The Makeup Artist to the Stars
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because don’t you want to show off those sultry assets?
By Leslie Nguyen-Okwu
A bit of secret brightening powder here, a dash of concealer fairy dust there — and voilà! I’m now a brunette glamazon, sporting a geisha gaze with fiery red lips and dark fluttering lashes. This is the maquillage magic of Melissa Murphy, a 38-year-old makeup artist who’s spent much of her career transforming plain Jane’s like me into pretty Betty’s like…. Jenna Jameson.
That’s right. The tattoo-laden, sapphire-eyed Murphy has earned wide renown as the go-to makeup artist for adult film stars in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley, an area with grittier stage names: “San Pornando Valley” and “Silicone Valley.” Her work has won accolades from the Adult Video News Awards, a raunchier version of the Oscars for the $13 billion adult entertainment industry. Here, in her headquarters, Murphy has played a fairy godmother of sorts to hundreds of damsels who dabble in rough-and-tumble foreplay, schlep away in high humidity and toil in too-tight handcuffs on the set. Let’s just say that the environment is not friendly to matte finishes or false eyelashes.
Now Murphy faces a whole new test: can she bring the porn star pout she’s perfected to the masses? Her motivations here are partly economic — good ol’ diversification — and partly passion: “I want people to be inspired by my art or learn something unique,” she says. And while her clients include Academy Award winners and glamour-girl brides, Murphy is keenly aware of the challenges. “Once you’ve branded yourself as someone who works in the porn industry, it’s hard to get out of that,” says Holly Randall, a porn director and erotic photographer who’s worked with Murphy. It may be too uncouth for the average Jill and “hard for the public to swallow,” she says.
Despite the hurdles, Murphy’s come a long way from the Macy’s counter at L.A.’s Sherman Oaks Galleria. The adult entertainment industry has grown up, too. The 1970s were the era of “porno chic,” when unmarked studios in quiet suburbs produced old-timey videotapes full of X-rated material. Nowadays, the industry boasts high-profile adult-film celebs such as James Deen, Lisa Ann and Tera Patrick, who tout million-dollar contracts and big-budget franchises fueling their stardom. The boom also paved the way for “porn-trepreneurs” who bolster the porn economy from behind the scenes: coders who build custom porn websites, in-house scientists who test sex toys and makeup artists who polish the porn stars. Among their ranks, Murphy became beloved. “She’s my favorite makeup artist of all time,” says model-actress Gia Ramey-Gay, who donned Murphy’s shimmering body lotion and pinup-girl pout in a lacy lingerie shoot for Playboy.
Plus, thanks to the digital age, everyone else wants to look photo-ready too, whether it’s a bathroom selfie or the red carpet. That’s where Murphy hopes to peddle her “liquid confidence” to the masses. The magic of makeup is one way to get that airbrushed look that men and women alike strive for, sans filter. That’s why Murphy and I are squeezed into a makeshift studio in the back of her Los Angeles home on a Friday afternoon. She’s penciled me in just minutes after her eyebrows were tattooed on, so her arches are still red and slightly puffy. “Just sharpening my image a bit,” she explains in between painting and powdering my face.
Murphy courts everyday people with regular DIY makeup tutorials via Periscope, the live streaming app on which she’s amassed more than 11,000 followers. And then she heaves her hefty toolkit from site to site. She lifts up the suitcase like a dumbbell: 50 pounds and thousands of dollars in more primers, palettes and polishes than you can fathom. She spends $500 to $600 every month replenishing her makeup kit. Her rates range from $150 to $250 for hair and makeup, which compares to an hourly rate of $100 to $400 for other professional makeup artists in the industry, but the stigma of the porn industry follows her — she battles from a lingering fallout with her friends and family, who didn’t appreciate being linked to adult film stars in her before-and-after makeover photos on Instagram back in 2013.
For her part, Murphy, a self-professed feminist, takes a sharp one-eighty from gigs that pit women in submissive roles. Instead, she gravitates toward more powerful positions, so to speak. But experts say that’s an uphill battle too, considering that 90 percent of porn films include acts of physical aggression and half of all porn scenes have verbal aggression toward females, according to Covenant Eyes, an Internet filter company. As for Murphy’s artistry, makeup is simply the means to an end — her blush brush are the tools, while her clients are the masterpieces.
As a fuss-free kind of gal, the most makeup I’ve ever worn is a smidgen of eyeliner. Yet I can’t help but admire Murphy’s handiwork as she artfully fills in my arches and swipes crimson blush onto my cheeks. Murphy sprinkles gold and sable eyeshadow onto my lids. “I want you to glow from every angle. I want you to radiate,” she says, casting her spell. I just hope that when the clock strikes midnight, the Maybelline doesn’t vanish.