Yvonne Popplewell is one of the most prominent women in make-up in Trinidad and Tobago. She has been doing make up for fifty plus years and her reputation precedes her as the queen of face art. I can personally attest to the magical powers she possesses with make-up brush in hand.
Vocation aside, she is a woman who understands what things are important and hers is the model of a life well lived. She has lived long, worked hard, loved everyone, mastered her craft and shared her expertise freely.
In this interview she does some more sharing. These are her thoughts on make-up, marriage, mothers and motherhood.
EP: Where were you born in Trinidad?
YP: Woodbrook. Born and grew up in Woodbrook. Holly-Woodbrook and that’s why I’m a star, they forgot to put “Holly” in front of the original name. Laughs
EP: When did you start doing make-up?
YP: I have to give Mahmoud Pharouk Aladdin all the credit. When I went to convent, the British Council sponsored “Extra Art Tuition”, which I would describe as a scholarship for children who were gifted in art. I and an older sister were both selected in the secondary school students from St. Joseph’s Convent. You had from Q.R.C. Peter Minshall, from Fatima Wayne Berkeley, you had Pat Bishop, you had Jean Inniss from Bishop’s, you had Claudette Charles, Jeanette Pollard. We were all in this art group and every Wednesday we went to do art. We learnt pottery, we learnt tie dye, we learnt batik, we learnt oil, we learnt every medium there was in art. One day there was no class but the teachers turned up and just five of us turned up. Mr Aladdin said what we’ll do today… I want us to experiment with stage make-up. I wanted to go back home, so I said “Mr. Aladdin, I don’t know how to do make-up.” He said “YYYvvvooonneee, and you could paint a face?” I said “Yes Mr. Aladdin”. He then takes up something looking like brown shoe polish and says; “This is the foundation, you put this on your face and then the face becomes the canvas, and then you paint. You do your highlight and contour and you create the character. The actor will show you the character he’s portraying, and you will look at the character and you will paint that character on their face after you put on the foundation.” And that to my mind, taught me everything I had to know about make up for the rest of my life. I never went to make up class in my life! Because he just told me, put on the foundation and then you draw the character on top of the face. So consequently, I change people’s characters very often. Laughs heartily. Not of their desiring of course. That day I think it was a turn around for me.
EP: So it really started with art, and then it segued into make-up…
YP: Yes. The communication with another human being when you’re doing art, is the most beautiful thing in the world. You’re doing somebody’s face, and you’re seeing the face changing and you’re having a conversation. When you’re drawing a painting you might feel the serenity of just you and the scenery but the ability to be painting somebody’s face and they’re talking about their problems and their joys and their everything, it is the most beautiful thing in the world. People, people, people, people, people, people, people, people, people. You meet the worst and the best in this world. And everybody you meet you learn from… that’s what the world is all about, people.
EP: Are there any memorable moments from doing make-up?
YP: Two experiences which are really really great. One is the graduation day. When graduation time is coming around I get excited. I am meeting new personalities and they are so turned on to life, they are so excited. I believe I am meeting the female at her most exciting self. She doesn’t know about the perils and problems that she’s going to encounter. She’s just graduating from school and she’s going with so much hope and by the time she leaves I am infused with all the hope that they feel. I say wait a minute man! This life sweet! Laughs .And I know very well that some of their dreams are going to crash but, while they’re here, they infuse their energy onto me and I love that. The other thing that turns me on is weddings.
EP: Is there a favourite make-up look you like to do?
YP: I say when you learn “Black Drama” you don’t have anything else to learn because you learn how you could change any ordinary face into a dramatic face. It didn’t originate from me, it’s something I saw being done in a MAC shop in Miami and I have copied it and I have learnt from it. It’s a dramatic look in black, which you discover you could adopt in any colour you want.
EP: Are there specific products that you use, that you think are really great?
YP: This will be doing a lot of commercialisation for people but anyway, when I’m talking to young ladies who are working with a Trinidad salary, I tell them; there is no Trinidadian who couldn’t find their foundation in Black Opal. Particularly their most recent formula, which is a liquid, it covers and it matches skin “Black Opal, Even True”.
EP: Do you have a make-up tip for women that you think they don’t use that could go a long way?
YP: Concealer. You can straighten noses, you can put eyes in focus, you can camouflage dark eye circles. You could make a face look woken up if you put on concealer in the right places. A tired face just gets energy.
EP: Do you find the make-up/fashion industry has changed since you started?
YP: Woooo! There was no make-up industry when I started. You just work it out. The first bride I made up was over 50 years ago. In the 60’s, foundations used to start in light pink for white people come through the shades of pink and go to dark maroon for black people . So it used to look like a maroon reddish kind of mask on their faces. It is only when people like Fashion Fair, well before Fashion Fair there was Flori Roberts. She made a change and black people started using foundation because somebody recognized that we have some yellow in our skin, we don’t go from pink to maroon we go through shades of tan and yellow and bronze and all of that.
EP: In an interview in 2010 Peter Elias was speaking about what goes into creating a beauty queen and he mentioned you. A snippet: “Another important basic need, Elias pointed out, is make-up application as there are so many possibilities in this expression, and always being well presented is important. He said, “Yvonne Popplewell has been training her for several months. Popplewell was selected not just because of her tremendous experience and manner, but moreso for the opportunity afforded for Latoya to converse for hours upon hours with a sophisticated, witty and charming woman.”
How does one become such a charming and sophisticated woman?
YP: That is quite a compliment and I’m quite flattered by it. I love Peter. In my case I came from a mother who made us very, very self confident. And then I met a gentleman who, well, some people might ask what a gentleman doing marrying me! Laughs. I met a gentleman who has helped in the growth of my personality by never in his life putting me down, by supporting me all the way, all the way , just like my mother did.
EP: You think marriage is good…
YP: I absolutely adore being married to the person I’m married to because I have the freedom to act. You know part of the training I had at T&TEC, they sent me out on all the major job evaluation exercises they had. You learn how you evaluate people’s work and how they should be paid according to what they do. A very important factor in how they should be paid is their freedom to act…your freedom to act in your job, your freedom to make decisions, your freedom to go on your own. And I discovered it works the same way in marriage.
I believe that although marriage is a pretty un-natural state -it is un-natural if there is no compatibility in personality- it could be the most beautiful thing if they are both kind of spiritual, humorous, loving.
EP: What is the love like for your child and for your grand children?
YP: My grandchildren is deep, my children is deep. I will give you one of the stories. John was the second boy, and at around 3 or 4 years old, he goes to school and he comes back… he says “Mummy, I don’t like my hair and my nose.” I was combing my hair. I dropped the hair brush, everything, and I dropped down on my knees and I said “John, what?!, what?!” I’m pretending tears are coming down my eyes, I say “John, I asked God for a baby just like you, I wanted that nose and that hair and you coming and saying you don’t like it now.” John takes his hands and puts them around me and says “Mummy don’t cry, don’t cry, I like it now mummy, don’t cry mummy I like it now.” Now, you see what I’m describing there for you, for the rest of his life I felt the need to reinforce my love. I wasn’t gambling with that.
EP: Last question, do you have any thoughts on where Trinidad is as a nation?
YP: I am happy that whatever shocked the nation recently… sometimes you know you have to shock people to wake them up. We got a shock and most of them are going to wake up and we‘re going to react positively to what hurt us the most. Sometimes you have to hurt them to touch them… to get them to wake up and do something. Hopefully we’ll get a positive reaction.
Listen to one of Yvonne’s responses: