Beauty 

Queer MUA Michael Brooks, AKA The Brooks Brother, Says Beauty Has No Gender

The multi-disciplinary creative urges the industry to champion more LGBTQ+ voices and faces.

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Canadian-born London-based makeup artist Michael Brooks, also known as The Brooks Brother, made his YouTube debut in 2017 and has since then been inspiring his followers with his mesmerizing, artistic beauty looks. Having landed his role as Smashbox Cosmetics UK’s pro MUA earlier this year, Brooks has been paving the way for queer creatives by advocating for better representation and diversity within the beauty industry.

At a young age, Brooks already had an eye for glamor and beauty. The moment he saw his favorite alternative, pop punk boy bands wear makeup was when he decided to experiment with his own looks and explore his talent. With additional interests in music, art, digital content creation and fashion, the multi-disciplinary creative is changing the game and is definitely a talent to watch.

We spoke to Brooks about how he’s been keeping busy amid COVID-19, what his creative process is like and the exciting projects he has in store for the rest of 2020. Read on for our full interview.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how your passion for makeup started?

I grew up in Canada, in a suburb just east of Toronto. I’ve always had an interest in the arts and I studied various areas of visual and performing arts throughout my entire childhood, but I’ve always been fixated on glamor and beauty. At around 12 or 13 years old, I began to take notice of men I saw wearing makeup in my favorite alternative/pop punk boy bands and I wanted to try it myself. Around that same time, I was involved in some performing arts extra-curricular activities, so the idea of wearing makeup on stage didn’t seem odd to me. I’m very fortunate to have grown up in a home that prioritized my happiness, self-expression and safety above all. As I got older, I moved farther away from my music, dance and theater studies and grew an attachment to wearing makeup and providing it as a service to others. After high school, I decided to take a certificate course in makeup artistry. I’ve been doing it professionally since.

How did the opportunity to work with Smashbox Cosmetics UK come to be?

I’ve been working on and off in retail makeup for the better part of my career, and a lot of that has been within the Estée Lauder group of beauty brands. Most recently, I started with Smashbox in their studio space in March of 2020. I had worked on a few freelance campaigns in their studio for another cosmetics brand in 2019 and happened to meet the manager of the space. When they had a position become available, I was put forward and was looking for a change, so I went for it. As you can imagine, with all the changes our world has seen this year, it hasn’t been at all what I expected. Starting a new position with a new brand in the midst of a global pandemic certainly has impacted the process.

“The online social community is a real place for inspiration and discovery, which keeps me going through this challenging time.”

You started making YouTube videos before moving to London. What would you say are the biggest differences between Canada and the UK’s creative industry?

The sheer size of the creative industry in the UK is the biggest difference I’ve noticed. In London, there’s always room for someone to break in, as long as you’re willing to work for free, network until you’re blue in the face and never give up. I feel like my attempts to break into the creative industry in Toronto barely scratched the surface because it’s much smaller. Bigger cities tend to have more opportunities, as long as you’re willing to take them on.

Who are some of your queer beauty icons?

Being totally honest here – there aren’t enough queer beauty icons, especially men. I’ve always admired RuPaul Charles and what he’s done with his career, as well as NikkieTutorials, Kevyn Aucoin, Indya Moore, Kabuki and Munroe Bergdorf.

What are some challenges you’ve faced working as an MUA amid COVID-19? How have you been able to overcome those obstacles?

Well, I basically surrendered my entire freelance makeup artist career to the virus and I still have not picked it up. Unfortunately, I simply don’t feel safe working that close to anyone’s face. Over the last two and a half years, I hustled to make a name for myself in a new city and country, only to have it completely squashed by COVID-19. That one still hurts.

But in staying home and making more use of my own face, I turned my hobby of posting online into a job. Now, I’m spending my time creating looks, video and photo content and getting paid for it. There are so many people out there using platforms like Instagram for creating content and to express themselves. The online social community is a real place for inspiration and discovery, which keeps me going through this challenging time. The loss, which is hopefully temporary, came with a gain.

In what ways do you think the dynamic of the beauty industry has changed this past year?

Generally, I think the beauty industry is changing entirely. The beauty industry for online creatives and beauty content creators is in the midst of a continuous shift, and over the last year, I have seen more accountability from beauty brands, transparency on the inner workings of the “influencer” sphere, and a lot more people and former working makeup artists using themselves as their own canvas. The beauty industry desperately needs to prioritize more queer voices and faces, especially those of BIPOC folks. I’ve seen it more this year than ever but there is work to be done. The retail makeup space is undergoing a change in terms of the consumer experience, and a lot of brands are primarily e-commerce now. As for the creative world and working on set (not that I can speak from experience anymore), safety precautions are continuously evolving, but the show must go on. I feel like we’re all becoming more independent, and I think brands are starting to see their consumer as the authority, rather than the other way around.

“The beauty industry desperately needs to prioritize more queer voices and faces, especially those of BIPOC folks. I’ve seen it more this year than ever but there is work to be done.”

What does beauty mean to you?

Standing in your truth. Accepting what you love about yourself and also accepting what you might not love about yourself. To me, beauty is not only about how crisp your eyeliner is or how glowy your skin looks. It’s accepting all of yourself in all forms. Most importantly, it’s about doing what feels best, regardless of how the world sees you. If it feels right, do it.

What is your creative process like when coming up with your beauty looks?

It’s usually based on an image, shape or a specific group of colors. Sometimes I sketch it out when I’m really organized, and other times I wing it from an idea floating around in my head. When I can’t get it right, I’ll take a selfie and doodle on my own face until it makes sense to me. Executing it is a whole other venture. I’m a Pisces so my head is always in the clouds thinking of ideas.

What are your dos and don’ts when it comes to makeup?

I don’t like telling people what they should and shouldn’t do with their makeup. My least favorite part of working as a makeup artist is the expectation that my opinion and experience is superior to someone else’s. It’s important to be able to offer my input when it’s needed, otherwise, I mind my business. What I will say is, don’t be afraid of makeup. Wear as much, as little as you want or nothing at all – however you want. It’s your face and it washes off.

Can you share with us any exciting projects you’re working on for the rest of 2020 and in the new year?

I was recently named one of three winners in a contest with a well-known makeup brand, so over the next few months and into the new year, I’ll be working collaboratively on a collection with one of my favorite musicians that is set to launch next summer. Easily the most exciting project I’ve ever been a part of!

I’m also taking part in Instagram‘s #ReelSelf Sessions this October, which is a virtual three-day event packed with exclusive content and inspirational talks to support creators to learn, grow and express creativity. The sessions themselves will cover everything from creativity online, how to get noticed and insider knowledge to keeping well online and offline, as well as forecasting new trends. The online world has been a great place of support for me, and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences.

Otherwise, I’m always brainstorming ideas around how I’d like to leave my mark on the beauty industry. Hopefully, 2021 will bring me a return to my freelance makeup career, a new set of goals and more exciting opportunities.

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