“The getting-ready part is more fun than the actual event,” says Ash K. Holm, a Los Angeles–based makeup artist, reciting the words she hears from the people in her chair. Maybe they’re flattering her; maybe they’re being genuine.
It’s safe to say that Holm’s clients—Kim and Khloé Kardashian, Ariana Grande, Megan Fox, and, on this day, Shay Mitchell—know a bit about getting ready for and going to events. Mitchell, the star of the teen TV drama Pretty Little Liars, is about to be photographed for Onda, the canned tequila cocktail with “real, legit juice,” of which she’s a co-founder. Mitchell, who also created Béis luggage, is paying for the photo shoot, which means there will be no dawdling and few distractions. Chop-chop!
The relationship between a makeup artist and her client is unusually intimate, especially when the client is one of those people who’s photographed every time she steps out for a gallon of kombucha.
For them, getting ready is a form of self-protection and, on a good day, wish fulfillment, executed with contour, blush, and mascara until the mirror reflects their ideal self. “When it comes to makeup, Ash is the truth,” says Khloé Kardashian. “Her talent is unmatched.”
Nominally, Holm works as a makeup artist, but her responsibilities extend well beyond the circumference of the face. “We’re here to pump you up, make you feel good,” Holm says. She is a one-person cheering squad, confidante, amateur therapist, and social-media director. If getting ready is supposed to be the best part of the day, Holm is determined to make that emphatically true at every session.
Often that involves blasting Beyoncé and slamming Red Bulls. “Energies have a big thing to do with it, especially when you’re working this closely with somebody,” says Mitchell.
Today is relatively chill for Mitchell and Holm. Each is dressed for her role: Mitchell in a pink silk robe, and Holm in a long, black T-shirt and black cargo pants with makeup brushes stashed in the pockets. There’s an easy comfort between the two, a result of having worked together since 2016. Even when she doesn’t have an appointment, Mitchell will wheedle Holm’s schedule from her agent and drop in unannounced at Holm’s house. After telling me this, the two say in unison, “I’ll find you,” quoting Isla Fisher as the clingy character in Wedding Crashers.
Makeup artists sit inches from their client’s face, assessing their features, touching their skin, deciding what to emphasize and what to conceal. The atmosphere often feels freighted with the impending performance, photo shoot, or award ceremony. In fact, Mitchell canceled our first meeting, where I intended to watch her get ready with Holm, apparently because she wanted only her most trusted circle in the room before a delicate interview with Alex Cooper for an upcoming episode of Call Her Daddy.
After seven years, Holm can detect Mitchell’s opinion about the makeup from a subtle shift in her demeanor. “There are certain faces that she makes in the mirror that I just know,” Holm says. Holm calls one the “I’m feeling myself” face. That’s a good reaction.
Holm’s work starts long before she puts brush to cheekbone. She researches images online, pulling inspiration from, say, a 1994 cover of i-D featuring Naomi Campbell or a 1991 Versace campaign starring Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, and Linda Evangelista. She sends mood boards to her clients by text, and they reply with a thumbs-up or -down emoji.
From there, she archives every look on Google Drive. Want to know the specific pencil responsible for Mitchell’s smoky eye at the GQ Men of the Year Awards in 2022? Nudestix in Night. How about the shimmery finish on Mitchell’s face for her first Vanity Fair shoot, in 2016? Buxom Divine Goddess Luminizer in Venus.
Holm started experimenting with makeup when she was 11 years old, recovering from scoliosis surgery. As she lay in bed with a mirror propped on her lap, she glued on fake lashes, creating her fantasy self, perhaps to escape the reality of a long convalescence. She soon branched out, creating looks on her mom and her mom’s friends, gilding their eyelids with Wet n Wild glitter to look like Cher’s.
Holm attended cosmetology school and went to work as a makeup artist at a MAC store in Houston, her hometown. MAC and Sephora are the unofficial finishing schools for a number of makeup artists, including Mario Dedivanovic, who worked at Sephora as a teenager, became Kim Kardashian’s makeup artist, and then launched his Makeup by Mario line, which is now valued at more than $200 million.
Holm might well follow that trajectory. She was early to Instagram, where she shared images of the faces she painted on herself and her MAC clients. When Carmen Electra and the cast of Love & Hip Hop went to Houston, they found Holm on social media and hired her to do their makeup.
From there, she moved to Los Angeles, using Instagram to raise her profile. That’s where Mitchell discovered her. Now when Holm and Mitchell work together, “we usually make about six TikToks,” Holm says. “You want to capture it all.”
Holm is also doing a stint as the chief makeup artist at Ipsy, where she conducts live master classes attended by aspiring artists eager to learn her opinions about primer and highlight placement. “I want to make sure I share as much as I can,” she tells the crowd as she presses a peach-colored powder on a model’s eyelids. “We love you,” shouts someone in the audience. “I love you guys,” she replies.
While the makeup part of Holm’s work with her clients is kinda sorta important, she says that “90 percent of the job” is figuring out the mood and desires of each person in her chair. She trained for that too. At MAC “I would work with 50 people a day,” she explains, “everyday people of all different ethnicities, skin conditions, personalities.”
Sometimes, Mitchell receives her own instruction from Holm. Mitchell calls for advice about what to apply for a wedding in Jamaica or a quickie touch-up at a party. “Even if I watch you do it a million times,” Mitchell says, “I still can’t pick it up.”
“That’s good,” Holm replies. “So I still have a job.” That one, plus all the others.
Chloe Hall is a Los Angeles–based writer and a former beauty director for elle.com