When Blanche Macdonald graduate Aya Coulter speaks about her triumph at Dior’s North American Makeup Artist Competition, the memories from her time in New York come flooding back.
“I was the final Makeup Artist to step up and speak about my work,” she explains. “I walked up the red carpet with my model and presented to the judges. I spoke about my passion for everything Dior. And I tried to speak loudly! When the judges announced the first and second runners up for some reason I thought they’d announced the winner. I thought, well at least I had a great experience. Then the head judge said, ‘We have two people with the same scores, so we’re going to have two winners’. Then he announced my name. I cried so much! Even though I knew they were filming it.”
Aya has come a long way to reach the acclaimed heights of being named Dior’s Makeup Artist of the Year. Literally. She was raising her two young children in Chiba, Japan when the 2011 earthquake led to the decision to move her family to her husband’s hometown of Vancouver.
Aya had been to Canada before. She’d spent a year in Halifax (“It was so cold!”) learning English. It was also where she’d fallen in love with a certain beauty line.
“I had always wanted to learn how to do Makeup,” she smiles. “I wasn’t good at it at all, but I could tell that it would make people happy and confident. You put on a little pink lipstick and it would change you a lot. In Halifax I met an amazing Makeup Artist at a Dior counter. He brought me into the world of Dior. He had so much passion for the brand. It inspired me a lot. I went back to Japan and the first thing I did was send a résumé to Dior. I got an interview and they offered me a job on the makeup counter. They trained me and I was learning at the counter every single day for four years. I was in love with Christian Dior’s passion for fashion, makeup and beauty. I loved being a part of the brand.”
Aya moved to Vancouver a month and a half after the earthquake struck, arriving without a permanent residence card or a work permit. Even though she had her two children to look after, she insisted on staying busy.
“My mother-in-law suggested that I go to school. There was only one thing I wanted to study – makeup! So I googled it and asked people where I should go. That’s how I found Blanche Macdonald. I came in for a look around and talked to Heather Sosa. I could feel the passion.
“Once I started Makeup School it was great! The teachers were so amazing and helpful. I took the Global program, so even though I knew the basics of beauty from working for Dior in Japan I was learning new things and challenging myself. I don’t like scary pictures so the Film and TV and Makeup Effects parts of the course were a little challenging, but there are so many similarities to beauty makeup. You’re still focusing on the structure of the face. I was able to take what I learned in those classes and bring it back to beauty. I learned a lot and grew my confidence. I was learning more than makeup. I was learning how to work with people. Listen to your teachers at Makeup School! It’s the little things they say that can be the most important lessons, not only about makeup skills, but being in the industry.”
Aya also used Blanche Macdonald’s Career Department to get her career up and running.
“I volunteered as much as I could. I had schoolwork and a family to take care of, but the rest of my time I wanted to keep busy. I volunteered for Dior and was demoing for Maggie Chung. I would do fashion shows and photo shoots. I would teach Makeup classes for flight attendants. I felt myself getting more confident.
“Once I had my work permit I talked to Heather Sosa and she helped me get a job with Dior at the Oakridge Centre. Lina Tse, my manager, put me into my current position. She called me right after my interview to give me the job. She could tell I had a passion for Dior.”
She was already a great Makeup Artist, but with a full-time position, Aya was excited about getting even better.
“Oakridge is the third busiest Dior counter in Canada but we still provide a very personalized service. Every day I have different ethnicities and different skin types in my chair, but it’s more personal that that. Everyone has their own individual concerns. Even if I don’t see the problem, if the person in my chair thinks it’s a concern then it is a concern. If they’re not happy, I have to make them happy. It can be difficult but I enjoy the challenge. When I see their smiles when they look in the mirror it makes me so happy. It makes my day!”
When she’s not on the Dior counter, Aya has also become a busy freelance fashion Makeup Artist around Vancouver.
“I like doing fashion photo shoots. I recently shot with Patrick Widejko. He did a photography workshop and I was the Makeup Artist for that. He’s amazing! When I do creative shoots I have to go more over to the artistic side. What I do with Dior is basic day and evening looks. With a shoot I can go a little more creative. I’ll take any opportunity, because it challenges me.”
Not all challenges are created equal. And Aya aimed high from her first day with Dior in Canada. As soon as she heard about Dior’s North American Makeup Competition, she knew she had to be involved.
“I told my trainer, Jason O’Brien, ‘I have to go to that competition!’ My dream is to join the Dior Pro Team and be an International Show Artist. I need to get known to do that, so I knew I had to get my name out there. Every time I saw Jason, our Regional Manager Mira Kramar, our National Trainer Angie Semple or Dior’s Account Executive Leigh-Ann Preston, I’d ask them what I needed to do to get into the competition. After a year developing my skills at Oakridge, Jason gave me an exam – I had to do a makeup and give a presentation in front of him and Lina, just like the actual competition. He sent it to the head office in New York, and Angie chose me as one of the 20 finalists! I felt like I’d already won just making the competition. But I still wanted to win when I was there.
“When I arrived in New York I had a training session with the International Trainer and Show Artist, and the second day we did our competition makeup in a studio. The theme was Red Carpet Glamour, inspired by one of four classic Dior fragrances. I chose Hypnotic Poison. I focused on my complexion. Hypnotic Poison is very seductive but I kept it very clean for the red carpet. When you see the Oscars, the look is very clean. I used a few colours, including dark purple lips, Hypnotic Poison colour, but it was still very natural.”
The judges recognized Aya’s subtle brilliance and bestowed her with the honour that her incredible journey deserved. Her tears and triumph are testament to the transformative power of Makeup that Aya understood long before she ever came to Dior and Canada.
“I’m very shy. I don’t like to speak up in front of people. But when I’m working, I can flip that switch. I become Makeup Artist Aya, and that’s different from the normal me. I talk more. I make the person in my chair comfortable. I want what to give them Makeup that they can do every day and products that reflect their personality and lifestyle. I want them to get excited about their makeup and I want them to come back to me. I want people saying, there’s a Makeup Artist called Aya and I trust her. Those are the moments I love!”