By Celia Ellenberg
I kind of feel like we’re gonna get banned in Italy,” Gina Brooke jokes over her first coffee of the day. It’s around noon on a rainy May day in midtown Manhattan and the makeup artist is coming off another late-night-turned-early-morning rehearsal for Madonna’s MDNA tour. “The first section of the show, the first big song, is crazy. It’s super vixenish and she’s like this superwoman. It’s very sexy. Her hair, the eyes, the skin—it’s beautiful. She comes out and does something very controversial,” Brooke says, alluding to the “nip slip” that would be discussed around the world a few weeks later.
A petite brunette with impossibly high cheekbones, Brooke is tired, but her enthusiasm for the transcontinental performance extravaganza that she’s about to embark on is still plenty palpable. “It’s brutal, but it’s really exciting,” she says of the 12- to 15-hour rehearsals that segue into gruelling full days of travelling, more rehearsals and between-set touch-ups. “I’m in the quick-change room,” Brooke explains. She’s typically armed with blotting towels, powders and palettes, waiting for Madonna to come off stage.
Making things that much more intense, “she’s the most detail-oriented person you’ll ever meet in your life,” Brooke says of “M”—which is what Madonna’s close-knit crew of hairstylists, dancers, stylists and lighting techs call her. “If you do the liner on her eyes a hair different—literally, a hair different—she looks in the mirror and is like, ‘This eye is slightly rounder than the other.’ It’s crazy. It’s stressful. She’ll critique you but also make you better at your job.”
The two have been collaborating for almost 10 years, but for her fourth tour with Madonna, Brooke has complicated things further by adding a precarious makeup element. “I always focus on eyes, but this particular tour we’re really focusing on the lips.” The change in artistic direction is a risky one considering the rigorous choreography. “Of all the tours, this is the most strenuous,” Brooke says, admitting that she’s attempted a bold mouth before. “I tried doing a red lip once. It was in the middle of a quick change, and they ripped off [Madonna’s] boot at the same time as I was doing her lip and it went like this,” she says, motioning across her cheek where the lipstick smeared. “It’s a nightmare because you have to go in, remove that, then you have to put back the concealer and the cream.”
Still, she decided to try again. Determined to find the perfect blue-red pigment that would contrast with Madonna’s alabaster skin, Brooke perused a few wardrobe sketches from stylist Arianne Phillips, flipped through the pages of a Melvin Sokolsky photography book, custom-mixed a few different crimsons and hoped for the best. “Everything [Madonna] likes is discontinued. That’s why I custom-make some things for her. I’ll take different reds and ask, ‘Which one do you like best?’ And she’ll choose.”
At this point, Brooke put in a call to Make Up For Ever. “My biggest struggle is finding products that are going to stay put,” she explains. “She’s dancing and moving around and it’s such hard work to sustain that colour. There are a lot of great products out there that are smudge-proof and waterproof but they have a problem with pigment.” A long-standing member of the cult of Make Up For Ever’s Aqua Shadow, the ultra-saturated chubby pencils that can be applied over lids or used as a liner, Brooke contacted the brand to see if they had any Aqua lip products in the works. Sure enough, they did. “You feel it on your lips,” she says of the highly pigmented end of the brand’s new dual-ended Aqua Rouge Waterproof Liquid Lip Color, which she paints on top of a precise line of Aqua Lip Liner. “Then, after a few moments you put on the gloss, and it just settles and locks in and it does not move.” The chosen colour is #8, the single custom-designed shade in the 12-piece collection. “When you see her walking down the front of the stage, all you see is this creamy skin and the bluest red lip. It’s gorgeous.”