THE OUTNET’S Content Editor, Jess Wood, got to catch up with beauty diversity champion, makeup artist and all-around fabulous individual Kay Montano. In case you missed their live conversation about being a Chanel ambassador, clean beauty and her website with close friend Thandie Newton, Thandiekay.com, we made sure to save some of the best bits…
Jess: As always with the incredible women that we get to talk to on here on a Tuesday, I never know how to describe people. You are an amazing makeup artist, and Chanel brand ambassador; you were one of the first people to talk about diversity in beauty. You’ve got a lot to say about lots of topics, haven’t you?
Kay: Describing yourself is a hard thing isn’t it? I cannot define myself by my job, by my ethnicity, by my gender, by my age. It’s much more helpful for me to come from a perspective that’s honest and deeply rooted, under the skin.
Jess: You’ve basically worked with every photographer, including Helmut Newton, you’ve done ads with Kate Moss… Tell us how you first fell in love with beauty.
Kay: I’m a strange little only child. As a child, I didn’t realize what cinematography was, but I was basically devouring it. There were no siblings to play with and only 3 channels — there was nothing else to watch but say, a John Cassavetes film season on BBC2. I was becoming educated by accident in visuals as storytelling. I became very nerdy about looking at magazines and being spellbound by the beautiful imagery. The level of perfection achieved in older fashion magazines… I didn’t go to makeup school, but I learned from seeing what I wanted to achieve from the images that I’d seen. That’s what magic felt like to me.
Jess: Talking about perfectionism makes me think of 1940’s black-and-white films. They didn’t have the technology that we have now to achieve the visuals that they wanted, they had to smear lenses with Vaseline… there weren’t quick fixes.
Kay: I’ve always believed that people look at creativity from the wrong way ‘round. The paint pots don’t give you the image, the paint pots just give you the colors to do what’s already in your head.
Jess: There’s a lot of chat now about, which are the best brushes and tools. But at your level I suppose, you could achieve the same look with a £2 lipstick or a £20 lipstick.
Kay: Oh, believe me, you could say ‘you’ve got 5 minutes in the chemist’s up the road.’ And I could paint your face perfectly. You don’t need much beyond the most basic really. You no longer have to pay an awful lot for a good foundation.
Jess: Now, what do you think of clean beauty?
Kay: I don’t think there’s much of a debate about it, if you recognize that the skin is the largest organ in your body. Anything you put on your skin is going into your body. So, would I prefer to put petroleum on my skin or almond oil? Almond oil from the chemist is all I use on my hair. I do like some expensive products — hyaluronic acid on the skin, retinol, they do work but if I’m going to pay for that, I want it on a base of good oils, I don’t want you to fob me off with petroleum.
Jess: OK, talking about the luxury products, let’s get into Chanel. Because you’ve worked for them for, is it 20 years or something? Tell me what you’ve done with them.
Kay: Honestly, what greater brand is there than Chanel? It’s got such a strong brand DNA. Their staff don’t constantly change and they’re very loyal. It’s like a family, they’re very open to ideas and that’s basically what we’ve been doing all these years, different collaborations with wonderful young actresses.
Jess: You’ve done every single supermodel known to man, every cover, every magazine, but now-a-days you’re enjoying working with actresses and talent rather than just beautiful faces…?
Kay: I’ve been doing this since I was 16. So, now at my age, 120, no, no! Now, just dressing up for the sake of it doesn’t mean anything to me. My career was wonderful in my 20s but then you realize ‘oh my god, I’ve created a monster,’ and in order to keep it I have to keep flying to Timbuktu and back. I was very fortunate to be in this time in New York where actors started to be on the covers of magazines and I got to meet Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Connelly, Selma Hayek… women who actually did something.
Jess: Tell us about the website you began with Thandie, who is a close friend of yours. It was a long time ago, and you were talking about diversity when it was quite un-cool to talk about, weren’t you?
Kay: We had lots of conversations, two women of mixed-heritage, and we were frustrated about how little we saw ourselves in magazines, especially as children. That caused more for Thandie than me perhaps, because she grew up in Cornwall. I grew up in West London, so I grew up around lots of different ethnicities. We decided to start a website. If you make peace within yourself and you’ve sorted your own sense of identity out, and understand why people don’t really understand, show them! And it was really fun to use beauty as a Trojan horse.
Jess: I was just about to plug THE OUTNET. We’re a huge platform and with the content and imagery we produce, we’re thinking really hard about that.
Kay: It also makes financial sense in beauty. Brown girls and Black girls, they spend more on hair and makeup than white girls, they love it. I remember once, Thandie wrote this beautiful thing called ‘Boots, a love story.’ We’d found out, people weren’t going to Boots because Boots weren’t supplying products for women of color but they weren’t stocking women of color products because they weren’t going there. But it’s changing now.
Jess: So, um, fashion! We are on THE OUTNET and we must talk about fashion! You love vintage, don’t you?
Kay: I LOVE fashion. I’ve got a massive walk-in wardrobe upstairs and I can’t get stuff out because it’s so packed. I collect what we used to call secondhand clothes, I don’t spend a fortune — I’m spending between £20 - £100; I love Cacherel, Krizia, Kenzo.. Between 1975 and about 1982, that’s my time.
Jess: So, aside from vintage, what are your favorite brands? What’s your look and feel?
Kay: Because I’m from West London and because I’ve always liked hip hop, I’ve always had these different influences. When I was in my 20s and my friends would go to New York, I remember asking them to get me a hip-hop belt like Run DMC used to have. I had my ‘Kay’ belt with my old jeans, and a designer jacket. And my Chanel handbag. That’s very much my look.
Jess: You walk and talk the hi-low concept…
Kay: That comes from fly girls. It all comes from hip-hop culture because they are the ones that started the whole bling thing. So, that’s where it comes from, it’s a Black thing.
Jess: When that community dress up, they DRESS up. They love (and I love), big gold bamboo hoops and chunky multiple chains. You like a hoop earring, I see…
Kay: I love a hoop earring; they’re sexy. There’s something about hoops that gives you a little bit of dance.
Jess: Kay, obviously I could just spend all night talking about hoops and delights. But, could you now give us your 3 desert island beauty items?
Kay: Eyelashes! You’ve got to invest in RapidLash, it makes your lashes grow 3mm longer if you apply it every single day. When it comes to your skin, if you’ve got spots or under-eye circles, go to a place that has daylight, because you cannot choose a product for your skin without daylight. Concealer is incredibly important. And for your lips? Tinted balms. Budget – Burt’s Bees. Credit card – Chanel Rouge Coco.
Jess: Kay, well Kay, thank you so much. It’s been brilliant to talk to you.
Kay: My pleasure. Lovely to talk to you, Jess.