“I’m doing so well with swatching right now,” joked legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath during a morning event to celebrate the launch of her eponymous brand’s forthcoming Mothership V: Bronze Seduction palette — a 10-pan offering of matte, shimmer and glitter jewel-toned shadows. “This normally takes a lot of nerve to live-swatch.” McGrath, whose two-year-old makeup company was recently valued at a staggering $1 billion dollars, borrowed a team member’s arm and got busy swiping the pigments on in the now-ubiquitous diagonal swatches we’ve become so accustomed to seeing across every cosmetics brand and beauty influencer’s Instagram feed.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #83 series on my blog.
“Now you believe my swatches online, right? They’re not fake! I know you all think it’s all computer-generated because you know I love a tech-y moment, but this is real,” said McGrath to a room of captivated editors. But truth be told, swatching has been a controversial topic lately, with multiple brands coming under fire for botched attempts at getting it right.
In January, YSL was called out for an image that featured a dark-skinned model’s arm swatched with six shades of its All Hours Concealer — every single one laughably too light for her. In August, Becca Cosmetics drew criticism when an image promoting its Skin Love foundation range featured what essentially equated to a blackface arm (a light-skinned model had been made up to look darker), and subsequently issued an apology. As breadth of shade range has become more of a priority to makeup brands — shout-out once again to reverberations of the Fenty Effect — the marketing has failed to catch up in many regards, often beginning with egregious oversights in model casting.
Meanwhile, as a Black woman herself, there was never a question that inclusivity and diversity would be an integral pillar of McGrath’s brand from the outset. Not only has she paid careful attention to ensure that the pigmentation and quality of every product under her eponymous umbrella would work on any skin tone, but she also proves that to be true by showing every product on every skin tone as much as possible. On McGrath’s Instagram, in the Pat McGrath Labs campaigns and on the brand’s website, there is no product that’s shown simply on one skin tone.
At McGrath’s press events, there are always at least three models on hand with a variety of complexions so that editors can get a full understanding of the products’ capabilities, too. And for McGrath, this dedication to inclusivity is personal. “I just remember as almost a child shopping in department stores and seeing all of these beautiful colors and then they never worked on my skin, or they were too bruise-y on pale skin,” she recalled, adding that when it comes to creating the products in her own line, “there’s so much study that goes into every formula, scientifically” to make sure products won’t be exclusionary for anyone based on the shade of their skin.
“It’s about the colors working on every skin tone. It’s so important to know that you’re not left out, that there’s not any skin tone, or any of us, really, who are like, ‘Oh my goodness, only three colors in this palette work for me,’” she said. McGrath has always communicated to her entire team that diversity isn’t optional — and that it starts with model casting. “Working with girls of every skin tone is so important, because if you don’t show the looks on all sorts of skin tones, how do you even know what you can buy, what suits you, what’s right for you?” she said, specifically citing Duckie Thot and Paloma Elsesser as two models of color the brand has worked with from its early days.