Born in Frankfurt, Germany, and raised in various places across the US as the child of army officers, Michael Anthony has always had a flair for the creative. Playing around with make-up from the age of six, he would often use whatever he found lying around the bathroom and pretend to be at the spa, before moving on to create looks for his sisters, friends, and “anybody who would sit still and trust me,” he says. Honing his craft at MAC Cosmetics, he moved to New York where he assisted industry legends Pat McGrath, Diane Kendal and Mark Carrasquillo.
Since then, Anthony has carved out a name for himself as the go-to celebrity make-up artist, regularly collaborating with Katy Perry, Paris Hilton and Ariana Grande. As the mastermind behind Grande’s signature pastel-hued, shimmering looks, he transformed the Thank U, Next singer into a space-age ‘fembot’ for her 34+35 music video in 2020, teaming a graphic, white, winged eyeliner with a subtle red lip and an all-round supernatural shine in one scene, and a silver circuit around the eyes with a metallic-mauve lip in another.
Here, he shares his tips on how to get into the industry and where his career has taken him so far.
Growing up, what informed your idea of beauty?
“The indulgent, patent leather and synth music of the 1980s—all the high glamour of the decade had a major impact on me. Janet Jackson and her prolific make-up artist Kevyn Aucoin, Madonna’s 1991 Truth or Dare documentary with [make-up artist] Joanne Gair bouncing around her features; the TV series Dallas [1978 to 1991] with the frosted eyelids and lips. Elizabeth Taylor‘s iconic purple eyeshadow… and, of course, a portrait of my beautiful mother hanging in our hallway, staring down at us with her perfect nails and separated lashes. I guess you could say all of the strong women of the 1980s and 1990s inspired a lot of what I do today.”
What does make-up mean to you?
“The process of sitting down and focusing on something was meditative for me as a child. It focused me, but it also felt like playing. Now, I’ve realised that when I’m doing make-up, I’m channelling that same energy, but I’m collaborating with whoever I’m working with, too. I enjoy the satisfaction people have when they feel confident, beautiful or transformed.”
At what point did you decide to pursue make-up as a career?
“To be completely honest, I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to pursue it as a career. Make-up was the outlet for my creativity and expression. I just knew I wanted to see my work on the glossy pages of magazines and learn everything I could about glitter, tapes, red lipstick, concealer, or anything that seemed like it could transform somebody into a character or another version of themselves.”
What was your first big break?
“I’ve heard the saying that in this industry you need ‘30 big breaks’. I would say a huge moment of accomplishment was working on my first Vogue covers—Vogue Australia and Vogue India, both times with the fabulous and iconic Katy Perry. I felt I’d pierced the veil of success and achieved something many people don’t get a chance to experience.”
What keeps you creatively inspired?
“I’m inspired by my peers and creatives in the queer community and beauty field—their freedom of self-expression is so powerful. I used to work with a lot of underground artists and people in the nightlife scene in New York, so to see the TikTok generation and Instagram beauty personas do their thing is inspiring in a new way.”
How would you describe your creative process and aesthetic?
“The most important part of my process is being responsible for my energy and collaborating with whoever is in my chair, which requires a lot of listening. As far as my artistic aesthetic, a phrase that I hear in my head over and over again is ‘come for the twist’, and to me that means do what works, or what someone feels comfortable in, and then put your own twist on it. I hate the terms ‘experimental’ and ‘edgy’, but I hear them often. I prefer oddly satisfying, adventurous, loud and colourful.”
When working with someone such as Ariana Grande, how much of her personality informs the look you give her? How do you approach doing her make-up?
“She’s an absolute beauty in and out of make-up, and it’s a dream to paint her delicate features. We always vibe out what the feels are for the project. She has such an identifiable look, and I like to keep that in mind while adding a beautiful twist, such as a double line or a white graphic line. We’ve even created paper flowers in her lashes!
What was the inspiration behind the look for her 34+35 video?
“For the video, we created a soft, retro, ‘fembot’ look, with washes of pink pastels and sheer pearly white. We also did a robot look that called for something a bit more creative, so I made a circuit board out of metallic tape and studs. It was fun fitting it to her eye and seeing it all come together on screen.”
What are your top tips for creating the ultimate Ariana Grande look?
“One of the things I’ve learned over the course of my career is that I enjoy creating looks on people who amplify their individuality while experimenting with placement, intensity and colour. That is a great approach to working with people in fashion, music and entertainment. I’m the guy people call when they want to push a look into a different fantasy.”
What is your advice on how to make it in the industry?
“‘Paying your dues’ sounds so old school and gruelling, even vague—but time and experience in the field is something you cannot fast track. I’d also say continue to work on your personal relationship with yourself, and your mental and physical health. Aside from that, find something that interests you in the business and try to carve your own way through the ‘norm’.”
What’s been your proudest moment?
“US presidential Inauguration Day in January 2021 [when Katy Perry performed Firework] at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC—it was just surreal. At a time when we were going through so much darkness, to be part of something so light and joyful was pure magic.”
How much consideration do you give to the notion of beauty in your work?
“It has a duality to it—it can be looked at as something we gauge subconsciously by analysing someone’s facial symmetry or clarity, colour, proportion of features, and so on. It can also be something that we apply cosmetically, as an exterior way of protecting ourselves against the world’s harsh gaze, so it’s kind of ever present in my thoughts when I’m working. Whether I’m enhancing someone’s symmetry or putting an armour of protection on them with glitter and lashes so they can get on that stage and do their thing—beauty can mean so many different things to people.”
What is beauty to you?
“Beauty is growth. It’s beautiful to see progress and character development, and to bear witness to someone’s evolution. Beauty, to me, is in uniqueness, generational features passed down from family, a strong sense of self, and confidence.”
What are your hopes for the future?
“More collaborations with brands that want to diversify their teams and shake up the ‘status quo’—not just on set or in the make-up room, but in development meetings and positions of creative power. My hope for the industry as a whole includes the momentum I already feel and see with young leaders taking the helm of prestige brands and assuming creative director roles. I would also welcome more collaborations with artists from diverse backgrounds and with different experiences.”