(Behind The Glam)

Makeup Artist Uzo Has Enough Glamorous Work Stories To Fill An Entire Book

A few, actually.

Courtesy Of Uzo
Makeup Artist Uzo working on model

Iconic beauty moments aren’t born without the visionary artists that create them. In Behind The Glam, TZR gives you an inside look into the careers and inspirations of the industry’s top artists.

If just one thing had gone differently, Uzo’s now-legendary makeup career might not have ever happened. She’s a full-fledged industry icon who’s worked on countless red carpets, ad campaigns, editorial shoots, and fashion shows, but had Uzo not gone with the gut feeling telling her to explore her artistic inclinations, she might be scrubbing in for surgery right now rather than leading the NARS team as its Global Artistry Director.

Hearing the complete scope of Uzo’s 30-year career journey firsthand, hers is a story of hard work and grit in a glamorous industry, yes, but it’s also a sterling example of trusting your intuition — something that Uzo is clearly very much tapped into. It’s what lead her to forgo a career in medicine to follow her passion, and it’s the same guiding light that helped her make the leap from the cosmetics counter to working as one of the most celebrated artists in her entire field. Speaking with Uzo, she explains she’s come to something of a full-circle moment in her career, with exciting new avenues opening up. It’s a perfect time for reflecting back on it all, and she holds nothing back.

Ahead, go behind the glam with makeup artist Uzo.

How She Got Started

As the daughter of Nigerian immigrants growing up in upstate New York, Uzo tells TZR that her parents were especially academically focused, filling her childhood with books and an emphasis on advanced education. “[My father] was always told that people are going to respect you for your brain and not your looks, so beauty wasn't foremost in my environment as a very young child,” she explains. Even still, that didn’t stop the young Uzo from hoarding her allowance to buy glossy issues of Essence, Cosmopolitan, and Ebony. She was drawn to fashion and beauty, recalling Faye Dunaway movies she loved watching specifically for the clothes.

Moving through adolescence, academics were a key focus, but Uzo’s creative side just couldn’t be contained, even through medical school and residency. “I enjoyed doing my makeup, doing my friends’ makeup whenever we went out went to parties,” she says. “I never knew that I could segue into a second career — and a second career really just came by chance.” It all started when Uzo moved to Los Angeles in her late 20s, desperately needing a break from the grind of med school, graduation, and constantly being on-call. She describes the period as her own personal gap year, which naturally “mortified” her career-oriented parents. “I told my parents I wanted to take some time off and just rest and so that...was when I decided to get a part-time job at a cosmetic counter.” Settling on Clinique made sense considering Uzo’s clinical background — the salesgirls wore white lab coats — and she quickly settled in, staying for longer than even she anticipated.

Courtesy Of Uzo

The simple, fresh-faced makeup that makes Clinique so beloved was fun, but Uzo is the sort of creative who needs room for expression — she did her initial interview in a full beat, after all. After a brief stint as an artist at YSL Beauty, she found herself at Bobbi Brown working as one of the brand’s pro artists, where she formed much of the bedrock of her makeup knowledge and techniques that would set her up for the transition of a lifetime.

The Moments She’ll Never Forget

Uzo has more stories form her 30-something years in the business than many accrue over an entire lifetime, but the tale of how she wound up at NARS is like something out of the fashion-filled movies she loved as a kid. It was 1997 and she was working a special fashion show celebrating the then-new Tommy Hilfiger flagship store in Beverly Hills and the designer’s partnership with the Race To Erase MS nonprofit initiative. Bobbi Brown and her elite crew of artists were all backstage for the celebrity-filled affair, Uzo included. “Aaliyah was there, Gwen Stefani was there, Rashida Jones was there,” she lists off. And though she wasn’t walking in the show, Naomi Campbell was in attendance, too. When an artist approached the legendary model to touch up her makeup, they were waved off. “‘No,’” Uzo recalls Campbell saying, “‘I only wear NARS.’ I was so intrigued, and I [thought], My next journey is to go to NARS.”

Campbell and Hilfiger at the 1997 event.Vinnie Zuffante/Archive Photos/Getty Images

From there, the pinch-me-now moments just kept coming. One that Uzo is especially fond of happened at New York Fashion Week, at the Marc Jacobs Autumn/Winter 2009 collection. The show essentially served as François Nars’ big return to Fashion Week, as he’d taken something of a step back to focus more on the brand and its growth. “The show had 65 models,” she describes, and each had a fully customized look. “It was all ‘80s influenced and I have to say that the glam really overtook what Marc Jacobs designed. I mean, it was all about, ‘My God, François Nars is back.’” The show helped rocket the decade’s top beauty signatures back to the trending forefront, and Nars was descended upon by adoring fans and editors immediately after the show. “I'm [thinking], once again, I am here where history is being created. It was a phenomenal moment.”

Courtesy Of Uzo

The Next Chapter

Her current role as the NARS Global Artistry Director effectively encompasses everything Uzo’s learned through her 25 years with the brand, first working as an artist-in-residence at the Barneys New York (RIP) Beverly Hills location. Her skills stood out to the degree that she was asked to travel all over the world, running between working international fashion shows and training the growing fleet of NARS artists around the globe. When the role was offered, Uzo talked to her mother about it and explained what a once-in-a-lifetime chance it was. She was supportive, encouraging her to go for it. A common thread through Uzo’s career is her willingness to seize the moment, throwing herself into opportunity with gusto. It makes sense, then, that she’d again feel the pull to experiment and try something that’s at once familiar and totally foreign: creating products for her very own line, UZO Beauty. It’s already an industry-favorite, used on celebrities and runway-walking models alike.

“I love the the the art behind makeup, but I'm just so much more fascinated behind the science behind skin care,” Uzo explains. With her extensive medical background, there was already plenty of foundational knowledge in place — especially considering dermatology was one specialization she considered post-graduation. Initially, Uzo didn’t think starting her own brand was necessarily in the cards, particularly as a wave of artist-led lines began to crest. “The only thing that really spurred me on to maybe creating my own brand was being intrigued by seeing how even orthopedic surgeons have their own private labels in their offices,” she explains. That got the mental wheels turning.

“It is still, to me, miraculous that I actually decided to form my own, because I was very comfortable in corporate America. I was rising through the ladders, I had a very steady job. But I think that being an entrepreneur and starting your own brand is something that is so much more fulfilling.”

UZO Beauty Courtesy Of UZO Beauty

With two best-selling skin care products and a liquid liner already on the market — with much more to come, rest assured — Uzo broke through yet another layer, and it all came down to self-trust and faith. “We often don't listen to the inner voice,” she muses. “Even as a child, just trying to fit in and not listening to your gut that you don't need to fit in. It really just trust that inner voice, trust those basic instincts — they usually steer you in the right direction.”