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Halloween makeup magic

A Chicago aesthetician lives for the tenth month each year, when she can perform Halloween Extreme Makeovers.

Photograph: Damien Thompson

Some people seem to know their life’s calling from as early as they can remember. Like Allison Attwood: Ask about her early Halloween recollections, and the Logan Square resident rattles off a bunch. “The first one I remember, I was Dracula. I still have the picture in my room,” she says. (Clearly, this was an early indicator of her goth teenage years.) Then she follows up with a telling comment: “The makeup was hilarious.”

For her vampire incarnation, her mom did her face. A new dynamic emerged soon enough. “The first time I did my own makeup, I was in fourth grade. I was a princess,” Attwood recalls. “That was the first time she let me touch her makeup and not get in trouble. Every time I’d put it on before, sneaking in there and putting on lipstick as quick as possible without permission, I got lots of laughs. But that time, I looked pretty good.” She pauses, reflecting, then flashes a wry smile. “Well, I looked like a little kid with some makeup on. It could have been worse!”

Turning a childhood passion into a career, the 32-year-old Florida native moved to Chicago seven years ago and eventually wound up in aesthetician school here. “I was bored out of my mind in Florida,” she says, noting that a particularly conservative stripe of Christianity in the Florida Panhandle meant that, when she was a kid, “a lot of people seriously still thought Halloween was evil. You were supposed to go to church instead of trick-or-treating.” Happily, Attwood’s mom, a retired kindergarten teacher, embraced All Hallows Eve, making it fun for her kids.

Today, Attwood works as an independent freelance makeup artist (go to allisonattwood.com for info). She’s worked frequently for MAC cosmetics, including behind its makeup counter at Marshall Field’s on State Street (which became Macy’s while she worked there). Every October she got to help fulfill a new generation’s dreams. MAC artists can be booked for Halloween makeovers for adults—but Attwood and her coworkers also did them for kids informally at no charge when they had the time. “For me, it was the best part of the year,” she says.

She still has fond memories of the looks she helped create on kids. “One little boy came in and wanted a Batman mask; I did it in 15 minutes with eyeliner and black shadow. He looked adorable,” she says. “Another little boy was a scarecrow. They brought a picture from The Wizard of Oz, and I went from that—[drawing] stitches around the mouth and a little triangle nose. That was supercute.”

“Most of the time,” she adds, “the kids’ attitudes were a lot better than the girls who were going out that night. They were just superexcited.”

Although she admires well-crafted masks (the kind of artisan’s work you might see at Mardi Gras), Attwood wrinkles her nose at the cheap plastic ones that proliferate with mass-manufactured costumes. “As a child, I remember [wearing] plastic My Little Pony and Care Bear masks. I couldn’t really see and couldn’t breathe, so I had to wear them on top of my head all night. A full face of makeup for a kid is so much better than, say, a SpongeBob mask.”

That’s the magic of makeup for Attwood. She learned early not just how it made her feel, but how it could transform others. She has one brother three years her junior, “so we were constantly fighting,” she says. But one or two Halloweens after she did her own princess face, “I remember doing my brother’s makeup for the first time. He was G.I. Joe, and I did camouflage all over him. Instead of fighting, that became one of those quiet moments where it was, ‘Oh my God, we’re actually getting along.’ We happily went trick-or-treating together, too.” Lesson learned: Halloween and a little makeup can bring anyone together, even a pair ofwarring siblings.

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