Raising a glass to MAC Cosmetics: 40 years of making people fall in love with makeup

February 26, 2024

In the east end of Toronto, nestled within the many photo and production studios of the city, lies the location of the biggest makeup party of the year. The nondescript building at 24 McGee Street housed within its walls a goldmine of makeup enthusiasts, artists and creators alike gathering to celebrate a global beauty empire – MAC Cosmetics. As MAC marked its 40th birthday, it wasn’t just a milestone for a brand: it was a celebration of four decades of innovation, artistry and inclusivity.

My journey with makeup

My love story with makeup began with MAC too far back in my childhood. From Nutcracker dance performances to Disney shows, my Mom would dress me up as her little doll with a full face of glam she ever-so-patiently applied on my squirmy, 6 year-old-face. I vividly recall getting in trouble at my grade school for wearing the MAC cake eyeliner to class in Grade 7, and being so offended because my application was so subtle and flawless with that beautiful formula (which was devastatingly discontinued, quelle horreur!) that I had applied with a tiny detail brush.

*Baby Amy pictured with various makeup looks done by my Mom and a portrait, very poorly applying lipstick. 

I remember the bubbling excitement of visiting the MAC Pro store with my Mom for the first time, who introduced me to the world of colour cosmetics: a space that MAC held a monopoly on at the time. Shaby Dassi, who would later become a Makeup Expert on the Marilyn Denis Show, was the artist who helped us and would for too many subsequent visits (RIP our wallets). Over 20 years later, I still remember the thrill from those hauls and the pride reviewing the fruits of our bounty, bringing home wild shades like Electric Eel (neon blue) and Bitter (lime green) eyeshadows, and the ultra-pale and frosty pink B-Cup lipstick (how very, very 90s-aesthetic of me). After becoming an Artist with MAC myself, taking pro workshops with Romero Jennings at the flagship Queen Street pro location in Toronto, partnering with the MAC brand team on IMC plans for my summative MBA projects, meeting Gregory Arlt at the IMATS and Patrick Starr at his collection launch in Toronto, and having MAC be the first brand to send me gifted product as an influencer, each product and brand interaction became a brushstroke on the canvas of my identity: with a different product representing each phase of my life. MAC empowered me to explore my creativity and embrace my individuality, laying the foundation for my future as a Makeup Artist, Beauty Editor and Content Creator.

The birthday festivities were nothing short of spectacular and the cherry on top of the proverbial cake (no pun intended, as there was lots of cake and even cherries: photographic evidence above) for my personal history with the brand. It was a true reflection of MAC’s vibrant spirit and unwavering commitment to creativity. Picture this: an exulting gathering in the city where it all began, with drinks flowing named after MAC’s emblematic colours (I indulged in Everybody’s Heroine), music pulsating, full-on glamour photoshoots, models with headpieces in the shape of giant lips as artistic sculptural centrefolds, party favours wrapped as presents filled with lipsticks and, of course, Canada’s Drag Race winner, Priyanka, popping out of a birthday cake.

Guests dressed themselves in outfits inspired by their favourite lipstick shades, a homage to the iconic product that has become synonymous with the brand.I decided to go way back to my very first MAC lipstick, which was called Folio. It was a grey/brown shade from the 90s, so I have decided to wear grey. It makes me feel nostalgic, but I will be wearing my current favourite shade on my lips which is Candy Yum Yum. It is so bold and fierce!” said Elise Tremblay, Manager of Retail Events & Artist Relations at MAC Cosmetics (I am vehemently canvasing her to become the next face of the Viva Glam initiative and she was so fabulously dressed as a gorgeous disco ball, below).

For myself, choosing just one favourite lipstick was an impossible task. Instead, I opted for the timeless elegance of iconic MAC black – a shade that resonates deeply with every artist’s soul, a nod to the brand’s influence on my journey as a makeup aficionado (and the uniform I proudly wore when I had become an official MAC Artist myself back in 2014).

*From left to right we have the iconic Elise Tremblay, Canada’s Drag Race winner Priyanka popping out of a birthday cake, Michael Ho who hired me as a MAC Makeup Artist in 2014 and Matt and Jenn (who I originally met working on set of FX’s Mrs. America), the fabulous artists at MAC’s Queen St. Pro location who help me on my many shopping splurges.

Brand history 101

Born as the original cosmetics brand designed by Makeup Artists, for Makeup Artists, but sold to the public, MAC was truly the founder of the democratization of makeup and self-expression. From its humble beginnings as the brainchild of Frank Toskan and the late Frank Angelo in Toronto in 1984 to its global presence today as the planet’s number-one-prestige makeup brand in over 130 countries with over 13,000 artists and 100,000 MAC Pro members, MAC has redefined the face of beauty and inspired generations of makeup enthusiasts around the world.

MAC’s 40th anniversary is not just a celebration of its past achievements but a testament to its enduring legacy of inclusivity, innovation and philanthropy. Since the launch of the VIVA GLAM program in 1994 where 100% of the selling price (not to be confused with the mere profits) are donated to LGBTQ+ causes, MAC has raised over USD$520 million and helps more than 19 million people globally each year. All from the sales of a tube of lipstick! “MAC became more than a makeup brand, but a platform for championing the underdog and driving equality for everyone,” said Aida Moudachirou-Rébois, Global Senior Vice-President/General Manager of MAC Cosmetics. “We will continue to harness the power of our community to transform society by leading with the same bravery and heart that drove the inception of the program.” And there you have it: proof that lipstick really is powerful.

“I will never forget Ru Paul being the very first spokesperson for Viva Glam. In 1994, it was unheard of to have a Drag Queen represent your brand, let alone be the face of a campaign…I have worked for this brand for 20 years and held many different roles. As I grow with the company, I realize why I belong here and feel so accepted as an employee and artist. MAC allows me to be my own person, have tattoos, wear pink hair and dress within my own style and self-expression. I feel seen and accepted by my whole MAC family. The people and the products are like family to me,” said Tremblay.

In a world that often seeks to confine us within narrow definitions of beauty, MAC stands as a beacon of creativity, acceptance and self-expression. As I reflect on my own journey with the beauty industry, I am reminded of the transformative power of makeup – not just to enhance our features but to celebrate our unique identities and artistic spirits. In an odd way, MAC is almost like a metaphorical big sister to myself as an artist – one who inspired me, mentored me, and I gleam with pride watching it grow.

So here’s to MAC Cosmetics: a trailblazer, a visionary and a true icon of beauty. As we raise our glasses to toast to 40 years of excellence, let us also raise our voices with thanks for the endless inspiration, diversity, empowerment and artistry that MAC has brought into our lives – happy birthday!

Photos courtesy of MAC Cosmetics & Portraits on White.


Story by Amy Pigeon

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