Counter Attack

Mally Roncal and the author at work on Piper Perabo.Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux

9:00 a.m.
The first thing Mally Roncal does after hugging me hello is tell me to lose my freshly bought cup of coffee. I’m spending the day as a makeup artist and salesperson behind Roncal’s new Mally Beauty makeup counter at Henri Bendel, and sales staff don’t drink on the job. Then she fixes my collar. I half-expect Roncal, who makes up Beyoncé Knowles and Mariah Carey, to lick her thumb and wipe my face the way my mother used to.

Roncal’s first appointment is my training session. She calls her process “shimmer, shape, and glow,” and it’s essentially the same for each person. There’s a palette called the Face-Defining System, with three blushes, each a different shade. After a base-powder application, Roncal puts the medium color on the cheekbones (shimmer). Then she directs the woman to suck in her cheeks and applies the deepest color just below the bone (shape). Finally, she looks in the woman’s eyes and says, “Smile!” (Roncal has a big, inexhaustible personality), and dusts the last, brightest color on the apples of the cheeks (glow). The customer looks awake, healthy, and sophisticated but not matronly. For eyes, Roncal dabs liner between the lashes to define the shape without heaviness. She finishes with her special non-pinching eyelash curler. Roncal thinks I’m ready to work on customers. I get very good at Windexing the counter.

The Henri Bendel beauty-floor manager stops by to remind us—again—about the $700 sales goal we’re encouraged to hit today. There’s a sales goal every day, and since this is Mally Beauty’s debut, this one is high; otherwise, the number varies depending on the day and season. Seven hundred dollars may not sound like much, but when you have to make it by selling $12.50 eyeliners, it’s intimidating.

About a dozen people have been by the counter so far, but I’ve managed to avoid touching a face. Roncal pushes me toward a group of giggly teens from San Diego. I wipe down the counter, again.

1:10 p.m.
I can stall no longer. A young plain-Jane lawyer plops into the chair. She looks harmless. I gently swipe on the first powder. I’m not shaking, but I’m definitely awkward; my hand is resting on her face, like a toddler coloring. I raise my elbow, tell her to suck in her cheeks, and apply the next color, then the last in a circular motion on the apples. Perfection! Roncal does her eyes (I know my limits). At the end, Ms. Lawyer announces she loves her cheeks. For the first time, I see why makeup artists find their jobs rewarding.

Roncal throws her arms around a pretty blonde, who turns out to be Piper Perabo. I do her makeup, since I am now the cheek master.

Another visit from the floor manager; we’re not even close to the $700 goal. Anxiety is rising. This is why makeup people attack. Still, Roncal’s staff never gets impatient with customers who aren’t buying.

A very Upper East Side mom, with stroller in tow, drops over a hundred dollars. The mood lightens.

I am the shimmer, shape, and glow queen. I still can’t work the cash register, but I’ve beautified six people.

A makeup artist is also a therapist. Roncal works on a client with zero self-esteem, and even though she’s dishing out the compliments, nothing penetrates. I want to give this woman a hug and tell her she’s not that bad. Maybe I’m too sensitive for makeup.

The end of the day—for me anyway. I’m relieved because I didn’t have one psychotic customer, but I’m exhausted from being on my feet all day (even in ballet flats) and a little worried because we’re still short of the sales goal. I’ve got a new respect for those brush wielders, though; the pleasure of making people feel good doesn’t always balance the pressure to ring up sales.

Counter Attack