpse of your makeup vibe back then.
Siouxsie Sioux and the kind of girls I looked up to were radicals. My first concert was the Eurythmics and then The Cure. I would go to school with lipstick smeared across my face. For me, makeup was a way of expressing your identity—there was a way of using it that felt like catharsis. I did not think of makeup as a way to be pretty. I never thought of makeup as a means to be acceptable. I thought of makeup as a way to tell a story: how I felt that morning, whether it was pink eyeshadow or whatever—that was my mood, my expression, my feelings on my face. That was the way I connected to myself and my tribe.
That is a perfect snapshot, thank you.
It really wasn’t until I got to New York and into the fashion world in which I was kind of slapped around, like, you can’t look like this, you can’t be like this, you’ve got to be invisible. I got there with my bright pink hair and blue eyeshadow and it was like…girlfriend, what are you doing? I immediately started working on disappearing.
Yes, the style in New York at the time was a little more…minimal.
New York in the 90s was not about that kind of attention. The fashion world, especially, it was about no makeup, sort of these sexless twigs. I’d come from the supermodel era, that’s what really threw me into having to be in fashion, these amazing women like Cindy and Linda! And by the time I got to New York, it was the Ambers and the Kates. It was a different sensibility entirely. It was stripped down, bare-bones. The only people getting to do really fun makeup were in Europe.
I mostly worked with Linda Cantello who was a brilliant artist, but at that time I would have my hands slapped if I even tried to put foundation on someone. You were not allowed to cover up anyone’s skin. I was always about color, bold choices and bright, vivid representations. It was not the time for it. I was there for a little while and I never really felt like I found my footing. I assisted amazing people, I met some of my closest friends to this day—my ride or dies. And then we decided to come back here [Los Angeles] and I went back into the music world because at that time, that’s where things were fun. Music videos were still a real thing and you could do incredibly creative work. And they also wanted to pay me! Imagine that! So I was, like, sign me up!
That was a dream come true. I met this incredible stylist who was actually part of the New Romantic movement in London. Her name was Kim Bowen, she discovered Pat McGrath, she’s a creative force, and she was doing so many incredible things at the time. She plucked me up, saw my potential, and started hiring me a lot. And we did every kind of thing you can imagine: Smashing Pumpkins videos, Marilyn Manson videos, Gwen Stefani, Pink, George Michael…there’s nobody I wasn’t involved with at that time who was doing creative stuff. We would do these fantastical things, and it was just where I was meant to be. It was so fun. I got to utilize all my theater makeup background, and my love and passion for the music world, and I also got to integrate fashion. It was all the things I’d honed up until that point.
What was a turning point in your career?
When I moved out here, celebrities started to take over magazine covers. Models had been on the covers up to that point—this huge shift started to happen. I got booked with David LaChapelle to do a cover for Flaunt magazine with Brittany Murphy—at the time she was coming out of Girl, Interrupted, and she had her first big cover. We did this really cool mime cover and it started a whole new trajectory for me. I started to get booked on more actresses who were having moments. They would book me to do their magazine covers, or if they had a premiere, and that’s how I really started in the celebrity world.
It was a different scope, but also great timing. It was the perfect transition and I took to it really well because the fashion photographers who were shooting these actresses wanted someone with a fashion background. They didn’t want someone who only knew how to do red carpet—they wanted someone who understood how to do editorial makeup, something a bit more creative. So I was in the right place, right time, right moment.
Is there a pivotal moment you can point to?
I think it was a few years later—I got booked on a cover with Natalie Portman in Tahiti for American Elle and it was Gilles Bensimon, who was a legend. That cover was a really big deal and getting flown to a wild Tahitian island to do it…I was so thrilled and remember feeling like that was a turning point for sure. People suddenly knew who I was.
The industry today is a whole new world. How do you feel about social media and the digital space?
I’ve thought about this quite a bit because this subject comes up all the time with artists. I think we’ve all come to the conclusion that, you know, it’s never going back, so you may as well get on board. But I do think it’s becoming clear that there are huge ramifications for how you participate. I think it’s going to be more and more evident going forward—the mental health issues around it, the responsibility we each have. And I think that because we’ve been doing this for a long time, we have a different perspective versus artists who are just coming in because they’re coming into a different business.
I’m working on projects now that I couldn’t have even dreamed up for myself—that have the potential to challenge me and utilize my gifts in ways I could never have even considered—thanks to the social world that we’re in.
Is it more competitive?
Yes, I feel like it’s a fierce competition thing. I did a post recently about it because I was feeling really depleted, and I saw someone I follow post something about alignment versus hustle, and I felt it in my bones. I have to constantly remind myself that I’m not in a race, I’m not in a competition. It was always a competitive field—I’m not going to lie and say it was some easy breezy field. No one gets into that upper upper echelon easily. It’s always a difficult journey.
Time has been accelerated now on Instagram because there’s really no trajectory you need to follow the way we had to follow it. Which is fun and sort of exciting, but also kind of scary for artists because there are doors that can open too early. And I think a lot of young artists don’t understand that sometimes opportunities come when you’re not ready, and sometimes you can rise and sometimes you can’t. You want things to happen to you quickly because that’s the nature of being a human, but I beg of you to take your time because the truth is, when it’s not earned, you just immediately disregard it and move to the next thing, anyway. I think we all need to take a deep breath.
Are there any upsides?
The upside is that there is potential for artistic connection and collaboration like never before, and that is wildly exciting. Things that you are genuinely passionate about on your artistic journey, you can explore in new ways that may have never been possible. I’m working on projects now that I couldn’t have even dreamed up for myself—that have the potential to challenge me and utilize my gifts in ways I could never have even considered—thanks to the social world that we’re in.
I think people are ready for information they weren’t ready for before because they’ve been inundated with the first level of things. I think that has primed the people who have been diligently working on themselves and doing incredible things behind the scenes—their time is about to come. I think shit’s going to get real. I look at what’s happening and sometimes get discouraged or disgruntled about how it focuses on what I think are the most banal pieces of the human experience, but I’m noticing the trend towards something different. There are a lot of people coming forward with concepts that used to seem super fringe—suddenly becoming more mainstream. We’ve just scratched the surface, we’ve gotten to the first chapter, and there’s this whole book that’s going to be written.
Also—the mute button—it’s like therapy.
There’s a lot of emotion in my makeup because I’m an emotional person. I don’t do the same thing on everyone—I feel them out, I feel their spirit, I feel their sensibility, them as a person. And that’s what you see.
That’s a reassuring perspective!
I’m choosing to view it that way! The thing that does worry me about that is creating an echo chamber. I don’t want to see things that make me feel less than, but I don’t want to only see things that I agree with. So it’s a fine line because I don’t personally think it’s ok to live in a curated existence where you only see things that reinforce your own beliefs. It’s important to be challenged and to know that there’s a whole world out there that is working very differently.
Your own social media presence feels very inclusive and positive.
I feel a responsibility to not always be sharing just the successes of my life because I don’t feel it’s serving anyone. It’s been more than twenty years since I’ve been on this career path, and I’ve had so many ups and downs. It doesn’t matter how far I’ve come, I still experience them, so being the kind of person who doesn’t talk about that…why? How am I helping the people coming up behind me, how am I being even worthwhile to myself? At this point in my life, I’m more interested in being of service to other people. It feels way better and more important when I walk out the door and leave my children for any number of hours, that I’m doing something worthwhile with my time.
Do you find inspiration in the online space?
I definitely get how this [phone] can be used to be inspired, but if I’m just focused on my phone or computer, something about the emotional quality isn’t there. And there’s a lot of emotion in my makeup because I’m an emotional person. I don’t do the same thing on everyone—I feel them out, I feel their spirit, I feel their sensibility, them as a person. And that’s what you see. If you look at my client and you just look at the makeup, I don’t feel like I’ve done my job. I want you to see something new about them that you’ve never thought about.
Painting someone’s face is an intimate act. I take very seriously the energy that I bring to each client. I’m there to lift them up and bring them into their strongest, boldest, most beautiful self. It’s very much an emotional intelligence-heavy job.
How do you get into the creative zone?
Sometimes I take a bath and listen to music, sometimes it’s really being in nature. Sometimes it’s just getting still. My favorite places in the world are bookstores and museums and forests—that’s really where I can be my most clear. But in the real world when that can’t happen, there’s a beautiful thing about this digital world of ours: we used to have to rip things out of magazines, put them in folders, put them on boards. Now, you can literally go through your Pinterest board and be like, I’m feeling like I want to talk about blue or I want to talk about skyscrapers, whatever, and you can have a board in two minutes.
So, I like to do both, the digital and the analog, and then bring them together. The analog stuff is being in the real world. I’m a naturally curious person. I’m inspired by what I see and what I encounter on a daily basis. There’s the self-care piece, which is getting quiet, and there’s the part that’s just participating in life. You have to be in life to be inspired.
How do you tackle creative roadblocks?
I have two favorite books that I pull out when I’m feeling depleted creatively. One is called Steal Like an Artist, and it’s a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun but the way you interpret it is new. And usually, that means what my son and I like to call “mashups.” You’re not here to copy something verbatim. You’re here to put it in a blender and bring it out in a new way.
And one is The War of Art, and that basically talks about being in tune with your muse. The more aligned you are with your soul’s purpose, the more resistance you’re going to get from the universe, right? Every time an artist gets to that point where they think they’re about to have a breakthrough, you get the cosmic slap-down and the tests come through. You’re like, fuck, now what? It’s going to pull your attention away, it’s going to make you think you’re not worthy. All this ugliness comes up. So when I’m in that mode, when I start to feel like everything’s been done, I have nothing new to contribute, I’m not doing the right thing—I go to one of those books and get myself back on track.
I’m sure it’s hard to choose but what’s one of your favorite looks?
Most recently, I would say the British Vogue cover that I did with Emma last winter was such a career high. First of all, I love British Vogue, I love Edward Enninful as an editor, I love the magazine right now, what it stands for, the inclusion and the brave, bold choices—and I got to do makeup. A lot the fashion magazines at the highest level, it’s very beautiful natural makeup which has its time and place. But on this particular cover, I got to do something that has spoken to my heart since I was very young: blue eyeshadow and a red lip—together. Which is one of my favorite things on the planet earth. Some people may hate it, but for me, there’s something transcendent about it! The cold and the warm, the over-the-top nature of that combination. And to get to do that on a Vogue cover was just spectacular.
Celebrities have a team to help them look and feel good. Who is on the team that makes you look and feel good?
Oh, good question. To be honest, I’m fairly basic in that regard. My good friend Fallon Chavez comes to my home at any hour, any time I need to have my roots done. That’s been a game-changer. When I get a chance to be alone and do self-care, I go to Crystal Spa—it’s a tiny little spa in the top of a Korean mall in Koreatown and it has a Himalayan salt room, a charcoal room, and a cold room. I eat kimchi and have corn silk tea, I lie around on the Himalayan salt and I come home and feel like a new person. That is the way I do right by me.
As as far as facials and such, I don’t get to do them very often, to be honest. If I am in New York, I see Tracie Martyn. They make a beautiful product, they use natural ingredients, and they’re passionate. I vote with my money in the sense that everything I purchase—everything I involve myself in—I have to be aligned with their philosophy. So Tracie is great in that way.
I will say, my favorite thing to do is dance. I go to Gold’s Gym or to Swerve on 3rd. I have a dance teacher, Michelle Akda—she’s been such an incredible gift to me. My neighbors introduced me to it, and ever since I’ve been absolutely devoted. It’s Latin and funk and hip hop, and I’m obsessed with K-pop so I got her to break down BTS’s routine. Dance has become pure catharsis and my way of managing my stress levels and my happiness. I’m in my body and out of my brain. There’s a woman in her late 70s, and I swear to god, she was the person where I was like, if she can make it here and do this routine, I can get my ass get here and it has been the best thing I’ve ever done.
It’s everything I’m about in the world. It showcases what beauty can be in its highest form. What rituals are about. Beauty rituals in their inherent core began as sacred acts, and this line, every single piece, is getting you to participate in a sacred act.
What motto are you living by?
"If it's not a hell yes, it's a no."
What’s your favorite ritual?
Makeup. I give myself between five and ten minutes because I always say there’s no such thing as a five-minute face. But if I can give myself ten minutes, I feel like I’m winning. In that moment, I leave one person behind and find the person that’s going to take on my day. My inward self is transitioning into my outward self. That’s a ritual I feel is practical magic. I didn’t realize I was participating in it when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older…it’s kind of like how Beyoncé says she’s got Sasha Fierce. It helps my energy shift into my outward persona.
What’s your favorite scent?
My favorite smell of all time is rain after a really dry spell on the cement. I looked it up and it has a name, that smell is called petrichor. That and the smell of the forest floor, like rotting leaves in Marin County at Samuel P. Taylor Park. The trees are California bay, so it’s an herbaceous rot and I freaking love it!
Any tips for long-haul flights?
Drink a lot of water! Do not get drunk on the plane! I’ve learned that the hard way, it just doesn’t help! I have this Altitude Oil and I’ve been carrying it in my bag. I inhale it and it calms my nerves because the airport stresses me out, the idea of leaving stresses me out, the idea of being in a metal tube in the sky stresses me out. I’ve really gotten into using my headphones and doing meditations. And I don’t do the masks that other people do, but I have started using sleep masks which essentially give you the same effect but without looking like a crazy person next to a stranger. So that has changed the game because your skin doesn’t get stripped from all the recycled air. Watermelon rind juice is another—it keeps you from getting depleted.
When I know that my immunity’s been compromised, I get an IV drip, and that will immediately restore me from a crazy long journey. And I mean, that’s an extreme thing. I don’t like needles but I have never seen my body bounce back quicker. I have to get things done quickly and efficiently! I have two small children and a career—I don’t have time to waste! What’s going to work!?
Favorite beauty food?
Dave Asprey’s collagen bars. Collagen is a gift that keeps on giving.
Do you have a vice?
Ice cream is my main vice. I know that sounds really boring. I’ve had many vices in my life and now it’s just ice cream. I started an Instagram account just for my ice cream obsession called The Sunday Times. That’s how passionate I am about ice cream. When I’m in crisis, I turn to ice cream. Ice cream and cannabis…
Is cannabis really a vice?
I think some people think it is. I don’t really use it in a way in which it’s to my detriment, but it’s there when I need it, which makes it feel like a vice. If we’re talking escapism? Downton Abbey. Here I am looking very old and boring but those are my vices. My version of the Kardashians is the Crawleys. I’m one of those. And I know I’m supposed to give up coffee, but I can’t. I just drink one beautiful cup of coffee every single morning and I enjoy the smell, I enjoy the process, I enjoy listening to the grinding if it, I love everything about coffee, so I can’t give it up. I believe it’s good for me because I enjoy it so much.
Do you have any charms or talismans?
My grandmother, when she passed away, one of her favorite symbols was a scarab. Her nickname was June bug, and June bugs are essentially scarabs, so I have her scarab on my dresser. Also, as a Scorpio, my natural state is death and rebirth and rebirth and death and digging in the muck to create gold…it’s like the alchemy symbol. So that’s always helped me through life—even when you’re in the difficult stuff, that’s where you’re going to find all the good. It’s a really powerful symbol to me.
How did you discover In Fiore?
I’ve been a fan since Danilo introduced me to it years ago. I knew about it, but I didn’t really know. And Danilo, being a San Francisco bud, a creative soul partner—he is just such a force of creativity in the world. I’ve been lucky enough to work with him for many years, and every time I work with him, I’m in awe of his extraordinary talent. So when he introduced me to it, I was like, of course it’s something great. He loves it, I’m going to love it, what is it?
He’d always bring the perfumes, and then Julie sent me some things that I started to play around with. I was like, whoa—these are next level. It’s more than a natural beauty line. It’s an artisanal…otherworldly…intention-setting…frickin’…it’s unreal. It’s everything I’m about in the world. It showcases what beauty can be in its highest form. What rituals are about. Beauty rituals in their inherent core began as sacred acts, and this line, every single piece, is getting you to participate in a sacred act.
I am a fan of artisanal beauty, and most artisanal beauty is inherently natural because the people who take the time to create things with that level of intention typically are coming from a more conscious awareness. I’m not a fast food eater, I want a meal prepared with love. So that’s kind of how I translate it. I mean, Night Queen is something I find to be totally transcendent, the balms take me out of the world in which my child is screaming for his next glass of juice and make me feel like I’m part of another dimension that I want to be in!
That is why I love Julie’s products—they feel bigger to me than results. Meanwhile, they do create results, but it’s not even about the results. I’m not even thinking about that when I’m using them. I’m thinking about how wonderful they feel, how wonderful they smell, I’m thinking about how beautiful the bottle is. Julie is another creative soul doing something with equal passion that I can connect with.
What’s your favorite In Fiore product?
I’m partial to the Vis Clair Suprême because I’m just in love with it right now. I could go on and on but let’s just keep it at those two because we’ll be here for hours if we don’t.