Kate Lee
Credit: Courtesy Kate Lee

For Kate Lee, the secret to making celebrities look their best is knowing when to stop. “I sometimes go dangerously nude with skin because when someone has this light shining from within, it’s blasphemous to coat them in a mask of foundation,” she says.

Not that Lee is makeupaverse. She calls her technique “appropriate and balanced,” which in Rooney Mara’s case means using mascara on the star’s eyebrows. “I want to see every single hair. A thick, lustrous brow is one of the most youthful things you can have.”

Boldness is in Lee’s nature. Raised in the English countryside, “I’m literally the only member of my family going back to the 1500s who has ever left Yorkshire to pursue something.” From helping customers at the Shu Uemura counter at the Harvey Nichols department store to working in the trenches backstage at Alexander McQueen’s runway shows, Lee held different jobs to pay her way through the prestigious London College of Fashion. Her 20s were not so glamorous, she says. “I was hand-to-mouth for many years in London.”

One lucky break came in the early ’90s when she did head-shot makeup (gratis) for a rising star named Kate Winslet, which led to work with more celebrities. “Kate said, ‘Oh, I’ve just made this film about a boat…’” Lee recalls. “And then she just blasted off.”

VIDEO: Favorite Kate Winslet Beauty Moments

Now Lee’s roster is full of stars. If she’s not chatting back and forth with Jessica Chastain on Instagram, she might be lacquering statement lips on Sienna Miller or boosting Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s pregnancy glow for the Oscars.

Rooney Mara, Jessica Chastain, Sienna Miller, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Credit: Steve Granitz/WireImage (2); C Flanigan/WireImage; Venturelli/FilmMagic

Even more impressive? Doing it all with a pacemaker. Diagnosed in childhood with a hole in her heart, Lee had her first open-heart surgery at age 5. Now she is more in demand than ever, quipping, “Not bad for a girl with a battery-powered heart.”