Daniel Martin, who has worked with Meghan Markle, Jessica Biel and Michelle Yeoh, speaks with PEOPLE in celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month

By Karen Mizoguchi
May 11, 2021 04:18 PM
Advertisement
Daniel Martin
Daniel Martin
| Credit: Tatcha

Before shooting into the international spotlight as the man behind longtime friend Meghan Markle's gorgeous wedding day look for her 2018 nuptials to husband Prince Harry, makeup artist Daniel Martin had already established himself as a sought-after beauty pro in the industry.

His roster of celebrity clients has included an impressive lineup of A-listers like Jessica Biel, Michelle Yeoh, Jessica Alba and Elisabeth Moss. He's worked for major companies as a brand ambassador for Dior Beauty and creative color consultant for Honest Beauty. Then in June 2020, Martin landed his "dream" role as the global director of artistry and education for Tatcha, becoming the first Asian American to helm a global director position at a beauty brand.

"I have this platform, I need to be able to use it to educate and represent because, now with anything, we need more representation — especially in this industry," Martin tells PEOPLE. "I found the courage to be proud of being in my own skin."

In recognition and celebration of Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, PEOPLE caught up with Martin to look back at his impressive career, learn what's next for the glam guru and find out which products from Asian-owned beauty and makeup brands he's loving right now.

PEOPLE: What made you want to be a makeup artist? Who inspired you?

DANIEL MARTIN: I'm biracial, my mother is Vietnamese, my father's French-English and my stepmother's Korean. I've always kind of been around really incredibly strong women. My French grandmother was the one who kind of inspired me too. She basically was like, "Follow your heart. If this is what you want to do, you need to do it." Art has always played a huge role for me in my life. I basically dropped out of college to pursue [makeup].

I got my start working at the MAC counter in Seattle in the '90s, but [my family] didn't understand what I did until much, much later. I left for the east coast and the mid-'90s. I came to New York 22 years ago. And obviously coming from a very conservative background, [my family] didn't understand it and they weren't happy about it. But fast forward to Google, then they really understood what my job was. Then they got it. Because I think for the longest time they thought I worked at a makeup counter.

When you moved to New York, did you find it was especially hard to launch your career?

I knew people already in New York. Race aside, trying to get into this industry was very difficult, but it definitely helps to know people. I started out as an assistant and worked my way up. That trajectory was definitely how I started rather than now with social media. Back then, there was no social media. Social media has definitely opened up the playing field to how one elevates their standing in this industry. Growing and moving up in this business, there weren't a lot of Asian makeup artists. I think the only one that was of notable caliber was Mally Roncal and she was working with Beyoncé. [Roncal], in my eyes, was the first Asian American to reach that level of success.

makeup artist Daniel Martin and Jessica Alba
Credit: Emma McIntyre/Getty

What was your first job or project that you thought, "Wow, I'm actually a makeup artist. I'm making a living off of something that I really enjoy."

For me, it was when I got my first beauty contract [with Dior]. That was when I realized, wow, to be recognized for your work by a huge fashion house, it was a really big honor. I was with them for six years.

What changes have you noticed in the makeup and beauty space? Have you seen a shift for more inclusivity and diversity?

Oh, absolutely. You have to be more inclusive now. Shoppers and consumers of beauty are definitely focusing on brand stories, their authentic message and how inclusive are they. You need to represent or present something that can cover all shades of beauty.

What AAPI-founded brands and/or Asian-owned products do you recommend?

Obviously Tatcha. [Founder] Vicky Tsai and I go back 10 years. I've been with her and a friend of the brand for that long and to be working alongside her is a dream. Tatcha's dewy skin serum has been my go-to right now. My friend David Yi created a skincare brand called Good Light and I'm obsessed with his moon glow milky toning lotion. It's just great, it's almost like the perfect moisturizer for someone who has combination/oily skin because you get that hydration without the weight, and I love using it under makeup. There's also this really great brush company out of Toronto called Rephr. Their brushes are made in Kumamoto, Japan. They're amazing.

Want to get the biggest stories from PEOPLE every weekday? Subscribe to our new podcast, PEOPLE Every Day, to get the essential celebrity, entertainment and human interest news stories Monday through Friday.

What goals are you still pursuing? What is something that is the ultimate dream?

It's so funny because when people say to me, "Oh my God, you're killing it or you've made it," I don't look at my career that way. I've been so fortunate to have the career that I have, working with so many incredible people and understanding all sides of my business. That to me is what motivates me: understanding all the other factors of beauty, besides just being a makeup artist. It's been a real honor for me to work alongside incredible women who've been such a big influence in my career. Makeup was that one thing that brought me closer to so many people and it created this human connection that you can't really explain because beauty is so beloved. I think for me, the future is really about understanding how I can just do more of that. Whether it's through a brand of my own or advising.

What advice would you share with aspiring makeup artists?

I would say, focus on what it is that you want, that you love and really work hard at it. I mean, it's just a different time than how I came up in this industry for someone who's trying to do it now, because there are all the other elements involved with social media. Back then, there was no social media. I mean, I used to get my call sheets through a fax machine. I used to wear a beeper and get paged by an agent to pick up the phone to call about a job. It's so different now. I would say if this is something that you're so passionate about, whether it's makeup, hair, whatever, just work hard to find that happiness. Whatever it is you decide to do, as long as you're authentic and true to yourself and work hard at it, you'll be successful.