I don’t think too many things could parallel the chance to tour M.A.C‘s headquarters and meet the whole team and see exactly how their makeup is made (hellllo, beauty junkie’s dream!). *Pinch me*. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be able to go behind-the-scenes to the heart of one of the premiere cosmetics brands and see their makeup-making in action…if my ear-to-ear-smile the whole day wasn’t proof enough of my beauty-loving-geekiness, I’m not sure what is.
For starters, did you know M.A.C’s headquarters are based in Toronto? About an hour out in Markham to be exact. The original production facility still stands in the same place (and the sign still says “Makeup Art Cosmetics”), only it has since expanded to another building that houses Estée Lauder Companies Canadian Innovation Centre.
Not only did we get to tour the building and meet all the enthusiastic people behind the brand, Mickey Contractor himself decided to joined us — he may have created his own M.A.C collection, but this was his first time there and meeting the people who literally created his line in person (he worked on it mostly from New York). The tour started with some standard procedures, which meant getting our mad-scientist look on: lab coats, safety glasses, hair nets (for the dudes, beard-nets too), and these stylin’ yellow steel-toe covers.
Our first stop was their color-matching department. Take note: if you want to work here, you have to prove you can really see the subtle differences in color. In one minute, you have to re-assemble a whole row of similar shades in order from light to dark. I took the test (took me a try, but I got them right in order…I got color-matching cred!).
Valerie MacKenzie, Executive Director for Coporate Product Development for Estée Lauder (don’t let that title fool you — she’s a M.A.C girl through and through), showed us how they determine the undertones and overtones for the shades by doing a “quadrant” color swatch on their forearm. The creative and technical team work closely together, which means they have to speak the same “M.A.C language” — they all need to understand what it means when something is too “chalky,” needs to be more “dirty,” or if there is an “odd man out” in their swatch test.
Next, we toured their lipstick-making process which is no joke. About 90% of the makeup is made in this plant alone — that’s 10,000-20,000 lipsticks A DAY (even more, they make about 100,000 units of all the products here a day, 30-35 million units a YEAR).
While they have a few factory lines that’s fully automated, they still use some that are only semi-automated, and even others that are still manually done (meaning they are melted, cooled on a cooling tray, then flamed by hand to perfect their shape…the cool part is they let us mold and flame lipsticks ourselves). The automated machines can put out about 40-50 lipsticks a minute. The lipsticks run through a hot section, then cool and shot through a bullet (which holds the actual lipstick), and flamed to blur any imperfections. Their new technology though, which uses silicone instead of metal to shape the lipstick, doesn’t even use a flame because the lipsticks will pretty much mold perfectly [I know it may be hard to visualize, but we couldn’t take pictures of most of the inner workings of the facility!].
We then moved on to see how they mix and press their eyeshadows. We saw one of Mickey’s deep-purple “Marvel” blended and pressed to a fresh shadow right before our eyes.
Next up was the lipgloss making station. They spread out all the different pigments, vitamins, and emollients made to create their famous Lipglass glosses.
I even got to fill in a Viva Glam gloss myself!
After seeing a few more lipstick-mixing demos, we were ready to wrap up our tour.
The team was so gracious and the passion they carried for the brand was evident in their stories, and how much pride they took in their work. They each talk so affectionately about their colleagues — even taking the time to introduce us to John, the man who’s responsible for keeping the floors and rooms in the facility immaculate — it was sort of mind-blowing. Valerie got teary-eyed as she left us with some parting words about how lucky she is to have such a wonderful team to work with…I almost got teary myself! It was clear the feeling was shared, and you could really see the love in the room that they put directly into the makeup they create everyday. It was inspiring to say the least.
We were on a high going back to Toronto, re-energized to even make a pit stop at M.AC’s new Bloor Street location with Mickey, where I mentioned previously that they re-issued his line just for the IIFA’s.
The store was in full-Bollywood spirit, with the men donning traditional shalwar kameez (one even had mehndi on his hands!), and the women makeup artists wearing some pretty bindis. They were so excited to meet Mickey!
It was the first time I actually got to see the collection up close and play with the colors. I practically went gaa-gaa over the gorgeous array of shadows, lips, and perfectly-matching foundation shades…fingers-crossed it relaunches (or Mickey at least comes out with another collection…there has to be a place to rally for this to happen, isn’t there? Leave your thoughts in the comments below).
Special thanks to Valerie, Cyntia, Don and the rest of the team for hosting and taking the time to show us some faces behind the brand. It was a M.A.C-filled day I’ll never forget!