Cocoa Conversations with: Ashley Rudder

Cocoa Conversations with: Ashley Rudder

You know when you can just feel someone’s vibe when you walk in a room? That’s how it is with MAC Senior Artist, Ashley Rudder. Her bubbly personality and positive spirit was an oasis of calm in the chaos commonly referred to as New York Fashion Week. The traditional all black MUA uniform was characterized by her stylish turban and perfect winged liner.

Just a couple weeks prior, Rudder and I had an eye opening phone chat about her start at MAC, her role as an educator, diversity in the beauty industry, and that infamous lips picture that got such a large response on the MAC Instagram page. (If you haven’t heard of Rudder, you may have seen her amazing swatches on her personal Instagram page. )

Ofunne Amaka: Why did you start swatching MAC products on Instagram?

Ashley Rudder: I started swatching because I would see comments on MAC’s social media channels that would say things like, “Oh I can’t wear that color” and I would think, “Oh my gosh, that is such a wearable color, why in the heck would someone think that?” So I started swatching in response to that.

OO: How did you come to be a senior makeup artist at MAC?

AR: OK, we are going to have to go way back. In September I will have been with the brand for 16 years.

OO: WOW congrats!

AR: Thank you! I started off at a counter. And even before that I was just a makeup lover from a relatively young age but my mom wasn’t having that, wearing makeup early.  I don’t know what triggered it, but one magical day she was like “Hey, I think you are ready to wear makeup.” So she took me to the makeup counter and it pretty much blew my mind.

Ever since then I was really just passionate about it. Then, I found out I wasn’t just into doing makeup on myself, I found myself wanting to do other people’s makeup. So I practiced my life away. It took me almost a year to get hired at MAC because I didn’t have a lot of professional makeup experience at the time, so they told me I needed to get that. I worked for another brand for a year and got my experience together and then I got hired.

I was going to school at the time as an international business major and I decided to drop out in my second year because I loved MAC so much. I just knew that MAC was really kind of a maverick in the community when it came to their philosophy of all ages, all races, all sexes.

I ended up going back to school later and I got my degree and MAC supported me all the way through that.  So I have a really deep loyalty to the brand, not only because they supported me personally, but because they encourage anyone who works for the brand to get an education with things like tuition reimbursement and just in general.

You don’t only learn how to do makeup and get better at doing makeup working for MAC, but you also understand how to be personable and how to talk to people. You are really touching people’s self esteem. You are really helping people create an image that they see themselves being. It’s a trip to see.

OO: Definitely. So as you’ve gone through working at a makeup counter, up until now, is there any style you do more often than not? As a senior artist, is there something that you do more of, or is there more variety when you get to that top level?

AR: Yea there is tons of variety. Like no day is the same, ever. It’s like one second, I am working on creating looks for Mariah Carey’s Number 1s tour, and the next day I’m at fashion week-- we call it fashion month cause you know, we go from city to city and it’s quite a while that you are doing that.

And then, I had the pleasure of going to South Africa for an Instant Artistry tour, which is like a branding tour. And then I may be backstage doing something for a celebrity client and their performance. It’s like every single day is different, and that’s the cool thing about this job. And that’s why my colleagues, they really do consider the MAC to be an elite team of artists because we have such a wide breadth of knowledge and were also educators.  I teach master classes and it just really encompasses so much more than just the artistry piece of it.

OO: So as an educator, I’ve heard that in some beauty schools and some makeup education classes, beauty for women of color isn’t always taught or isn’t always a priority. And I know MAC has the mantra of being very inclusive , with all races, all ages, all sexes. Is that something you feel like is really included or that you try to include as a women of color, being an educator, and in general working for the brand?

AR: Totally! I worked on a workshop recently with Fatima Thomas, Cynthia Rivas, and Gisel Calvillo.  We collaborated together to create this Contemporary Beauty for Women of Color Master Class. It ran last master class season and it was so beautifully accepted. We felt as though there needed to be more education about it and MAC, being who MAC is listened to us and allowed us to do it. They were 100% behind us teaching this class. It was full every city and included all sorts of ethnicities because at the end of the day, when you encounter a women of color , it’s like the rainbow. There are so many options, it was really moreso about depth.

I think that’s where there’s a miss in the greater beauty education system. It should be easier for them to leave the ethnicity piece out of it and just cover the entire color spectrum because at the end of the day it’s just color theory and if someone doesn’t understand a warm versus cool versus what’s harmonious and complementary for every shade range then there is a completely miss.

I don’t feel like it would take that much longer (to learn), it’s just more about being aware of the fact that they are leaving out the deeper tones. I feel now, as a whole the world is starting to understand that women of color have a strong voice and that there is a massive market that is underserved. I’m seeing people are becoming more aware that there is buying power and there is this sector that is not being represented but I do see it changing so that’s really really positive.

OO: I definitely agree. It’s been interesting to see how each brand introduces it because it’s kind of tricky. Some people actually aren’t aware that certain brands don’t have deeper shades but when they realize that they weren’t there before, it can kind of seem like you’re late to the party in some instances.

AR: Part of me feels like, “Hey as long as they show up.”

OO: True, because you have to get there eventually. If they don’t have it now, they have to do it somehow.

AR: Totally, and there are still some brands where I'm like “Man you guys standing pretty hardcore about not getting into this deeper shade range,” which is a shame. M.A.C. is considered a prestige brand and they are committed to keeping those colors. We have over 2000 SKUs, and it’s a lot of product but MAC believes in that, that everyone should be represented and also that they carry realistic skin tone colors because even some of the newer brands, they haven't gotten the undertones right. They are still very very red. So that’s again, the amazing thing about MAC. Not only are the colors there, but they work.

OO: Yea Some people think makeup is very surface but it can be very empowering, especially for women of color. Its usually very hard for us to find something that’s perfect. I wanted to ask you your perspective, because you’re from MAC, on the whole drama about the lips on the IG page.

AR: The social media team was extremely disturbed by the responses that were happening online, however, they stood behind the photo. They posted it because they thought those looks were beautiful and they should be represented. I saw that there was a lot of press behind it as well, saying how disappointed they were in the social media culture as a whole, but I thought it as a good conversation to have because it’s just one of those things where .you think that society is in a certain place, but you don’t realize still there is quite a narrow view of what is beautiful. And even though there were some disappointing comments, there were some beautiful compliments on there.

I just think that whenever when something that disruptive happens on the internet, its good because MAC has always been that way: they’ve always disrupted the marketplace with their visuals.

I also think that it just lended itself to a broader conversation.I feel like the full lip moment is very interesting. So many people create modifications to their bodies to create this fullness however when it’s naturally represented it can be shunned. I think it’s a shame. However i still feel like everyone should just own their own beauty fingerprint and if you have gorgeous full lips, you should be rocking bright color. You don't have to minimize your lips, you should be completely celebrating them. I feel like as an MUA, that is my personal phrase,

I’m constantly telling people, “You need to celebrate your individual beauty.” Be inspired by anyone you want you want to be inspired by, however, you should manipulate it into what looks beautiful on you and sometimes that even means abandoning what is pop culture and doing something your own because that’s what creates trends. “

I couldn’t agree more with you, Ashley.

You can keep up with Ashley on her Instagram or her Snapchat. (She always has the BEST sneak peeks!)
This interview has been slightly truncated for the purposes of this platform.