Okay- this is a long story but I'll try and condense it. Back in 2003 (gasp!), my boyfriend and I used to breakfast at this little precinct in Auckland called the Chancery. It's still there now, but nowhere near as busy as it used to be. Back then it was full restaurants and shops, including New Zealand's first MAC retailer., MAC Chancery. It was a stand-alone store, which was awesome, and obviously jam packed full of AMAZINGNESS. Anyway, every single weekend while we were there, I'd sneak off after we'd ordered our food and just go and browse in MAC...and swatch...and buy things...stare at the collection of facecharts...and chat to the MAC girls, who were all amazing. Suffice to say, they got to know me pretty well after seeing me every week! My favourite was Liesje (who is now one of NZ's most successful and talented tattooists)- she was my gateway to MAC, which I'll expand upon below.
So how did you get a job there, and what were the prerequisites for working at MAC?
I remember during one of my many, many visits with Liesje, I asked her what the prerequisites were for MAC employment. The number one thing (back then, at least) was that you were a qualified makeup artist- you needed to have done a course. Obviously there were other factors- retail experience in fashion and/or makeup, excellent communication and presentation- the regular things. I'm fairly sure that these days, a qualification isn't mandatory- but they do DEFINITELY prefer you to have experience as a makeup artist, as well as a rocking technique.
i decided I wanted to be a makeup artist- and that I wanted to work for MAC. I enrolled in a makeup course, and started studying- continuing to go into MAC virtually every weekend. 8 months in, I received a call from Jacqui from MAC head office, who was in charge of hiring MAC newbies- I'd met her during one of my shopping trips. She gave me the amazing news that there was going to be a vacancy in the next couple of months, and that they wanted me to interview. I was RAPT- but GUTTED- I hadn't finished my course! I explained this to Jacqui, and she told me she would get back to me. After a glum few days, I got another call- and was granted an interview! HUZZAH!
What was the interview like?
Nerve wracking, obviously! It was held out at head office, and what I basically had to do was show Jacqui (with her as a model) what my makeup application skills were like. You should have seen the boardroom table- it was COVERED in MAC products. Dreamy. I managed to steady my hands enough to demonstrate first a day, neutral look- and then turn it into something more dramatic for evening. Jacqui was happy with everything, thank god, and told me I next needed to meet Ro (who owned the MAC store) before anything was final.
I met Ro about a week later, and I was so nervous AGAIN- but she was beyond lovely! Such an amazing lady. She told me what my days and hours would be, what my pay would be, and what the job involved. My days were to be from Thursday through to Monday, full time. Yes! Naturally I was all for it- and that was that. I was a MAC girl!
Did you receive any MAC training?
Oh yes! Basic training was AMAZING! It was a week full of learning everything MAC- from the history of the company, the products themselves, and makeup application. Some of the people I had basic training with are still working for MAC now- in really awesome, high up positions. At that basic training, we received our MAC "bible"- the big black book full of everything you could ever want to know about the brand, and our MAC necklace. Something I really loved about working there was that training was an ongoing thing, we were always kept up to date with new products and trends, in the forms of attending day long training sessions out at head office, or seminars at night time- often with MAC artists from overseas demonstrating new products and looks.
What clothes and makeup did you have to wear?
Black black black. All black. They didn't TELL you it had to be "cool", but you kind of wanted it to be. We couldn't wear a top that had any colours on it, or anything with pinstripes (not that I owned anything with pinstripes), and back then (I'm not sure if this is the case now), we could only wear silver jewelry.
Makeup-wise- all MAC, obviously, including nail polish. We were encouraged to wear products from the current new collection, even if it was just a lipstick- however on Fridays and Saturdays (big promo days) we'd try to do a full face using the new products. We could do our makeup at home, but were also welcome to arrive at work early to apply our makeup there using the in-store testers- I loved doing this! It was hardly a chore to wear all MAC, every day.
Describe a typical day at MAC
This is a little tricky, because the days were different. As I said above, Friday and Saturday were super busy with show casing new collections, and there'd quite often be something big going on like a DJ playing in-store, models being body painted in the front window- all sorts. These were days that always had back to back makeovers as well- these were booked in, and we were assigned them at the start of the day. Those days I would typically have 2-3 (SOMETIMES more, but not often) bookings lasting just under an hour- so in between those I would be on the shop floor helping customers.
Sundays and Mondays were quieter, with usually only one or two makeovers to do. The rest of the time was spent on the floor, doing stock take, tidying the shelves, unpacking and putting away new product, and doing schematics. Schematics is this: the products need to be arranged in a way that is visually and aesthetically pleasing, and quite often things would be put in the wrong spot- so we'd work off a chart and put everything where it was supposed to be. Incidentally, did you know that the lipsticks need to be up a certain height and facing a particular way? Because they do! This all sounds like a pain, but it was actually quite relaxing and cathartic!
When my beloved Kara left, I had to take over the duties of opening and closing the store, and cashing up at the end of the day as well, I loved this too- more responsibility is always a good thing in my books.
Did you get a discount and did you get free products? What about commission/incentives?
Yes and yes. I'm not at liberty to say how much the discount was, but it was good. As for free products, we received a selection of the new collections/products which came in every 4-6 weeks, and we often received products at training sessions as well. We were really looked after!
We didn't work on commission at all- and I'm 99% sure that's still the case. There were team incentives- but I can't remember exactly how they worked. I might have to ask Kara about that, but I bet she doesn't remember either ;) (it WAS 10 years ago)
Weirdest customer request?
Honestly, everyone was pretty good. Well look, not everyone was pleasant- it IS retail, after all. I mean, one of my colleagues got called a "Mexican"- no joke. But you could generally try and work out what would make them happy. FYI- in the case of the woman who called my friend a "Mexican", getting her makeup done by a MAC girl with blonde hair seemed to solve the "problem". Shudder. The weirdest request I ever had was, "I want to look like you- just make me look like you"- she was not joking, and from memory, I don't think I had anything particularly amazing on my face that day. But I put the exact same makeup I had on MY face on HER face regardless....and she wasn't happy- "I don't look like you at ALL". Sigh. But yeah. What can you do?
Did you ever get people in who, no matter what you told them insisted on purchasing an item that did not/would not ever suit them?
Oh wow, there's one experience that I don't think I'll ever forget. A young girl (about 16) came in looking for a full coverage foundation- standard. I'm not one to try and talk a customer out of what they're looking for- but I could choose the most flattering option available. I remember I used the Studio Fix Concealer, and Studio Fix Fluid- set with the translucent Blot Powder, as she wanted a matte finish. She looked in the mirror, and said it wasn't enough, and that she wanted it to cover her freckles (which is pretty hard to achieve without cake face happening) . So I applied another layer of foundation, and set THAT with Studio Finish Pressed Powder. She still didn't think it was enough. I was starting to despair at this stage, because I knew it just was NOT looking great. I took it all off, and started again- but did the powder after primer trick- I used the same concealer and foundation, but set it with Studio Finish Powder Foundation- which is thick enough to be worn on its own. Still not enough. I had to then pull out the big guns, and I don't even know if MAC makes this anymore- I'll have to check (they do, I just checked). Full Coverage foundation is commonly used for stage performers, special effects, for drag queens, and to cover scars, tattoos and birthmarks- it's basically a giant emollient concealer used as foundation. It's an amazing product, given how much it can cover, but definitely not meant for everyday use, that's for sure.Because it is THICK- noticeably thick. But you know what? She loved it. Did she buy it? No. Did she buy anything? No. Such is life! ;)
Did you meet anyone famous?
Yep! Heaps and heaps of NZ celebrities, on a nearly daily basis. Alison Mau and Jacqui Brown were both amazing, I always loved seeing Millie Elder-Holmes (the sweetest babe) and Grace Barcelos-Owen (the NICEST model I have ever met). There were Shortland Street stars, news presenters, makeup artists, fashion designers, and musicians. I met the singer Ciara, and I met Zoe Lucker (who played the evil Tanya Turner on my fave trashy UK show, Footballers Wives).
Did working at MAC provide any other makeup opportunities?
Oh god yes! While I was there, I was lucky enough to work at NZ Fashion Week doing the makeup for designers such as Workshop, Helen Cherry, Zambesi, Kate Sylvester and NomD. While HIGHLY stressful, these were my absolute favourite jobs to do. There's nothing like being backstage at a fashion show, it's such a whirlwind, frenzied atmosphere; you just have to work hard, and work fast. There's very little room for error, and concentration and multi-tasking is key. It only lasted for a couple of hours though, and you'd be high on the adrenalin of it all for ages afterwards! I much preferred this to film shoots and music videos, which I did a few of- but I was limited because of my MAC hours. The music videos were fun in the sense I had great company, but they'd last for hours and hours...a lot of standing around.
MAC artists are often highly sought after for freelance work- for editorial, and for individuals wanting makeup applied for a special occasion- lots of weddings. Again, I was restricted a little because I worked all weekend- but the opportunities were there. I do think that if I got organised and put a portfolio together, I could get work- having MAC on your CV is definitely an advantage whether people like to admit it or not. I know that MAC isn't the be-all and end-all; but given the amount of training provided to MAC artists along with the high performing products- there is an element of prestige there.
Well, why did you leave then, you lunatic?! And if you could go back, would you?
The reasons I left were very simple. I wanted to go back to uni, and I was sick of being in retail- 2 years was enough. Retail is HARD!!! Really hard. I have the utmost respect for every single person that works in retail- you are strong souls.
If I wasn't as busy as I am now, I would MAYBE consider returning on a casual basis. But honestly, and I've told people this before, I don't think they'd have me! I'm not very cool, and I'm too old and grumpy. I'm happy with what I learned and the friends I made- MAC definitely provided all of that for me.
That's my best memory too, actually- the people I met and the team I worked with at MAC Chancery- which has since closed up and moved to Britomart. Ro, Darya, Lou, Sha, Luisa, Vanessa, Nicola, Michael, but most of all KARA- these people made my day daily. and taught me everything I know about makeup. I love love love them xxx