Perched on the edge of a marble tub at The Bowery Hotel, Karen Elson is slowly pouring a bottle of oil, letting the scent of red roses drift up from warm water. “It lingers on the skin,” she says, explaining why the aromatic bath remains a treasured part of her pre–night out ritual—a rather meticulous routine she’s here to dissect. “You smell really nice.”
As it turns out, the British supermodel and new Jo Malone ambassador is a master of makeup in her own right, having carefully honed her skills for years. “I was definitely more of a goth as a teen, so I played heavily with it then,” Elson recalls. Of course, there’s her long and close friendship with legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath, from whom she learned a thing or two. “It was the height of mad creativity,” she says of her iconic work with McGrath and photographer Steven Meisel in the ’90s. “I mean, I had no eyebrows—shaved off my eyebrows, thanks to Pat—a crazy-mad haircut, and we’d play around with makeup all the time.”
From McGrath, she learned to rely on her palms and fingers to craft the softer, lived-in look she loves. “A little more punk, like you could wake up and it would still look relatively okay,” she says, smudging a touch of emerald green MAC pencil into the waterline to demonstrate. Then there’s her madcap method of stirring and fusing products together to customize them completely—a few drops of Rodin oil splashed into Crème de la Mer to thin out the texture, for one. “I mix everything,” she says, “and I layer things to make it my own sort of personal blend.”
Take Nuxe’s shimmering bronze oil. The deep copper tone is too dark for Elson’s fair skin, yet when added to Jo Malone Red Roses body cream and pale By Terry foundation, it lends a barely there glow to the arms and décolleté. “A few drops of foundation makes it lighter, and then the body lotion makes it less oily, as well,” she explains. “It becomes more personal.” Here, Elson reveals the rest of her expert party prep routine and a few of the tried-and-true essentials in her current roster. There’s plenty of makeup magic to go around.