The Julia Child of eyeliner

A YouTube star becomes a cosmetics queen

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published August 6, 2009 6:07PM (EDT)

She's an average-size girl next door whose features have little in common with those of a supermodel. She's a single mother and a former taxi dispatcher with no Hollywood or publishing connections. And she's the beauty biz's next big thing.

If you haven't heard of Lauren Luke yet, you're in rapidly diminishing company. Her YouTube channel has over a quarter of a million subscribers in 70 countries, and the BBC has called her "one of the most popular makeup artists on the planet." As today's glowing profile in the New York Times revealed, the 27-year-old Northern England native is already a bona fide star thanks to her disarmingly low-tech YouTube tutorials on makeup application. (Her video for smoky eye is posted below.) But she's no light saber-wielding viral video flash in the pan -- she's the savvy creator of her own cosmetics line and an antidote to Photoshopped magazine beauties straight out of Uncanny Valley.

Luke started posting her step-by-step lessons last year as a supplement to her fledgling makeup brand. Her timing couldn't be better. The lipstick effect -- that drive for affordable, feel-good luxuries in grim times -- means that beauty is all but recession-proof.

But it takes more than a palette of "Fierce Violets" to make a star. In her dozens of clips, she offers clear-eyed product reviews and directions on how to unleash your inner Dita Von Teese or Lady Gaga (at least from the neck up) with the warm, self-deprecating charisma of an eyeliner-wielding Julia Child. It's that combination of approachability with an undeniably authorative flair that has made her such a hit. You won't see Laura Mercier dispensing wisdom with laundry peeking out of a background hamper any time soon.

In New York this week to launch her makeup line at megastore Sephora, Luke hobnobbed with her fans, tweeted her heart out, and told the Times, with typical modesty, "I'm an average-looking girl." On her YouTube video of her trip, she breaks down in humbled tears looking at her Sephora display.

Yet for all her chipper accessibility, this violet doesn't shrink. The looks Luke creates are unabashedly va-va-va-voom. She knows how to work it to smoldering, drop-dead effect, and she makes her followers believe they can, too. It's surely no fluke that her online name is "Panacea81." Inside all those "average-looking" girls isn't merely a somewhat prettier version of herself. There's a successful businesswoman, a bombshell, a queen and a sex symbol. And she's as close as a tube of mascara.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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