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Gordon Espinet – Makeup Magnet

As global artistic trainer with MAC cosmetics, he travelled the world redefining beauty.

As global artistic trainer with MAC cosmetics, he travelled the world redefining beauty

NameGordon Felix EspinetBirthFebruary 25, 1961BirthplacePort of Spain, Trinidad and TobagoEthnic OriginMixed race TrinidadianOccupationsMake-up artist, (Retired) Former Senior Vice President of Global Artist Training, Development and Makeup Artistry, MAC Cosmetics, NYCShare

Fact checked by Charmaine Gooden

It was 1991 in Toronto,  when makeup artist Gordon Espinet received a phone call from the start-up cosmetic company called MAC cosmetics. “Hi Gordon, this is Lois (Wercholoz)  from MAC Cosmetics. Frank Toskan (the founder) would like to meet you,” Lois said. Espinet agreed to meet Toskan at their main office in downtown Toronto.

He remembers riding his bicycle down, because Toskan told him to come and get some makeup in the store on Carlton Street.  Espinet felt like a kid in a candy store when Frank filled up three giant shopping bags with makeup to try out. 

“Getting home was hysterical. I had to ride my bicycle back uphill to St. Clair Avenue with all of this makeup wobbling,” says Espinet, who speaks with a lilting Trinidadian accent. ”But I got home and I remember putting it all over the floor and sat there playing with their makeup for about 12 hours and probably fell asleep in the makeup,” says Espinet. ”That’s when I decided that working with them was a good idea,” he adds.

Over the next three decades, Espinet worked with MAC cosmetics, transforming thousands of faces using their make-up and training dozens of employees how to do the same, as MAC Cosmetics rocketed to the top of the cosmetics industry. 

Early Life and Career

Espinet grew up in the neighborhood Cascade in the City of Port of Spain, Trinidad. He was the youngest of 13 children. Due to his seven older sisters Gordon developed an interest in makeup and beauty. “My sisters had a great influence on me because they all loved to wear makeup and were interested in fashion,” he says.

In 1975, at the age of 14, he and his family moved to St. Catherine’s in Ontario, where he attended Lakeport Secondary high school. Back then, when Espinet told people he wanted to become a makeup artist, ”they thought of hairdressers and people who clean faces,” he says. “I remember in high school, I had to speak to a guidance counselor to help me use and channel my energies into a career. They had absolutely no idea what to do with me when I told them that I wanted to become a make-up artist.”

When he finished high school, he moved to Toronto with high hopes and big dreams of making it in the beauty industry. With very little money and without a network it was a tough start. “I can’t even tell you what I was doing,” he says. ”I was doing whatever it took to make money to survive.”

Luckily, Espinet has a very supportive family who always encouraged him to pursue his career in cosmetics. But in his early days as a makeup artist, when money was sparse, even his mom one day said to him, “’Oh darling, you should get a real job.’” That changed when, years later, his career took off and he was making good money. He could now show his mother his paycheque and, ”suddenly he had a real job,” he adds.

 

 

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I had never really done training in my life, but I thought I’d fake it till I make it

In those early days, Espinet took unpaid jobs just to build his network, but then he saw that Steve Marino, a well known make-up artist that he heard about in Vogue, was leading a makeup school in Toronto called The School of Make-up. Even though it was terribly expensive and he had no money, he still signed up. “I was 19 and I had no money. Paying out of pocket is a tricky thing, but I made it happen because I wanted to do this so badly. It worked out really, really well. I immediately got into the scene,” recalls Espinet.

He then met other photographers who introduced him to magazines and when he made his first cover for the Canadian lifestyle magazine Chatelaine, he finally felt that he made it. As soon as he heard he got that cover he was starstruck.  He stuck it out in Toronto and after 10 years of working as a makeup artist, he felt like he had built a career that he loved.

That was when MAC Cosmetics asked him to come on board to do training for the brand. “I had never really done training in my life, but I thought I’d fake it till I make it,” he says.

Breaking Barriers

Espinet’s journey breaking barriers began when he joined MAC, a company known for pushing boundaries.The company’s  revolutionary approach centered around diversity, inclusivity and authentic expression regardless of race, age, or gender, resonated with him.

MAC  was created with a unique concept in mind. Rather than using fancy packaging and making false beauty promises, they were honest.  Their makeup wasn’t going to make you any younger or richer, but it was going to be a lot of fun, and you could transform yourself into whoever you wanted to be. 

This is where Espinet came into the picture.They didn’t hire him to sell the makeup directly, but to do makeup and bring the brand’s philosophy to life. With his talent and approachable nature, the makeup started selling itself. 

When Espinet was asked to move to New York in 1998, he was not immediately thrilled. He thought that he couldn’t move to New York because, well, he had a cat. “A senior cat that I couldn’t just pick up and move to New York with,” he describes. But a sign came when his very beloved cat passed away a month later and the excuse not to move to New York went out the window.

In the Big Apple his career flourished and Manhattan became the place he calls home. He started to get more involved during fashion weeks managing backstage at shows in the four big cities: New York, London, Milan and Paris.

After a few years the brand was on fire, and he pretty much gave up his personal life altogether because he was traveling for the brand all the time. “I was comfortable giving up my own personal life at the time because I was having so much fun doing my job,” says Espinet.

Influence and Legacy

Over the next three decades, Espinet worked with MAC, transforming thousands of faces using their make-up, and training dozens of employees how to do the same. During his tenure at MAC Espinet not only transformed faces, but also helped shift the beauty landscape. 

As he applied his energies and talents, he witnessed the birth of the iconic global brand and his career thrived. He was everywhere. Espinet’s done the makeup for countless luminaries, including Queen Rainer of Jordan and many other big stars including supers Linda Evangelista, Giselle Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, and Alek Wek, designers Oscar de la Renta, Eli Sabb, Carolina Hererra and DSquared.

When asked the secret to his successful career and longevity, Espinet adds that it’s because, as he likes to put it, “he doesn’t kiss and tell.” His career at MAC ended in 2018, Retirement is a comfortable home in NYC, with his cats Oscar and Bosie and vacation travels for pleasure.,

This is where Espinet came into the picture. They didn’t hire him to sell the makeup directly, but to do makeup and bring the brand’s philosophy to life. With his talent and approachable nature, the makeup started selling itself. 

About the authors:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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About the author:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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