If you want to know what someone who's found her ultimate dream job sounds like, just talk to Ashley Brook Perryman. The bubbly, sunshiney-voiced hair and makeup director for Charleston Fashion Week is headed to Cos Bar, a local upscale makeup store, when we speak. "It's like candyland for makeup artists," she says. "I test everything on my hand, and I walk out with an arm tattoo."
But she's not there only for fun, although picking up countless shades of lipstick and eyeshadow is one of her favorite things to do. Cos Bar is the CFW beauty sponsor, so Perryman works with them a lot in the months leading up to the event. Today, she's going to check out some of the colors she requested. "We did this back in July or August — I come up with a list of requests that I'd like to have for Fashion Week, and they're great at accommodating that list," she says.
Perryman, a professional hair and makeup artist who works primarily in fashion, print, and TV, was born to do this job. She oversees all of CFW's hair stylists and makeup artists — this year, that's 36 people. Her planning starts in May or June of each year, and once Fashion Week arrives, she's in the tents for upward of 14 hours a day. It's a tough, unglamorous job, but Perryman glows when she talks about it.
A North Carolina native, Perryman traveled to Los Angeles at the tender age of 20 to study at the Make-Up Designory. "I decided I had to go to the best hair and makeup school, and I researched for a year and it was in L.A.," she says. "I was such a huge dork. Everyone would say, 'Let's go out,' and I would say, 'No, I have to stay home and learn how to sculpt the perfect eyebrow.' I knew it was a huge opportunity for me, and I really wanted to make the best of it."
That dedication has paid off, as her handiwork has appeared in publications like Newsweek, the Atlantic, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and on TV on MSNBC, MTV, and Food Network, among many others. And because of Charleston's popularity with film and TV crews — plus the fact that she's willing to travel on 24 or 48 hours notice — Perryman's had no trouble basing her company, ABP Makeup, here in Charleston. "Production comes here." She says, "It's an appealing location for commercials."
Oddly enough, living in Charleston wasn't something she ever planned on. "I was back here visiting, here for two weeks," she says. "I remember coming back from L.A. — I was 22 years old — I'd just been in L.A. and had so much fun, and I land in this small airport and see fanny packs and white socks, and I was like, 'No!'"
But despite that fashion nightmare, she ended up staying in the Holy City from that point on. She joined the CFW staff seven years ago as an intern, working in the hair and makeup tent. After two years of interning, she came on board to manage the team. "I was very busy that first year. I had a great support system through CFW and Ayoka [Lucas, CFW founder]." Perryman was essentially starting from scratch — for CFW's first year, she says, models had to go off-site to the hair and makeup location and come back. That's a far cry from the well-oiled machine that exists now: a dedicated tent with hair and makeup stations for each artist, plus Perryman's edit station, so she can make whatever tiny changes she needs to on the models so their look is perfect when they hit the runway. That can involve things like maintaining a hair texture or — her favorite element of makeup — touching up lipstick. "Believe it or not, models do eat. I remember one year we did this really fun yellow lipstick and all of a sudden you see models, like, eating Subway sandwiches."
But most of her work, of course, takes place outside the tent — that's just a week's worth of 10 months of planning and preparation. Perryman does everything from audition the candidates, who come from around the country, to design trainings throughout the year, to work with CFW's designers on creating the look they want for their models. "We do a lot of focusing — is there a lip or an eye that we're focusing on, or is it about the brow?" she says. "Being creative is such a gift to me as an artist, to be able to collaborate with these designers."
Once the looks are finalized, she and her assistant Lauren Boyce create storyboards for each show that the stylists and makeup artists will go over before Fashion Week begins. And even though not every stylist works every night, Perryman says that each and every one of them knows every single runway show. "There's so much info [on the storyboards]. If it's a hairstyle and all the models have parts on the right side, or if it's lifted, it's all on there."
It sounds like an overwhelming job, not just for Perryman, but for the hair and makeup stylists she oversees, too. Yet the team always seems to come out smiling, even on the bridal show and finale day, which is the most grueling. "I get there at about 5 a.m., and my hair and makeup team gets there at about 5:30 a.m. During the day we have a two-hour break and then we're right back at the finale. Everyone is in such a great mood because we've had such a great week, and everyone, including myself, has withdrawal the next day."