To model Gigi Hadid, there's no better on-set ally than Erin Parsons. "She knows every reference, understands every era of makeup, and loves creating looks that push boundaries," says Hadid. Not just a beauty encyclopedia, Parsons is also a compassionate friend: "She's gotten me ready for work many times—in more important and meaningful ways than just doing my makeup."
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Parsons at a Maybelline New York makeup master class with Gigi Hadid.
Today, Parsons is celebrating her new role as Maybelline New York global makeup artist. But it would take 20 years of sweat and glitter tears to get there. Growing up with her family in the Midwest, "we were poor and moved around all the time," she says. "But it didn't matter because I escaped to my fantasy world." Bingeing on vintage movies and biographies of Golden Age stars like Joan Crawford, she developed a passion for makeup ("I tried to make myself look like Marilyn Monroe," she says) and a rebellious spirit. At 18 and in need of a job, Parsons entered the U.S. Air Force. In a full face of colorful makeup and wearing "big-ass platforms," the budding artist stood out in a lineup. "The drill sergeant was yelling at everybody, looked at me, and was speechless."
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She left after nine months and found a job behind a Lancôme counter. "Because I loved doing makeup, I'd sell a lot. I won a contest selling the most moisturizers in the state of Texas." She also flexed her creative muscles behind MAC Cosmetics counters in Ohio but soon set her sights on New York. There, around 2002, a friend tipped her off to a spot on legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath's team. "She could tell I was passionate," says Parsons. While assisting, she met the young supermodel: "Gigi was quiet, sweet, would barely utter a word," says Parsons. "We started to become friends. It's good to have people you can talk to when you're going through such a crazy time."
In 2015, Parsons began working with Hadid, a Maybelline New York spokesmodel, on brand shoots. As her work (a colorful "mermaid" eye, for example) garnered buzz, Parsons soon found herself on the receiving end of a beauty contract. She also recently helped develop products in the Gigi Hadid × Maybelline collection. The irony isn't lost on her. "I was no angel growing up," she says. "I got caught stealing a Maybelline mascara when I was young. Which is funny considering where I am now."