What Collecting Marilyn Monroe’s Make-Up Taught Me About The Ultimate Beauty Icon

Erin Parsons’s obsession with Marilyn Monroe dates back to her childhood. “Her glamour, the make-up, the hair, truly changed the course of my life,” says the American make-up artist. “I had a tough childhood, and knowing that she did too gave me hope – that I could come from nothing and yet with hard work and big dreams I could achieve success.” 

Growing up in a small town in Ohio, Parsons would often lose herself watching old movies and experimenting with make-up. In fact, it was her connection to make-up which drew her to Monroe in the first place; her ability to shapeshift from the shy Norma Jeane Baker into the ultimate Hollywood bombshell with just a glamorous red lip, winged eye and a bottle of bleach. “The way she used make-up inspired me because I knew it could create a character. I could escape through playing dress-up, and I certainly have her to thank for that.”

After years spent copying looks from Kevyn Aucoin’s make-up books, Parsons got a job working at a Lancôme counter, where she was able to hone her own skills on customers. After this, she began assisting make-up artists, including the legendary Pat McGrath, until it was time to start out on her own. In 2017, her whimsical approach to beauty and kaleidoscopic aesthetic saw her tapped as global make-up artist for Maybelline, and today Parsons is one of the industry’s most celebrated make-up artists, working with everyone from Kendall Jenner to Bella and Gigi Hadid.

Now, she adds one more string to her bow: that of beauty archivist and vintage make-up collector. It started a couple of years ago when she was working on a Marilyn Monroe-themed make-up tutorial, using the knowledge she’d gleaned from studying all of Monroe’s beauty techniques. After speaking with a collector of Monroe-owned items, she got the idea of buying vintage make-up at auction. But not just any make-up, make-up that Monroe actually wore and owned in real life. Parsons started searching for identical items to those the icon used, and eventually began coming across products that actually belonged to Marilyn herself at auction. 

Here, Vogue sits down with the make-up artist to talk colour harmony, orange lipstick and how to get the ultimate Marilyn Monroe look. 

What first inspired you to buy Marilyn Monroe’s actual make-up at auction?

It was the hunt for her lipstick: shade L. S 7-22 N. I by Max Factor. I knew the brand and name so I started searching for the replica. That was my first goal; to find the products she used and buy the exact same ones, so I could authentically recreate the way she did her make-up. I found a lot on eBay and Etsy but there were a few products I never was able to find. I had always dreamed of owning her lipstick so when it came up for auction at the end of last year, finally that dream could possibly become a reality. 

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