Nicole Bryl‘s mission? To make people look and feel their most beautiful whether they’re walking the red carpet, posing for a fashion spread or making a television appearance. The celebrity makeup artist has been doing just that for the last 30 years. Her client list includes Brooke Shields, Debra Messing, Naomi Watts, Melania and Ivanka Trump. She’s created and developed her own product line, Nicole Bryl Artisanal Vitamin C Skin Care. Hear Nicole’s personal and professional story.
Sandi: Welcome to another edition of Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein. Celebrity make-up artist Nicole Bryl has spent three decades assembling an impressive and extensive client list that includes, among others, Brooke Shields, Robert Redford, Johnny Depp, Cindy Crawford, Queen Noor, Benjamin Bratt, Sandra Bullock and Spike Lee. Men and women who walk the red carpet, pose for fashion spreads and appear in front of and behind the camera. Nicole’s creative expression was evident early on. She studied both painting and acting at the Rudolph Steiner School in New York City. Then, when she was sixteen, went to Paris, where was invited to shadow legendary fashion photographer Roxane Lowitt. Observing her work behind the scenes at the Chanel, Evsanlara, and Christian Lacriox shows. Nicole also got to meet and spend quality time with Paloma Picasso. Both experience life altering. Then it was on to Fordham University. Where Nicole majored in theatre, but has said, while loving the whole idea of breaking down a script and getting into a character, her favorite part was hair and make-up. A very busy woman, Nicole has created her own product line, Nicole Bryl Make-Up New York and developed Nicole Bryle Artisanal Vitamin C Skin Care. She also writes a blog and is involved with many humanitarian causes including Operation Smile, The Make a Wish Foundation, and Glam for Good.
Nicole, welcome and thanks for joining me today.
Nicole: Thank you.
Sandi: Talk to me about your early interest in acting and painting.
Nicole: When you’re a creative person
Sandi: Which you apparently knew at a young age?
Nicole: It was just sort of like that from the beginning. I think that people kind of know who they are right out of the gate. Sometimes people might not actually find what they’re going to do till later in life, but in terms of you’re good with numbers. You’re good with painting. You’re creative. How you even play. Sometimes people just know right away. I did. I just knew right away. Even when I was five. I used to go into my grandmother’s make-up drawer and she would find me alone in her vanity with all her make-up and lipstick spread everywhere. I would be trying on every single color and posing in the mirror. Just sort of being creative and inventive in my own head with make-up early on. But, I was also interested in performing at that time. After I would put the different lipstick colors on, I would create some sort of character. I was an only child, so you know how a little bit crazy we can be.
Sandi: Umm Hmm. Kind of making your own good time.
Nicole: Right. I was always interested in beauty and glamour but I was also at that time, early age, interested in performing.
Sandi: Did you get a lot of encouragement at home?
Nicole: I’m very, very lucky in the sense that my parents were really both very independent people. Primarily I grew up with my mom. She, herself, is an artist. So she was always very supportive of my creative self. Was very enthusiastic every time I would come up with something new or inventive. She was always there for me to support me. I think that kind of encouragement at an early age creates a confidence level.
Sandi: Oh, I’m sure.
Nicole: You just feel supported enough to take those risks that perhaps maybe if you hadn’t got that support later on you have to learn.
Sandi: What’s the Rudolph Steiner School?
Nicole: Rudolph Steiner was a European man who created a type of education where children have to learn to think differently than text book. It’s a very creative school. For instance, let’s say we’re learning chemistry even, something as technical as that. We’ll do a six week block of chemistry in the morning and then at the end of the six week course you’ll write a book on the entire, you’ll write your text book. With pictures and images and all the different things that we did. It was always a very creative process. You have to sit and listen. Rather than mimic something that you saw in a book.
Sandi: Clearly, the Rudolph Steiner School is not for your average Dick and Jane.
Nicole: It’s definitely for the person who is maybe a little more creatively inclined. Although, that being said, I graduated with people who went to Ivy League schools. They’re now in business.
Sandi: Your talents for art and theatre were being nurtured and fostered as a teenager.
Nicole: Right. I was a child actor. My mother, I begged my mother, take me on auditions. At a very early age, at around five or six, she was taking me to tap dancing, singing, ballet, gymnastics and all of that sort of stuff that kids usually do when they’re performers. I had a manager.
Sandi: So you worked? Got jobs, right.
Nicole: Actually, I had the same manager as Ricky Schroder at the time, who was in those days
Sandi: Very hot.
Nicole: Silver Spoon, Ricky Schroder.
Nicole: Yes. I was going on auditions as a child and performing. In terms of having a job, my mother started doing make-up when I was about thirteen or fourteen. She started bringing me on all the shoots with her. Since I always loved fashion and glamour and all that stuff, I would go with her as her assistant.
Sandi: So, you kind of died and went to heaven, huh?
Nicole: I did. Although I was a theatre major in college at Fordham University, I continually through high school and through college always had jobs as a make-up artist. That was how I made my living.
Sandi: If you’re just joining us my guest today is Nicole Bryl who is a make-up artist. Nicole, I said in the introduction that you wound up going to Paris when you were sixteen. Come on, how’d you pull that off?
Nicole: Fortunately, I went to a school, Rudolph Steiner that was, although extremely arty and creative, was packed with celebrities and their celebrity children. One of my best friends at that time was this girl named Vanessa. Her mother happened to be the rock star behind the scenes fashion photographer Roxanne Lowitt. Vanessa and I were just two kids, like wanting to hang out, and she was like come visit me in Paris this summer. I’m hanging out there with my mom. I coerced my mother, who was kind of let me go, Vanessa’s mom dragged us along. She’s like, I’m going to have to drag you to work. We’re like, okay.
Nicole: Work happened to be behind the scenes of these fashion shows. She was very dear friends with Paloma Picasso. She’d say, oh, we’re going to have dinner with Paloma tonight. That’s sort of like the reality. But, you know, we’re teenage kids so we’re not thinking too much about it. In fact, I was seated next to Paloma on several occasions and she was just such an elegant interesting person and she really took the time to talk to me.
Sandi: And tolerated you. Not you personally, but I mean she stuck next to a sixteen year old. You sort of think, how did I get the short end of the straw?
Nicole: That’s what I’m saying. So she, not only was she such an elegant and regal woman,
Sandi: Was classy.
Nicole: She actually took the time to sit and sort of tap into the teenage mind and talk to me. Creatively.
Sandi: Um Hmm
Nicole: At the time I was a little shy. I was a little more quiet and demure. I actually, maybe, was sitting politely at the table. I was really taken by the things that she said and it stuck with me for years and years to come. It raised the bar in my head of excellence and how to take your craft to another level and maintain that.
Sandi: You have this what I did over my summer vacation, which other kids’ vacations pale in comparison, I went to summer camp.
Nicole: [Laughing] I did go to summer camp, though, and I loved my summer camp.
Sandi; Whatever. My point is, you come back, you get ready to go to college and in spite of that really impressive summer, you opt to go into acting.
Nicole: I still always loved acting. It was really like two different lives at once. That was happening. I was really always fascinated with fashion and glamour. But, I always wanted to perform. I spend a lot of time with my mom alone and we were literally two artists living life together.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: Pretty much.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: She was doing all of that stuff as well. Performing. Being creative. Painting. She didn’t lock me into a box, you can only do that or that. She just sort of said, do it all. Do whatever you want to do. So, I applied to be a theatre major, but I still was very driven by, I was working photographers that was my job. I felt very compelled to do both. When I graduated, I was offered a position at a television studio working full time. When you just graduate college, you’re completely uncertain about what, where you’re going to go, what you’re going to do.
Sandi: What was the job?
Nicole: This other make-up artist had offered me a job running a make-up room at Q2, which was the high end version of QVC. It was at Silver Cups Studios in Long Island City in Queens. It was live television for ten hours a shift. My job was to wake up at 5:45 and be the make-up artist to open the room at 7 am. Here I am, twenty-two years old, and I’m given the responsibility of being in Queens, across the bridge, at 7 am every day. It was great training. It was live television. It was every single day, probably six days a week for ten hours a day.
Sandi: You’re making up the hosts?
Nicole: Making up hosts and guests of live shows. It was all high end products. You know, when celebrities are plugging away at something.
Sandi: Like Joan Rivers.
Sandi: Who made a fortune from home shopping network.
Nicole: Everyday there were really interesting people walking through that door. Not only did I learn from them, but the fast pace of doing something live really taught me how to do things precise and do things quickly. I would say the best thing that I got out of that time was that every single person that was on that show, wanted individual eye lashes. For some reason, I’ve heard that a lot of people are unable to do individual eye lashes. Because I was made to do that, and I had to do that quickly, I’ve now become excellent at doing individual eye lashes really, really fast.
Sandi: [Laughing] Is that what you want on your tombstone?
Nicole: It’s just one of those random odd things that I learned from home shopping. How to do individual eye lashes quickly, precisely.
Sandi: Here you are, at twenty-two, having a job with some really impressive responsibility. How does that morph into these very bold face names?
Nicole: From that show, I was there for a year, then I met someone who then introduced me to the FX network.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: They took me on for another year. From there, a friend of mine, who I went to college with. Bill Cabroll, who’s still a very dear friend of mine. He works at Live with Kelly and
Nicole: Michael now. Doing talent booking. At the time, he was working at Entertainment Tonight. He said, we have a host who hasn’t been able to find a make-up artist in New York that she loves. They’ve asked her to come to New York a lot. Be the New York person. Could we give you a try? I was like sure no problem. Thanks for the opportunity. I went to do her at her hotel. She was in from LA, and somehow, we just clicked. Somehow, I was able to give her what she wanted. She was, okay, I want this person all the time. E. T. brought me on. Entertainment Tonight.
Sandi: And you’re how old now?
Nicole: I was twenty-four.
Nicole: The great thing about that was then all the hosts that started coming to New York, I was used for all of them. It was a great gig because their constantly interviewing the best people, the A-List set. I was just really getting exposed stuff right out of the gate.
Sandi: Name drop.
Nicole: Okay. Here’s a little story. One time I was with that particular woman, and we had to do a set visit at the Cosby Show. The second Cosby show, not the first one. The make-up artist at the Cosby show, she was an African American woman, she went up to her and she said I love your make-up. Who did it? The woman pointed to me. The make-up artist came up to me. She’s like, look, our second make-up artist just went to go work at Sex in the City. This new show that just started. Do you want her position? I love this make-up. They hired me on the spot to do the Cosby Show. So then I was working at Entertainment Tonight and the Cosby Show at the same time. I have to say, it was really the best training. At the Cosby Show, I did a lot of the guests, but I was also, I worked directly with Madeline Kahn. I became very close with her and learned a lot of things from her. She was the ultimate professional. She was extremely talented. She was a very kind hearted woman. Between Entertainment Tonight and the Cosby Show, it was really this intense training in my twenties of being exposed to different kinds of set visits. Different celebrities. From that, a few years later they brought on Kathy Lee Gifford to work for the Insider which then melded together with Entertainment Tonight. I was put with Kathy and Kathy and I clicked. Then I was with her for two years on the road. I also met this hairdresser who did one of the hosts of the show. Of Entertainment Tonight. Who said, hey, a position just opened up with Joan Lunden, can you try out for that position? Then I went to try out with Joan Lunden. She and I also clicked. Thus, I went on, I started working for Joan for eight years.
Sandi: You worked also for just you too, right? You’d be contracted out to do these things.
Nicole: Right. I was considered a freelance make-up artist. I never got an agent because I always liked to handle my own career.
Sandi: Uh Huh.
Nicole: Somehow I kept working, so I just continued to do that. I really liked to have a close grip on the negotiations. Now, I’ve, after many, many years of contract negotiations, it’s something that I keep myself involved in. Now that I have lawyers and accountants, I still keep myself very involved in that sort of thing because I know about it. I don’t want to let that sort of things slip through my hands.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: I like to stay involved. When I started working with Kathy Lee, again it was a different kind of education. She’s a woman who’s a legend in her industry as well. Being with her is literally like being with God.
Nicole: Yes. Because she knows everybody. Maybe the Mayor. She knows everybody. Kindly enough, she went on an interview. Melania Trump at the time was pregnant with her first child.
Sandi: Donald’s wife.
Nicole: Donald Trump’s wife.
Sandi; Mm Hmm
Nicole: Yes. I was on that interview with her and Malania happened to like Kathy Lee’s make-up. She said, I love your make-up. She said, Oh, meet my make-up artist. Kathy Lee was very generous like that. She always introduced me to people. She always brought me into her home. She always invited me to dinners, breakfasts, lunches. She never excluded me as like, oh, you’re just my hired. She just included me in every part of her life. With that, I ended up meeting extraordinary people who trusted her and her opinion and started hiring me. Once you get into that world, and they know they can trust you, and at that point, I’d had many, many years of experience already. With also some great names under my belt. They just keep referring you
Nicole: To one another. That was my entry into that level.
Sandi: On the one hand, you have tremendous power because you can make me look goo
Sandi: Or not. On the other hand, you could be working with the biggest pains in the ass. So, how does that even itself out?
Nicole: It’s a relationship that you have with people that makes it last and go on and on and on. Coupled with being able to give them what they want.
Sandi: Um Hmm
Nicole: But, I’m the type of person who, if I don’t click with someone and I don’t like someone, I just can’t work with them.
Sandi: So, you cut your losses and you move on is what you’re saying.
Nicole: I’ve always been like that. I’m not the kind of person that can really fake it.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: If I don’t like, I don’t you. If I like you, I’m completely devoted to you and will be in your corner cheerleading till the day I die. I’ve been lucky enough to weed through. I haven’t really had that many bad ones.
Sandi: I was just going to say, who haven’t you loved?
Nicole: I’m not going to mention any names.
Sandi: Uhh, God.
Nicole: There have been a couple of people along the way that I just didn’t jive with.
Sandi: Mm Hmm. Mm Hmm
Nicole: Although they’re totally stunning and gorgeous and great at what they do, I just don’t want to be in that energy. I just don’t want to be.
Sandi: What do they need you for, if they’re already stunning and gorgeous?
Nicole: Here’s the thing. All these people are stunning and gorgeous. Then they need their hair and make-up people, and stylists to create looks for them so that they’re constantly camera ready. In the trend, in the now.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: Just polished. I still work with Kathy Lee.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: I have been with the Trumps for ten years. Melania, I do Ivanca as well, his daughter.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: Donald Trump’s daughter.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: These are extraordinary women who are accomplished and I respect. There’s just a mutual respect year after year that’s continually nurtured.
Sandi: If you’re just joining us my guest today is Nicole Bryl, who is a make-up artist. In the introduction I obviously named male names. What’s that like. Why are you making up Spike Lee? For a TV appearance?
Nicole: There were, you know, when you have a thirty year career, you go through different phases. There was probably a decade when I was doing tons of press junkets. Press junkets are, if people don’t know, all the interviews internationally and domestically from the press that come to a hotel room to interview actors who have just completed a film.
Sandi: Plugging their projects.
Nicole: There was a press junket company who arranged the entire junket day. Which was always held at a beautiful hotel, and all the actors would have their own rooms and in each room would be decorated to reflect whatever the movie was.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: My name was on that list of make-up people who then would get put with different celebrities. When you’re with men, actors, it’s called grooming. It would involve giving him a haircut. Making them camera ready in terms of their makeup for the camera.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: So they’re not shiny. Making sure their tie is straight. That they have water and their hair is looking
Sandi: More primping then.
Nicole: Yea. It’s called grooming. It was tons of fun. You know, it’s different than being with women because there’s no lip-gloss involved.
Sandi: And you’re not putting eye lashes on one at a time, I would assume.
Nicole: Right. But, you do have to be. They do expect you to be professional and you still have to, if it’s hot in the room and they’re sweating, you have to help them out with that.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: There’s just lots of little things. It’s tons of fun. There is an art to it as well. At that time, I was getting put with a lot of really cool actor dudes. I call them actor dudes because they’re dudes, you know.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: That was, it’s great. I’m always open to doing grooming. But, I love the glamour of being with a woman.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: Who wants to look beautiful. I tend to veer more towards women’s makeup. Of course, if Johnny Depp’s people call me
Sandi: You’re not going to hang up on them.
Nicole: I’m not going to say no.
Sandi: Of course not. Can you make just the average Joan look, not like, I think of someone like me. I don’t want to look like who I’m not. That is as much of a challenge to you as making a beautiful woman even more beautiful?
Nicole: Right. There’s different things that you can do. You can actually turn people into something different and create a look for them.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: There are some people who want to look like themselves, but more polished. So, you just literally go with whatever somebody is requesting.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: There’s absolutely, you can do both. Fortunately, and as time has gone on and on and on, and you’ve stayed in the business and you haven’t gotten out of the business and your name continually to get circulated. Makeup companies and skin care companies start reaching out to you. To send you products for free to try the products. If you love them, now, with social media, you can Instagram it, tweet it, Facebook it, or you can just give a quote to a magazine about it. If you love it. Then, have it in your kit and then use it on people and then tell your celebrities and they love it and use it. I’ve really been lucky enough to be able to try the best of the best of the best stuff. Years ago, probably about fourteen years ago, I came into contact with Vitamin C for the first time. I really, it was in a liquid form, that this one woman was selling. I was like, you know, I really see something about this Vitamin C. So, I started incorporating that into my skin care mixtures. I put together these little mixture concoctions for people, depending on what their skin looks like that day. Before I do their makeup. I might use some Vitamin C, I might use some serum mixed with an oil mixed with a cream and then the foundation. I mix everything together specifically for that person. I think a lot of make-up artists mix but I don’t know if all of them mix. I happen to, that’s sort of my thing. Mixing. For years and years and years, I’ve really been into Vitamin C. As things have progressed and as Vitamin C and the anti-aging properties became more well-known, more skin care companies started incorporating that into their lines. They would send them to me, and I remember using all of the stuff and thinking, I love Vitamin C. I’m always drawn to the ones that have Vitamin C in them. But, what I started noticing, I always try everything out on myself first. Before I use them on any of my clients. I know, once I try it out on myself, what it will, what it feels like. What can happen? Can you break out? Is it drying? Is it oily? Who it’s good for? Who it’s not good for? I’d rather have it work on myself first than sample it on someone and have a bad experience.
Nicole: Plus, when you’re with your clients for years and years and years you know what they like, what they don’t like. Smells, this, that, every little detail. I started realizing that all of the Vitamin C products, that I happened to love them, but they were maybe, too many chemicals, too watered down, wasn’t pure enough, this, that, whatever. In essence, wasn’t strong enough. I wanted a Vitamin C with a bang. What I started doing, was I turned to, I went into my kitchen, and I started pulling and mixing all of my favorite elements. I started researching. For months and months and months I researched Vitamin C. Then I started researching a lot of the elements that were in my favorite skin care products that I loved and had been using as staples in my kit for years. And started blending and mixing those together until I found a formula that I thought was. Basically I started doing because I wanted something for myself. I wasn’t even thinking about anybody else. I’m like, I want.
Sandi: I’ll buy this you said.
Nicole: After thirty-five you’re like, I need to really start focusing on keeping my skin looking great.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: So, I started blending and mixing, mixing and blending all favorite things till I found a perfect formula for me. I was like, damn I love this, this is great. I started using it on myself every single day. It’s my Vitamin C face-lifting water. You put it on before you put on your cream. Then, I would go to my. Before you put on your moisturizer. Then I would go to my clients and I’d do their makeup. I thought, oh, let me put some of this in my kit and put it on them too. It’s sort of fun, I really love this product, this is great. At the time, I had it in little water bottles. I would mix it in with the stuff, but they wouldn’t know. Finally, my clients kept saying, Oh, Nicole, your skins been looking so good lately. What have you been doing? I’m like, I’ve been making this stuff and I’ve been using it every day and I really think I see hard action, hard core results. They’re like, I want some. I’m like okay. They’re like really. Make me some and deliver it to my building. I’m like, really?
Nicole: But I don’t have any bottles. They’re like, put it in the water bottle, I don’t care. I’m like, alright. So, I’m like making this stuff at home. Each thing takes two days to make. It’s not like it takes five minutes. I’d be able to deliver it several days later. I’d be delivering water bottles filled with my lifting water to all their Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue homes.
Sandi: That’s crazy.
Nicole: I kept thinking, this is so embarrassing because I don’t have, maybe I should just try and find better bottles.
Nicole: Before you know it, the orders started coming in so frequently, that I really was, like, maybe I need some labels. Maybe this, maybe, I really started getting into it. It just, within one year, the whole thing has turned into an entire skin care. There are four skin care, the other three products came quickly after. They all work in tandem and it literally transforms your skin. Here was the thing about it. Some of my favorite companies were sending me thousand dollar creams. I loved those creams, they’re beautiful, but what I was realizing, is that, unless the skin underneath is prepped and primed to perfection, when you put the cream on, it doesn’t actually absorb into your skin correctly. It’s sort of just lying topically. It’s an extraordinary product, but it’s not really getting
Sandi: It’s not doing its job.
Nicole: It’s not doing its job to its maximum
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: So, I look at my line as, it’s not replacing your favorite items that you have. That you’ve spend a lot of money on.
Sandi: Just enhancing it?
Nicole: No, it’s like priming a wall before put your paint on it.
Sandi: Mm Hmm
Nicole: You want the wall to be perfect, primed, and buffed and polished to perfection before you put your gorgeous expensive paint on that wall. That’s what my, and it’s all handmade, it’s artisanal, and so it takes days and days to create. But, it really works. It’s all Vitamin C, which has an extraordinary anti-aging benefits to it. That are proven, and that’s why all these companies are using it in their skin care line. So, now it’s become a business. I love it, and I’m impassioned by it because I feel like I’ve been doing this for thirty years. I have had access to all of the most extraordinary products around, but I really wanted something for myself that was really going to work and keep me looking as young as possible for as long as possible. We all age. We want to have a youthful appearance.
Sandi: Of course.
Nicole: For as long as we can. It’s like going to the gym. You always want to keep up your appearance.
Nicole: Somehow. So for me, it’s skin. So, I always said to my mother, hey, if nobody ever buys this again, at least we have something for us that we love.
Sandi: There you go.
Nicole: It’s pretty cool, it’s online now so people can click and buy. It was launched, without labels actually, in December 2014 at the Plaza Hotel. At the Warren-Tricomi Salon. They wanted exclusive rights to it for one month. Even with no labels before it got put onto the market. That was really fun and really cool. Now it’s, people from Berlin and Dubai, everyone’s reaching out to me. They want to have exclusive rights to put it into their stores before it gets flooded into the markets. It’s beginning to grow and multiply and my clients love it. Which makes me feel really happy because I genuinely, it’s not for me. Of course, it’s great to make money, but for me, it’s really about transforming people’s skin and having them feel really great about themselves because that’s what I’ve been doing my entire life. So, it’s something, it’s my life’s work in essence, and it works. It just works.
Sandi: What a great place to be.
Sandi: That’s excellent. We’ve run out of time.
Nicole: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Sandi: Nicole. Fascinating. Really.
Nicole: It’s great to be here.
Sandi: It’s been very exciting to kind of follow you’re trajectory.
Nicole: Thank you.
Sandi: More continued success. Thanks so much for coming.
Nicole: I just want to say, if you want to check out the skin care, it’s at www.nicolebrylskincare.com
Sandi: Perfect. Perfect.
Join us for another edition of Conversations with Creative Women. I’m Sandi Klein.