Gina Brooke Talks About Shu Uemura Leaving the U.S. and Her New Gig at Hourglass Cosmetics

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Photo: Melissa Hom

Gina Brooke is one of the most sought-after makeup artists in the business, thanks to her celebrity clients — Madonna, Britney Spears, Anne Hathaway — and her business sense. Five years ago she became Shu Uemura's artistic director and is credited with single-handedly revamping the lash business for the L'Oréal-owned company after launching Lash Bars around the world. But Brooke left Shu Uemura in January after her contract was up, and shortly after her departure, L'Oréal announced it was pulling Shu Uemura color cosmetics from United States shelves, literally inducing eyelash panic among beauty fans. (Shu products will still be available for purchase online.) Earlier this month, Brooke landed at Hourglass Cosmetics, a relatively unknown brand (in terms of the massive beauty market) that's sold in Sephora and Barneys New York. We caught up with Brooke this week for her first interview in her new role to find out what she really thinks about what happened to Shu in the States, why she chose Hourglass, her makeup tips for summer, thoughts on strong eyebrows, and more.

As the former artistic director of Shu Uemura, are you upset over the recent announcement that the L'Oréal-owned company decided to exit the U.S. market?
Yes. I feel very sad for the brand. If it were my decision, it's not a call I would make because it is a great brand. I'm not in the corporate world, I'm in the artistic world, so I can't give an answer of why they did that. I was beyond disappointed. Beyond. There are no words to really define the sadness it was for me that L'Oréal decided to make that move. But it is a very special line. And I'm very grateful that I had a chance to be part of such a unique brand. I worked very hard on that brand for five years and I put a lot of heart and soul into it. I believed in Shu and I still believe in Shu.

Shu products will still be sold online. How do you think customers will respond?
It's very sad for a lot of the customers who are complete devotees of Shu Uemura to go to buying online — it's really hard. When you want to buy a product and there are no samples, I think it's tough. At least it's not completely unavailable.

Why did you choose Hourglass when it seems as though you could've gone anywhere?
I signed with Hourglass in March, but we've been talking since February. I had three other cosmetics companies and two skin-care brands offer me contracts. But I declined, because the truth is that I don't want to promote something I don't believe in. I felt that for me, I want to be with a brand where my voice can be heard. I think my role as artistic director to a brand is about product development. For me, it's bringing a makeup-artist perspective. One of the greatest things about being with a brand so small is that you have the ability to be on the verge of becoming the next big thing. Because it's relatively small, I can really make an impact and my voice can be heard, which is harder to do with a larger company.

Did you use Hourglass on your celebrity clients before joining the brand?
I had begun using Hourglass a few years ago. I remember doing the 3 video with Britney Spears and she picked up the case and she said she loved this Hourglass eye shadow. She was obsessed.

What is the first item you will release with the brand?
One of my most exciting projects is creating the perfect mascara. I already have a name for it: Film Noir. Women love lashes. This one is instant drama — thick, long, beautiful lashes. It's coming out in August. This is going to be the "It" mascara. I know it.

Do you like beauty trends?
I don't believe in women following trends. I feel makeup is a way to express yourself as an individual. If a woman wants to wear a matte lipstick that's burgundy in the middle of the summer, then by all means do it. Wear lip gloss in December. I'll all for it.

Do you have any summer makeup tips? Ideas for preventing face-melting in the heat?
I would suggest the Veil primer because it's waterproof. It's one of the best primers I've ever used. It's really good for people who have dehydrated skin and for people who want protection against UVA and UVB rays.

Do you like the look of big, strong eyebrows, which we saw on the fall runways?
I love it. Eyebrows frame the face. They are one of the most important features. When I do makeup I start with the brows before anything else. By transforming the brows, you can completely transform the look. The way I was trained in Japan by Shu Uemura, you start with eyebrows and then go to the eyes, then skin care, and then lips last. Most women start with the skin. If you really want a flawless application, start with the eyes.