The Magic of Charlotte Tilbury

Beauty

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In Charlotte Tilbury’s world, everyone is a darling—emphasis on the “ah,” mouth drawn open like you’re applying lipstick, and “liiiiing,” trilled like it’s three syllables. Her longtime clients, Penélope Cruz and Amal Clooney? Darlings, obviously. A bronzed cater waiter circulating with champagne that she promises we will imbibe together after our interview? A darling. A complete stranger on the street, millions of her Instagram followers, or the name of one of her sparkly eye shadow palettes? It’s “Charlotte Darling.”

At Tilbury headquarters in London’s Covent Garden, the couches are velvet and sumptuous, and framed magazine covers and quotes from Steve Jobs, Roald Dahl, Walt Disney, and Charlotte herself decorate the walls. It might seem a little self-focused, but it’s her namesake brand, and Tilbury is endlessly quotable, delivering the kinds of one-liners that would look great embroidered in needlepoint on a pillow. “We are all living in a now dehydrated world,” she says, referring to the universal need for skin care. “Dare to dream it, dare to believe it, and dare to do it” is her advice to other entrepreneurs. “Beautiful before, beautiful after” is her spin on the classic “before and after” beauty trope. “You are all gorgeous and fabulous when you’re older, and you are all amazing when you’re younger, and everyone is amazing in between,” she says of her brand’s universal appeal (in 2019, the then 86-year-old Joan Collins was a face of a campaign). An inspiration for one of the perfumes found in Tilbury’s new Fragrance Collection of Emotions: “I want to be one with the earth, like naked humans dancing in the rain, connected to the neural network of trees.”

In person, Tilbury’s eyes are an electric blue-green that pops, especially when rimmed with her signature thick, elongated violet eyeliner (if you’d like to learn how to make your eye color stand out like hers, you can “Shop by Eye Colour” on the website). She is famous, like Dolly Parton, for sleeping in her makeup. Her eyes sparkle as she speaks with the runaway, chatty energy of a hostess welcoming you to a party. Her outsize personality is lovingly parodied on TikTok, and she’s prone to referencing the stars—both longtime friends like Kate Moss, her children’s godmother, and those twinkling in the cosmos—as well as energy frequencies. Tilbury says, “I don’t want to see invisible women,” so her products make eyes look brighter and complexions more dewy, and are known for creating an intensely glamorous effect.

To Tilbury, beauty is “magic,” another word she uses often—in her world, she is Dumbledore and we are first-year Hogwarts students (although Madame Maxime of Beauxbatons might actually be more her vibe), learning about the tricks you can do with makeup. “Magical mascara” changed her life—at 13 years old, a pale redhead, she put it on for the first time and found that people reacted to her differently, and she “instantly felt more confident.” Moss and Tilbury met on set in 1998 and Moss writes to me in an email, “We love lifting each other up, celebrating each other, and sharing the magic.” Today, her award-winning moisturizer is called Charlotte’s Magic Cream, and her avatar on the brand’s app is a Tinker Bell–like figure of Tilbury with fairy wings and a slinky catsuit.

Tilbury’s new fragrances harness the magic of feeling good, with six scents formulated to enhance positive emotions: Love Frequency, Joyphoria, Magic Energy, Calm Bliss, Cosmic Power, and More Sex. “Darlings, how do you want to feel today?” is her question for customers, and the perfumes are the answer. For Joyphoria, she asked master perfumer Anne Flipo to create “summer and happiness in a bottle,” saying, “Look, in the middle of January, I just want you [to feel you’re] back in Ibiza.” Flipo, who describes Tilbury as a very “solar person,” created a scent that includes tuberose, coconut, neroli, and the “emotion-boosting” molecules of ylang-ylang and vanilla bean extract. In designing Cosmic Power, Tilbury says, “I wanted you to have an energy that envelops you in a force field of mystical strength, as if you’ve literally been draped in a cloak of cosmic energy”—helped along by notes like amber, black pepper oil, and frankincense.

charlotte tilbury

Courtesy of Charlotte Tilbury

But Tilbury is far more than a glamorous, sex-positive fairy godmother. Her real magic is that underneath the gauzy sleeves, the diamond rings on each finger, and the bejeweled snake choker is the rare mix of a creative and business mind. Tilbury sold a majority stake in her company to Puig in 2020, reportedly valued at more than $1.5 billion at the time; later on, in 2022, sales were up by 38 percent. After Tilbury learned that an estimated 40 percent of Formula 1 fans were women, the brand signed on as the first beauty line to collaborate with F1’s female-only racing championship. Some other brand founders might have become less involved or lost control of their business after selling most of it. Not Tilbury: “I wasn’t a businesswoman, I became one. I am the founder and the chief creative officer, president, and chairman of the board.”

This power play was a decision from the very beginning. “I believe that to be creative, you also have to understand business. I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t really be able to own my own business and get it off the ground. So I was like, ‘Show me a P&L. How difficult can it be?’” she says in an Elle Woods-like manner. “Looks confusing, a bunch of numbers, but let’s go through it. Line by line. What people don’t realize is when they put their best foot forward, then actually it’s not as difficult as they thought. Who knew I’d be really good at math and business, but I am! I didn’t think I was that bright, and I now realize I am quite bright! You learn, and practice makes perfect, and suddenly you become a really good businesswoman.”

Magic Cream Moisturizer

Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream Moisturizer

Darling Eyeshadow Palette

Charlotte Tilbury Darling Eyeshadow Palette

A version of this story appears in the May 2024 issue of ELLE.

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