In the beauty world, Angela Levin is a living legend. The Florence, Italy-reared artist began her career in Hollywood doing special effects on movies, which morphed into personal makeup artistry for red carpet and editorial. She’s been a CHANEL Beauty ambassador — a highly-coveted role she held for 13 years — and she currently stands as one of the most sought-after pros with a stable of clients that includes Michelle Williams, Jennifer Aniston and Nicole Kidman, among others.
Like many pros — especially those who work with top talent — she receives piles of products from beauty companies. “They spoil high-end makeup artists — we always have their stuff in our kit,” Levin tells Sunday Edit, explaining that makeup brands hope products will be used on a big-name star because “everything [a celebrity wears] will be purchased until it’s back-ordered.” So of course they inundate her with their latest and greatest. Enough so that she’s devoted an entire room of her house to makeup storage.
For starters, Levin knew she would use one of the “average size bedrooms, not a small bedroom” in her L.A. home for a product room. “Other artists might have a big closet or cabinet, but for me, it’s ongoing and I’m an organization freak…” But it’s not just for storing loads of lipstick and piles of powders.
“It’s also where I go before a job. It’s my makeup artist meditation spot. It’s where I go to get my zhuzh, to get inspired by the products.”
The dark wood room boasts two walls with floor-to-ceiling cabinets with shelves. A third large wall has bespoke drawers and cabinets. Levin enlisted a cabinet-maker to custom build drawers that suited makeup based on size. For instance, the foundation drawer is taller than the faux eyelashes drawer. The room also houses Levin’s main kits, but more on that later.
Levin receives three to four packages per week, on average. One of her team members is charged with opening and organizing all new products on a table and when Levin has time to go through them, she plunges in like a kid with new art supplies. And then she tests: “I always try to give it a go no matter what it is.” She tries many things herself and enlists girlfriends to sample skincare and give feedback. And then “I decide if it’s worthy,” which means whether it goes into one of her permanent clients’ stashes. “I will think, ‘Oh my God, Michelle will go crazy for this,’ and I’ll put it in her kit.” She always appreciates when lipsticks and mascaras come in because they don’t have long shelf lives. “And we love contraptions and machines and things that are out of the ordinary.” She adds: “I love to see the logic or purpose of why it was invented. And sometimes the purpose is to give it to my maid,” she says with a laugh.
What are some of Levin’s must-haves? Pat McGrath’s primer “for little corrections;” M.A.C concealers; Visiora “makes great powders;” “I always love Chanel Highlighting Fluid — that’s a tint that you put on your skin before you do the foundation and it’s really fabulous;” “Tom Ford makes amazing stick foundations;” Gucci Westman blush in Dou Dou (warm rose); Anastasia Beverly Hills eyebrow pencils — “those are almost number one” among all of her products; Neutrogena Color Sticks for lips: “It’s a moisturizer and color in a big fat pencil;” L’Oreal Paris lipsticks; Giorgio Armani “has really nice eyeshadows” as does Charlotte Tilbury; Dior Backstage Eye Palette in Amber Neutral: “Anybody with blue eyes should have that palette;” and Marc Jacobs mascaras.
So what happens to the items she can’t use on her celeb clientele? If they’re still in good nick, she donates them to up-and-coming makeup artists that might be struggling to fill their kits. “I had a few who did that for me,” says Levin, adding that she “came from nothing” and “you have to give back.”
Is there pressure to use the products and post about them on Instagram? “Absolutely,” she says, but “I will never post something I don’t like or didn’t really use.” She adds that the companies “never say you have to; they say, ‘here’s our Instagram if you feel inclined.’”
Levin has a set of regular makeup cases — one for travel, one for in-town and ones for her main clients. “When a client gets to a personal case with me, it means I work with them a lot.” There’s one for Williams, Kidman, Aniston, Alison Janey, Megan Fox and Zac Efron. When she tries a product that would be suitable for one of them — for their skin needs, coloring and other preferences, she pops it in the kit (or designated drawer for overflow).
Covid meant a change with her kits this past year, however. “Anything opened had to be tossed away. Tools were sanitized over and over again,” she says. But it also helped her realize she could streamline what was in the kits. For example, “Instead of having 15 different foundations, I have four.” The pandemic has also changed how she approaches red carpet “appearances” since so many of them are virtual now. The biggest change has been less of a focus on the look’s longevity. “We don’t have to say goodbye at 3:00 and there will still be photos taken at the afterparty at 9:00 at night.” Her clients “aren’t going to have to wear the makeup for longer than two hours at most,” says Levin. Also, “They’ll be in a climate-controlled environment,” as opposed to whatever the L.A. weather gods decide to throw out that day, be it humidity, rain or high temps. “So everything’s loosened up a bit in terms of durability.”
She also has to “compensate for the quality of a computer or iPhone” in this era of Zoom ceremonies, with tips that anyone communicating via a screen can use. “Tiny details don’t matter as much but intensity and contrast are of the highest importance.” She has to intensify the contrast so that a look reads on-screen. To do this, “choose products that are high in pigment so they are not so transparent.” It means that if you want something to read dark, “you have to do it darker, or if you want it to read light, you go a half shade lighter than normal.” For example, if you want a deep red lip, layer it on more times than you usually would. If you want a pale, nude lip, choose a lighter shade than you’d wear IRL for the screen.
Though this awards season has been unusual, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t sit in her makeup room and pre-plan to the same degree as in normal years. “There’s a lot of planning and a lot of thought and until the last minute, things can change.” Case in point, Sandra Bullock at the 2010 Academy Awards. The actress, nominated for The Blind Side, was leaning toward a nude lip. During makeup prep, Levin said, “‘I’m not going to do what we talked about because I think you’re going to win an Oscar and I’m going to make a look that’s worthy of an Oscar winner.’ I decided last minute to go for a pinky-red lipstick.” She could tell Bullock was nervous: “I don’t know if it was the lipstick or the awards itself. But she kept saying, ‘I trust you.’” And Levin was right. Bullock won the best actress Oscar and looked stunning with an ecstatic, bold smile, raising her statue skyward.
She has that level of trust with all her clients. But with Aniston, it goes one step further. “She doesn’t have to finish her sentences, I know what she’s going to say. For instance,” she continues, “she’ll be thinking, ‘Do I need more blush,’ and she’ll say, ‘Do I…’ and I’ll grab the blush before she’s even said the words. We read each other’s minds.”
And with Kidman, there’s a lot of laughter. “I’m 5-foot tall, and Nicole is such a magnificent swan. She’s so beautifully, elegantly tall in the most movie-star way.” At the end of prepping for the red carpet, Kidman will put on her heels (up goes the height even further!). “There’s always a moment before they get out the door and I do final touches. I’ll say, ‘I’m down here, Nicole, I’m down here.’ And she laughs and then gracefully bends down so I can reach her.”
Trust, laughter and talent—that’s the key to Levin’s success.
We only recommend products we have independently researched, tested, and loved. If you purchase a product found through our links, Sunday Edit may earn an affiliate commission.