The life of Lady Martha Sitwell has thus far been nothing short of an adventure.
Her notorious wild streak, mixed with palpable charisma and a signature effortless, refined brand of glamour make her a captivating subject on her own – but combine that with the fact she has established herself as a staple not only amongst her high society peers but also in the makeup industry, and the intrigue only grows.
Artistic and bold, with a personal sense of style renowned in even the most insular of circles, it’s no wonder at all that she has found herself gravitating towards a series of incredibly creative ventures. From designing bespoke country sports wear under the brand name Sitwell & Whippet, to serving as muse to Philip Treacy and the watch-this-space prospect of collaborating on her own flavour of Foxdenton gin, Martha seems open to following her creative instincts wherever they may lead. It’s no surprise, then, that her foray into makeup artistry came about as the result of another enterprise altogether.
“I started my career as a model,” she explains. “I loved modelling, and still do a bit when I’m asked to, but I was absolutely fascinated by the makeup.” Ever the artist, she especially admires makeup for its transformative power. “It still mesmerises me,” she muses, “you can change the entire feel of a look, you can change face shapes and features. When you feel beautiful you can enhance it and let it shine, when you feel worn down you can hide it behind a fabulous mask.”
Though respected and accomplished in her field, far from the archetypal “behind-the-scenes” makeup artist, Martha is arguably just as well known for her own personal style as the looks she creates on others. “I don’t know if it has helped me,” she admits of her signature look, a polished nod to the 1950s, “other than possibly cementing me more firmly in some people’s minds because I stand out a little from the pack.” Though she does concede this may put her at risk of missing out on certain projects (“maybe some art directors and picture editors don’t employ me because they don’t think I have my finger on the pulse”), it was her undeniable grasp on that very style that made her an absolutely natural choice to take the reins on this particular shoot for Agent Provocateur.
“I think people who are artistic tend create their own look. My personal style rarely incorporates modern fashions.” Though she does believe that when it comes to a professional shoot the finished look should typically be the result of a combined vision, this collaboration doesn’t hinder or dilute her work, and that’s part of its charm. Yes, professionalism, adaptability and compromise are absolutely necessary, but put simply, “they’ve hired you because they like what you do.”
She regards the suggestion that she may be a good source of advice for others looking to develop their own personal style as “very flattering. And that’s just what I would advise – choose things that flatter you. Just because the fashion magazines are advocating orange lipstick and your friend is wearing it and looks fabulous, that doesn’t necessarily mean it looks fabulous on you, or that you should wear it.”
Martha may not be an advocate of following trends, but that certainly doesn’t mean she is opposed to absorbing any outside influence. In fact, she finds inspiration in “absolutely everything! Films, flora, fauna, birds, bees, architecture, paintings, sculptures, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, and conversations with clever people.” Her enthusiasm and penchant for drawing positive energy from her surroundings extends to one of her other great loves (beside artistry and designing, of course) – horses.
“As Winston Churchill said, there is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man. In fact, all animals really; horses, dogs, chickens… the prettier and more pointless the better.” It’s impossible not to be enthralled as she continues, offering her fantastic take on magpies (“I’m mad for monochrome, they’re like little quarrelsome gangsters in black and white spats”) and proclaiming that her “life’s ambition is to raise an otter pup” (“actually I’d like to have a whole bevy of otters living with me”).
It would be a difficult task not to be drawn into her world. She speaks so colloquially, but with such sincerity and colour that it’s almost as though she’s creating a painting of her thoughts; a painting so vivid and compelling it makes even the idea of raising a small army of otters seem like a perfectly understandable thing to do.
“I’m very visual,” she confirms, “I love to be surrounded by beauty – whether that’s people, nature or things.” Fashion in particular, she feels, “is full of the most fascinating and fabulous characters,” and one such character also played an integral part in this Agent Provocateur shoot – the photographer, Woland.
With a photographic portfolio extending from Playboy to the famously boundary-pushing Vogue Italia, this is a creative pairing made in slightly-avant-garde heaven, and one in which Martha feels very much at home. According to her, time spent with Woland is one of the joys of her job, and “absolutely never feels like work.”
“I love working with Woland,” she gushes, “I love the way he plays and captures the light. He’s imaginative, expressive and a big, warm-hearted bear.” Both personally and professionally, she absolutely can not sing his praises highly enough – right down to the fact that he makes “fantastic real Italian coffee.” One could muse for days on the things that make Martha so spectacular, and I’m sure there are those who have, but for now one thing is particularly clear; she is one of those effervescent individuals whose passion – whether it be for fashion, artistry or otters – is absolutely contagious.
Words by Maddi McGowan
Minimal Makeup, Martha’s Way!
Known for both her glamour and her finesse as a rider, we thought we’d ask how Martha manages to get her makeup to stay in place on horseback. Her response was honest yet helpful, so we thought we’d include it here!
“Sadly, it’s considered terribly vulgar to wear makeup (or jewellery) when you’re riding. However, as an adult acne sufferer with the scars to prove it – who also over-plucked her brows for years – I’m afraid I do wear some, but only the bare minimum.
I prime with Eve Lom Perfect Matte SPF 15, which is oil -free, then cover any spots and scars with Eve Lom Sheer Radiance Oil-Free Foundation and fill in any missing brow with a Burberry eyebrow pencil, then I set it all with powder. NYX HD studio finishing powder available from boots it my current favourite – it’s light and doesn’t sit in open pores. I buff on lightly with a big fluffy brush.
Then, as I’m ageing and my eyes are starting to close up, I curl my lashes and add a very light slick of waterproof mascara. I’m currently loving Wonderbrow mascara. If I’m very tired and washed out, I may work a little sheer lipstick into my lips and the apples of my cheeks.”