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Beauty Chic > 20 Questions With Billy B.

From Aberdeen, Mississippi to Hollywood and beyond. Billy Brasfield, better known as Billy B. to the makeup industry has taken the world by storm. With a sly wit and sheer determination, he has pulled himself up by his bootstraps to become one of todays most sought after makeup artists. It all started in a little town in Mississippi, a small town boy with big town dreams. Billy has said that all he wanted to do was get out - and get out he did. Smack dab into the center of it all New York City. He was originally enrolled in The American Academy of Dramatic Arts, but that's not where his heart was. He has said it was only a way to get to New York. Eventually, he landed a job working behind a cosmetics counter at Macy's and discovered he had a hidden talent, makeup artistry. He fine tuned his skills and started freelancing. The rest as they say is history.

Billy has worked with oodles of celebrities such as Lauryn Hill, Pink, Sharon Stone, Beyonce, and Missy Elliott just to name a few. His work has appeared in countless music videos, and in the pages of Harper's Bazaar, Vibe Vixen, Essence and Lucky. Billy now has a book deal, a reality TV show in the works and a burgeoning line of makeup tools. He always maintains that he has been blessed to be doing what he is doing and the one thing that everyone says about him is that he is down to earth and a southern charmer. I spoke with Billy recently and found all of the above to be more than true...

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Beauty Industry Profiles: Meet Billy B; Celebrity Makeup Artist

To say that Billy Brasfield, known as "billy b" in the beauty industry, is simply a Makeup Artist would be an understatement. While some things in Billy's life have been black and white, such as his decision to leave Mississippi for New York, there is much more depth to billy b that goes beyond skin deep.

A world renowned Celebrity Makeup Artist painting faces from the Red Carpet to the small screen, billy b has never forgotten where he came from and is on a mission to revitalize his hometown of Aberdeen, Mississippi. I have been a long time fan of billy b the Makeup Artist, but now I can firmly say that without a doubt I am an absolute fan of billy b the person.

Shannon: Before venturing into the beauty industry, was there another career path you had set for yourself?

billy b: I ventured into the beauty industry by accident. For me, it was a matter of survival. I moved from a tiny Mississippi town (Aberdeen), and only knew NYC was where I wanted to be. I faked my way through the audition process for The American Academy of Dramatic Art, but had never thought of being an actor and had no experience whatsoever. It was a just "way" of getting to NYC, with my parents paying for it. I attended 1 semester and dropped out. My parents were not happy with the move and insisted I return to Mississippi. After quitting school, I was forced to move out of housing, my parents cut me off financially, so it was sink or swim. I moved into a YMCA in Times Square and only had experience in retail, so I went to Macy's Herald Square (because it was the only store I knew of from watching the Thanksgiving Parade on T.V. while growing up in Mississippi. They had a job in cosmetics so I lied and said I had experience, got the job and luckily discovered my talent there doing makeup on real women.

Shannon: When you began doing makeup, who were the makeup artists that you admired for their work?

billy b: To be honest, prior to my retail job selling makeup at Macy's, I had never given any thought to who actually did makeup for magazines etc. I always liked fashion etc., but was so naive from Mississippi, I had never thought about it until I started doing makeup and then of course became aware of Kevyn Aucoin. He was already a working makeup artist then. I knew he was southern, so I was intrigued. He became my makeup hero.

Shannon: Are there any emerging makeup artists now whose talent you marvel at?

billy b: There are so many incredibly talented makeup artists out there known and unknown! I always say in my classes that every Sunday there are thousands of incredibly talented singers in church choirs that can sing circles around Mariah Carey and Celine Dion, but will never have record deals or be famous. It is the same with makeup artists. There are so many talented artists (known and unknown) who are unsung heroes.

Shannon: Which do you enjoy more: creating a story for a photo shoot, creating a story for a video or creating the look of a celebrity for the red carpet? Why?

billy b: The answer to that question depends on so many factors, but I enjoy it all. I think the best thing about our job is that it is something different everyday! The answer for a photo shoot depends on the photographer, the model, the hair, the stylist, the magazine, what type of makeup I am asked to do etc. For a video it depends on the video concept, the director, the director of photography, the singer, the song etc. For the Red Carpet, all of the same factors come into play. Making a magic image isn't just left up to the makeup artist. As a matter of fact, making magic is a RARE thing and absolutely a "team" effort, but I LOVE the challenge every time.

Shannon: You just launched your own brush collection, billybBeauty Paint Brushes, what inspired you to create your own collection and how are they different from other brush lines on the market?

billy b: I'm glad you asked this question! I have always been very particular about my brushes. I think tools make all the difference in the world. For me, there are several factors, but the MOST important is that the brush help me do what I want to do. The shape, density, texture of the hair etc., but I also wanted to do a brush that is comfortable to use (ie. the length, weight, etc.) All of those factors are important. I designed the brushes for me; brushes that I use everyday to make my job easier. I am making tools that I love and use with the hope that others will love them, but I made them for myself. How they are different for me is that I incorporate some aspect of every great brush I found. Now I love every aspect of every brush I have designed; they are meant to be light and comfortable to use. This collection is ever evolving and what you see is not the final collection. I am in the process of designing a retractable lip brush and I'm sure I'll be inspired to design more brushes in time.

Shannon: You are a keynote speaker at The Makeup Show run by The Powder Group and now you will be doing The American Beauty Tour with them, as well. Do you find that you enjoy being out in the spotlight teaching pro's and non-pro's your techniques more so than being "behind the scenes" for your work, or is it equally rewarding?

billy b: This is a good question! I don't know how this whole "teaching" and "speaking" thing happened, but I do enjoy giving back. I didn't have anything like this available to me when I started out and if I had had the opportunity to learn from someone "who had been there" it would have helped me so much. When I speak/teach, I just try to be honest. I just "tell it like it is" and people seem to enjoy it. That makes me feel good, yes. I receive the most incredible letters after speaking. It always amazes me what exactly helps someone. It's not always about watching me work or learning a tip about makeup. It's nice to know I might validate, teach or inspire someone. It is a totally different type of satisfaction than creating makeup.

Shannon: You are greatly admired and respected across the industry for your talent, but also for being so down to earth and assessable; how do you stay grounded and not let your "celebrity" go to your head?

billy b: I LOVE this question. The answer is simple. I am in a service profession. I provide a service; it is not about me. I am just a guy from Mississippi that was lucky enough to discover a talent and smart enough to develop it. I am always learning. You never stop learning, but I will tell you one thing I am sure of. The day you begin to believe the hype is the first day of the end of you. I was just in the right place at the right time when the media turned the spotlight from the what was in front of the camera to those of us behind the camera. There is so much pretentiousness and ego in our business, but I am just who I am and can't be anything else. I would much rather someone respect my work than work with me because I go the right parties, wear PRADA and carry my makeup in Louis Vuitton (which I don't LOL.) If they like "me" that's great, but I can't play "the game." I have always been honest about where I am from, who I am and how I got here. For me, it is about the work. It is hard work and it's so nice to hear that I am respected, but I am not "the celebrity," my clients are. I am just me.

Shannon: You also have gotten the green light for your pilot with Bravo "The Beauty Foundation," can you tell readers the premise behind it and what we can expect to see?

billy b: Over the years, I have had so many "auditions" for television shows. It was always a humiliating experience for me. The producers were always looking for another "Carson." The main qualification was to be "gay." To be honest, I was not looking for a show, but it was this show came to me.

I am from Aberdeen Mississippi, which is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. It is struggling like most small towns in America. At one time in the late 1800's it was rich with cotton etc., which produced tons of gorgeous Victorian and Antebellum houses there. There are more than 250 structures on the National Register of Historic places in this town of 4000. Now there is no industry there and farmers are struggling and these houses were being lost due to neglect and no one having the money to keep them up. There is little opportunity for young people and these houses, which had once been passed down generation after generation, were being left behind, torn down or falling down. I began buying the houses to save them and a writer (Isabel Gonzales) was on a job with me and we chatted about what I was doing there. To make a long story short, she pitched it to The New York Times and my story was featured on the cover of the Home and Garden section. The television producers started calling and I signed a development deal with World Of Wonder productions, and Bravo loved the idea.

The show is about my life juggling doing makeup within New York and Hollywood for magazines, music videos and celebrities on the Red Carpet, but contrasted with my other life of saving these houses with my down home crew helping. It is just me, my 74 year old (pistol toting mom), my ex-con, good ole boy contractor Cecil and trust me the hilarity begins. Who knows if the show will even make it to television, but I am excited about how it might help my little hometown. I am excited about the possibility!

Shannon: Rebuilding your hometown is something you are passionate about, at what point did you decide that this was something you wanted to do and were you worried about how you would get it done?

billy b: I am SO passionate about it and it began a long time ago, actually. I had been living in NYC for years and would go home and see this place where I grew up dying. It made me sad. The houses are so beautiful and so incredibly inexpensive, so I just started buying them. I didn't have a plan and still don't LOL! I just do what I need to do as its needed and I worry about the rest later. I have saved about 20 houses and have 17 at the moment. It is a huge struggle, but a struggle I enjoy. It is another creative outlet for me other than doing makeup. Like the name of the show, "The Beauty Foundation," there are a lot of similarities. I love the art of transformation and making something the best it can be. Whether it is a face or a house, I live for it.

Shannon: You really have so many positive things going on right now, another being a book deal with Insight Editions, can you tell us what your book is going to be about and when we can expect to see it in stores?

billy b: I am excited about the possibility of the show, but the book is a dream come true. I have always loved books and have always dreamed of doing one. I am so pleased because the people I am doing the book with did Kevyn Aucoin's books, which I love. Just like the brushes, I am just going to do a book that I would love to have. I have some things up my sleeve to hopefully bring "another level" to what is out there now. We are in the early planning stages, but I am very excited!

Shannon: Is there anything else in the works for 2007/2008 we can expect to see from you?

billy b: I wish I knew! I never expected all of this in the first place. One thing is for sure, I will continue to do my best with everything I do and continue to appreciate every opportunity. For right now, I just say bring it on!

You can find out more about billy b on his website, where you can also purchase his paint brush collection. For tour dates and details about The American Beauty Tour, visit our beauty division blog Beauty Pro. Billy also has a "fan"tastic MySpace page where he writes a blog and interacts with his fans.


Nor is gin rummy. Canasta? Disasta! So why did a huge cast of big-name designers, including Diane von Furstenberg, Collette Dinnigan and David Rockwell, plus some celebrities agree to design a dowdy old playing card? First, one of the hottest trends in design right now is crossing over—working in a discipline other than one's specialty. Second, the money raised from the cards will benefit the MAC AIDS Fund. And third, the cards all feature naked people.

This card designed by billy b is his interpretation of the King of Hearts.

New York Times
September 14, 2006
A Makeup Star Gives a Town A Fresh Face
by Isabel C. González

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Talkin' Shop
Celebrity Makeup Artist Billy B
By Margina Dennis

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"Restoring the glamour" - Daily Journal
by Ginna Parsons

ABERDEEN - Billy Brasfield is trying to help change the face of Aberdeen - one house at a time.

Known as billy b to his clients, the renowned makeup artist has come home - at least part time - to try to save the heart of the town he grew up in.

"I love the process of transformation, whether it's makeup and a face or a piece of property," said Brasfield, 43. "When I see properties, I don't see them the way they are. I see them the way they could be. I see the way they can be - deserve to be."

Since the late 1980s, Brasfield has been buying up abandoned and neglected, but usually structurally sound, homes built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"The houses are largely Victorian cottages," he said. "The big antebellum houses are already saved here. The ones I buy have holes in the roof, holes in the floor, termite damage, sills gone under the house, old wiring, old plumbing - every single scary thing you can imagine. I'm not interested in buying a house built in 1965. I'm interested in the ones no one is going to care about, basically."

Scoring big in Big Apple
When Brasfield was 20, he left the Deep South and headed for New York. He wanted out of Mississippi, where his mother and sister lived, and he wanted out of Memphis, where his job in a Goldsmith's department store had become unbearable. He headed to the Big Apple because that's what his heart told him to do.

"I went to New York as a student on a field trip once and as soon as I landed there I knew that was where I belonged, what I needed to do," Brasfield explained. "When I moved to New York, I moved to New York to live in New York."

Brasfield got a job at Macy's department store at a makeup counter and, to his surprise, discovered he had a talent for transforming faces. Today, that talent can run his customers $5,000 a day - customers like Beyonc?, Pink, Mary J. Blige, Wynonna, the Dixie Chicks, Sharon Stone, Katie Couric and Laura Linney. His work can be seen on the covers of magazines such as Vanity Fair, Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Marie Claire, Rolling Stone, Essence and GQ. (Visit him at or

"I'm lucky because most of my clients are extraordinary and it's an amazing opportunity to be around these women," Brasfield said. "But they're just normal people in extraordinary situations. They have the same issues as every other woman. A lot of them are mothers. People tend to lump celebrities all together but they're individuals. The difference is they live their lives in front of all of us."

As Brasfield became more successful, his visits home became more frequent than they were when he initially took off for New York.

"When I first left, I didn't come back often," he said. "Aberdeen was changing from a sort of Mayberry R.F.D. kind of place with mom and pop stores that had been here for a hundred years. They were closing. I'd come home and more commercial stores were empty on Main (Commerce) Street, more houses were for sale. I'd come back and it was changing, but not changing for the better. Every small town in America is changing. They can't compete with the malls and superstores."

So he bought a house. And then he bought another. And another.

Today he owns 16 homes in Aberdeen. Some he has rented; some are empty, looking for love. Some have new roofs, wiring, plumbing and paint. Others look like they need to be condemned.

And that's what scares Brasfield the most.

"I believe that every house is valid and deserves to be saved," he said. "Chances are new development won't happen. Lots will be vacant if these houses aren't saved."

Brasfield is quick to point out that he's not a one-man band in this transformation process.

"My involvement here is to spearhead this effort, but it's now a community effort, a momentum growing that's really inspiring," he said. "I had no idea that I'd end up with 16 houses - I never dreamed of getting this involved in saving houses and commercial property. But I'm not doing this alone."

And he's certainly not blaming the town of a little more than 6,000 people for the shape of some of its houses.

"It's not that the people in Aberdeen didn't care," he said. "They did care. But this is overwhelming and daunting."

In fact, one of the most overwhelming projects on the board involves the old Kimble Bakery building on Commerce Street. From the outside, it has an elegant dark brick facade and drapes in the windows. And then you open the front door.

"And you see the sky," Brasfield said, pointing to the top of a staircase where half of the second floor - roof and all - is gone, having fallen through to the sub-basement. Water runs down the walls when it rains, damaging original crown molding. Hardwood floors have buckled and trash litters the rooms.

Attorney Jeff Navarro owns the building and used it as office space for more than 20 years. But when Navarro moved to Amory two years ago, the building became uninhabited and fell into disrepair.

Brasfield and downtown merchant and antiques auctioneer Dwight Stevens have waged a campaign to save it.

"Jeff Navarro has given us a verbal agreement to give us the building if we put a non-profit in it," Brasfield said. "He's doing the right thing by giving us the building to save. I don't know how the hell we're going to do it, but we're going to do it."

Navarro said he, Brasfield and Stevens have talked about the future of the building, but Navarro said he has some homework to do before he can turn loose of the property.

"I'm not ready to make a public commitment to this right now," Navarro said. "The vast majority of the building is in reasonably good shape. The integrity is still there."

Stevens said the Kimble building is one of three in downtown Aberdeen that need to be saved immediately. The other two are the old M&O Railroad Depot and the large building two doors down from Lann Hardware.

"Once we lose our downtown facade, it will be like a smile with a tooth gone," Stevens said. "Small towns have a lot to offer. People like coming here. Tourism - that's where Aberdeen has its chance - to save what we have and draw people here."

Stevens applauds Brasfield's efforts to try to save commercial property in the downtown area.

"It takes somebody to make enough noise and that's what Billy is doing," he said. "And people are paying attention - they're listening."

Beauty Bar' did it Brasfield makes it back to Aberdeen to visit his mom, Ruth, and to check on the progress of his houses once or twice a month these days. He has a 15-person crew who work full time roofing, flooring, painting, wiring, plumbing and generally making homes habitable.

But there's one home in particular that has grabbed Brasfield's heart. It's a home on Silk Stocking Row on Franklin Street built by Mrs. Pinky Sykes in 1899 with a porch reminiscent of the front of a steamboat.

"It's called Victorian Eclectic, which sort of means it was a period when lots of different types of Victorian styles went into one Victorian house," Brasfield said. What makes this house special is that Brasfield has bought this one to live in himself.

"People look at me strangely when I tell them I have homes in both New York and L.A., a cottage on Cape Cod, an apartment in Destin, Fla., and a house in Aberdeen, Miss.," he said, laughing. But he admits the minute he stepped through the front door, he knew it was meant to be.

"I walked in it and in the middle of the parlor was an antique cosmetic counter from the 1920s or '30s and above it, it says, Beauty Bar.' This was God or the universe or whatever telling me this is supposed to be the house I live in."

Just because he's found a house he wants to keep doesn't mean he'll stop buying up properties and saving them. But what if no one wants them when he's finished?

"I believe that when you do something you're driven to do and the goal and intent are pure and honest, then people will come," he said with a shrug. "People will buy these houses. I can't worry about what I'll do if they don't sell. I just believe it will work out."