Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics

The crew at Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics. L-R: Kiah Clark, Sharif Hassan, Christine Starr Cookus, Kellyn Willey
The crew at Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics. L-R: Kiah Clark, Sharif Hassan, Christine Starr Cookus, Kellyn Willey

Kellyn Willey, owner of Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics, talks poorly blended foundation, places to visit in Atlanta, grapeseed oil, human disco balls, and owning a business before she owned a car.

By: Shoshana

Q: Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics is a full concept unlike any we’ve seen in the country. You have a storefront location, with regular business hours, and on site photographers, make-up artists, and stylists, in addition to a retro clothing boutique. How was the idea born in 2006, and was there a “model concept” or “model store” to look to for inspiration?

There was no model for the shop. The original owner was an extremely gifted makeup artist and hair dresser. She wanted to have her own shop where she could express her talents. Eventually she met up with an equally gifted female photographer and opened the shop together in June 2006. It was just 2 talented young women expressing their creativity and passion of vintage culture and fashion.

Q: Your site mentions that the pin-up shoots were almost an afterthought, to document the fabulous makeovers, and now you have three full time photographers on premises!  Tell us about the evolution of that aspect of the business.

Yes, in the beginning the first owner just wanted to have a cosmetic boutique but then she met, who would be her co-owner, a local female photographer and they decided to join forces and make a store front together. Now, in our new location, photo shoots compete with the cosmetic services, but the shots win with a few steps ahead.

Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics Atlanta Store Front
Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics Atlanta Store Front


Q: How did you go from “working at the shop in 2007” to “proud owner in 2009”?

Well I was hired in November 2007 as a makeup artist but predominately a shop girl: just very simple tasks with little to no real responsibility. Then the owner decided to go in a different direction when she realized that I was also a budding photographer and graphic designer. She cut the staff back 3 months after hiring me and made me store manager. Then by the end of the summer, we moved the shop out of Little 5 Points to Grant Park due to issues with our original landlord. It was the best thing we could have done. Eventually after a few months of being in our new shop home, the owner told me she was feeling overwhelmed by running the shop and taking care of her new baby, not to mention to the global recession being upon us all. She asked me if I wanted to be the owner…I said no way! I’m only 23 years old and I don’t even own my car!

Eventually I realized that if I wanted to keep the ONLY job I’ve ever loved and ever been good at, I was going to have to own it. So, in late July 09, she signed the entire company over to me. It was so terrifying and I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning…except pay the bills on time and advertise online. But with the support of my staff, family and friends and a lot of praying and midnight panic attacks, it all panned out over time.

P1010206 copywebQ: Your shop has recently tripled in size from its original location, and is now located in the hipster paradise that is Grant Park (Atlanta’s largest historic neighborhood), and become the “talk of the town”.  What are passerby’s reactions to the entire pin-up thing?  Have you noticed an increase in folks familiar with, and inspired by, the look recently?  Do you ever get walk-ins?

Oh yeah the neighbors really were shocked when they first saw us…they still are. Oversized paintings of nude women hang in our pink and red store front with corsets and stockings lining the walls. We’ve heard it all before, “What is this place? What kind of pictures do you take? What the hell is a Pin-up girl?”

We have many walk-ins every month, typically clients getting their brows done or shopping and then we have the Frequent Flyers! These are our clients who get multiple services a year…over several years. We have about 4 die-hard ones who are moving into their 8th and 10th shoots since 2007. It’s pretty incredible to have support like that in a business that’s not considered a necessity but a luxury. Not to mention having our newest addition to the Pin Up Girl family, “Lucky Starr” a fantastic vintage clothing and accessory boutique. Christine Starr Cookus is the brilliant owner and she was one of my clients years ago when we first moved into the Grant Park space. Christine is a breath of fresh air to our business, bringing with her tons of new clients and a positive attitude. She has only been with us a month and I can’t imagine the shop without her. Groupon has also brought us boat loads of new clients…219 new faces in 24 hours to be exact! We’re very blessed and more than thankful.

Client "Heather" by Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics
Client “Heather” by Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics

Q: In fact, you’ve been getting so much attention that you we’re named “Critics Pick- The Best Reason to Dolled Up” in the Best of Atlanta 2009 Issue of Creative Loafing.  What was your reaction?

To be honest, I cried. I had only owned the shop for 3 months and was stressed all the time due to low revenue from the recession. I remember that day so well. My best friend, Shellie called me up about 7am screaming, “You made the Best of 09!!!” I didn’t even know what she was talking about. I remember people voting for it online, but everything those early months was a blur. Then she emailed me the link…and I almost died. I felt like we won an Oscar, and in a way we had. It’s such an honor. I was and am still so proud of that. My staff deserved it for all the long hours they put in every week. They’re so patient and passionate.

Q:  On your list of services you also include theatrical and special effects make-up.  That’s unusual!  Were you or Kiah [Kiah Clark is the other make-up artist at PG!] formally trained in make-up, or are you all self taught?

Kiah and I both studied makeup under our perspective high schools. Theatrical makeup is something we do in our freetime…when we have it. Kiah does make-up for the local Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Plaza Theatre here in town when she has the chance. While I’ve done dozens of local, independent films and photo shoots with special effects makeup like zombies, severe bruising and gashes. Yes, we are self-taught and we have learned a lot of techniques from other makeup artists from around the region.

I would never call myself a special effect makeup artist, but I do believe a true makeup artist can pick up any cosmetic tool or product and figure out how to apply to any skin type in a matter of moments. I’ve done so many crazy makeup applications from making someone into a human disco ball, pageant and drag queen makeup to making myself appear as a zombie with buckets of blood pouring out of my mouth. I love it all!

More Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics Staff (L-R): Angel Green, Kiah Clark, Kellyn Willey, Charlotte 'Charlii' Collins.
More Pin-Up Girl Cosmetics Staff (L-R): Angel Green, Kiah Clark, Kellyn Willey, Charlotte ‘Charlii’ Collins.

Q: What are your biggest make-up or pet peeves, or common make-up mistakes?

Poorly matched and blended foundation….Yuck! A bad quality foundation whether it’s a powder, cream or liquid, is even worse when not blended into the face a neck well. If it doesn’t match your skin it can make you look old and dry to say the least. My favorite trick to well-blended foundation is to apply the makeup to your whole face with a brush our sponge then use your hands to blend the makeup into your neck and edges along your hairline and ears.

Too much undereye liner gets annoying to me too. Unless you have HUGE eyes, it can make you look decades older and tired. Try applying a small amount of liner to the inner bottom lid by your bottom lashes on the outside corner. Add a bit heavier of a stroke on the farthest outside point of that line wear your eye ends for added drama. You can even do the same technique on the top lid. It’s very Sofia Loren!

Q: What are your five favorite specific beauty products?

1) A great moisturizer! At our shop we love blending aloe vera gel and grapeseed oil as our face moisturizer. Grapeseed oil is packed with antioxidants, has natural SPF 15 protection, is closest to the oils your face produces and is a very neutral/mild emollient great for all skin types PLUS extremely affordable. If you have the drier or more mature skin, add more grapeseed oil. If you have oilier skin, use more aloe vera. Always moisturize when you have freshly washed skin that is still damp. You only need a nickel size amount of this moisturizing blend.

2) All-natural lip balm! It’s a secret to the perfect lipstick/gloss application. My favorite is Burt’s Bees original formula. Dry lips make you look dull, dehydrate and yes, old; all things we fear as women. Many lip products are made with mineral oils, parabens, alcohols and other petro-based ingredients and they only moisturize temporarily. I apply lip balm 3-5 minutes before I apply my lipstick and I make sure to bloat of any extra balm I have before I apply the lip color to ensure a lasting application.

3) A truly dramatic mascara! I don’t leave the house without it! There are so many great brands out there I can’t name them all, but I’m wearing Rimmel’s Glam’ Eyes Flirt lately and I love it. My old tried and true favorite is Physician’s Formula Plump Potion mascara. Try a heated lash curler AFTER you apply your mascara for even more drama. They really work and your lashes stay curler ALL DAY! Mine has a silicon strip instead of a metallic, bristly wand, and I can sanitize it after ever use. It was less than $10 from Ardell at Ulta.

4) A fantastic red lipstick! I fought red lipstick for years until I found PinUpGirl! I didn’t believe that it would look good against my dark skin. But I soon realized that it looks incredible on all skin types and ages, you just have to find the shade last works best on you. Cooler tones, like a more blue-based red, look better on fairer tones: think of red like a deep candy apple red. If you have darker skin tones, try a warmer red with more yellow tones like Coca-Cola red with a darker red or even a plum/ violet lipliner. ALWAYS line your lips first when applying a red lip. If not, it can bleed, feather and make your lips appear smaller than they truly are. For that true retro pout, heavily line the 3-dimentional line of your lip (slightly outside) and feather in the liner then apply the red and blend with a lip brush. Our favorite red are the ones we sell in the shop through our private label but MAC has some incredible shades especially in the Pro Longwear LipCreme shades!

5) A great teeth whitening system! It’s more affordable than you think. So many of us love lipsticks, especially those luscious reds and a bright, white smile will make all the difference in that sexy kisser of yours. I recommend a pre-brush whitening rinse, then a whitening tooth paste with fluoride using a good electric tooth brush (Oral-B makes the one I use and it’s less than $30..I’ve had mine for 4 years), a post-rinse with great restorative properties like enamel strengtheners to keep your teeth in shape and they even have whitening floss to brighten up in between your teeth. I guess I’m obsessed with pearly whites…but it’s a great way to always look your best without wearing a stitch of makeup!

Q: In just a matter of weeks, Atlanta will be filled with tourists checking out the Southern Fried Burlesque Festival.  If you could only recommend five places to visit while there, what are your picks for vintage minded visitors?

1) The Starlight Drive-In on Moreland Ave. It’s worth the drive to enjoy a great movie under the stars with your honey. Sometimes you can even catch a retro flick if you review their schedule.

2) The Clermont Lounge on Ponce  It’s where strippers go to die and party before they hit the ground. Yes, I just said that 🙂    This is a must-see experience that EVERYONE (over 21) has to partake of. Not for the faint of heart. Seriously, it’s a blast, especially on Karaoke night!!!

3) Holy Taco on Glenwood Ave  Some of the absolute best flash mural designing in the city, incredible cocktails and the food is truly amazing! I LOVE GREAT Mexican food and this place has INCREDIBLE Mexican food!!! I have had many a mid-day margarita there and I’m looking forward to my next!

4) Liberty Tattoo on Ponce or Grant Park  If you need to bleed, you’ve come to the right place! Just ask for Shay or Kaki or anyone holding a tattoo needle for that matter. Tell ’em Kellyn sent you!

5) Anything in Little 5 Points I can’t list everything I love in Little 5 because there is so much but stop in Libertine for awesome accessories plus cosmetics, the Porter for their Belgian fries and a Lemon Gingerade (my favorite combo), Stefan’s for some hard-to-find vintage apparel, and Rag-O-Rama for great second-hand trends and finds!

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