A year ago, 2015 Nixa High School graduate Kayli Rachelle Davis was living in her hometown. A month ago, she primped a high-profile celebrity’s makeup before one of the most glamorous events in the world: the 2019 Met Gala.
“I knew in high school makeup is what I wanted to do,” Davis told the Christian County Headliner News. “I started in eighth grade doing makeup in Nixa theater productions. That’s kind of where I grew from.”
As Davis grew older, she became more determined. She began her own makeup business as a high school junior, booking appointments for homecoming and prom makeup, though she mostly worked with brides. She pocketed the money from her own gigs and a job at Sephora at Springfield’s Battlefield Mall, saving it for a move to the land of sun and stardom known as Los Angeles. She’s lived there since September.
“The time in L.A. is like a time warp. … You have to be constantly busy, because the price of living out here is like, so much more,” Davis said. “I’m sure the majority of L.A. can also agree with this statement: if you are a creative person, and that’s your field you work in, you have to keep yourself busy, because you have to make an income.”
Lucky for Davis, she found a job almost immediately after her move. In addition to freelance work, Davis is the assistant for Sarah Tanno, makeup artist for Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter and actress Lady Gaga. She most recently starred in Academy Award-winning “A Star Is Born,” alongside actor Bradley Cooper.
“She’s incredibly nice,” Davis said of Gaga. “I was nervous to meet her, because celebrities can be a certain way.”
The first time Davis interacted with Lady Gaga, Davis was in Las Vegas for the starlet’s residency. Gaga’s “Enigma” concerts began Dec. 28, 2019, at Park Theater at Park MGM. They will end in November.
“She came into the room and she was like, ‘You know, I don’t care if you’ve been working with me for one month or one year or 10 years. I love you, and I feel like you are family,’” Davis said. “She’s incredibly genuine—super, super, super nice.”
Davis’s boss, Tanno, has worked for Gaga for roughly 10 years. She books appointments for other celebrity clientele, too. Indian actress Priyanka Chopra, also the wife of Nick Jonas, and model Hailey Bieber, also the wife of Justin Bieber, are two more celebrities Tanno has beautified. Lady Gaga, however, is her primary client.
“I’m the assistant, so I don’t do her full face, but if (Tanno is) working on one part, she’ll ask me to work on her eyeliner, or eyelashes or eyeshadow while she’s doing another main portion,” Davis said.
It was only a month ago when Davis helped complete Lady Gaga’s look for the Met Gala, held every year since 1948 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The gala is for the opening of the Costume Institute’s annual fashion exhibit, which signals the event’s theme of dress, this year’s being “Camp: Notes on Fashion.”
Lady Gaga’s Met Gala apparel included four separate outfits. As one of five hosts of the gala, she began her red carpet walk in a bright fuchsia dress with a long train, which covered an entire sweep of stairs. With the help of several men wearing suits, Gaga dropped the fuchsia dress for another gown—black, with an asymmetrical sweetheart neckline—though she shed that layer, too, to reveal a pink column dress. Lastly, Gaga revealed an undergarment ensemble featuring fishnet stockings and impossibly tall, sparkly black platform boots. All the while, Gaga posed in pink lipstick and fluttered a pair of false gold eyelashes, the work of Tanno and, of course, Davis.
“Still, to this day, I feel like my life is not real. I feel like it’s a movie,” Davis told the Headliner News. “Life doesn’t move this fast, typically, and nothing is ever handed to us. I have worked incredibly hard for the position I’m in right now, but my path to where I want to be has just moved a lot faster than I anticipated.”
Davis recalled sitting in a hotel room in February, watching a live performance of Lady Gaga at The Grammys. She helped complete the celebrity’s makeup for the awards ceremony, too, and that night, Gaga won three Grammys: Best Pop Solo Performance, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Song Written For Visual Media.
“I was just like, ‘Holy crap. I am actually here right now and a handful of months ago, I was in Nixa, Missouri,’” Davis said. She doesn’t know if the feelings of being star-struck will ever wear off, either. “Granted, I’ve been doing celebrity work for less than a year, but every single day that I get a chance to work with them, I feel like it’s my first day. It’s incredible.”
Davis still has ambitions. She would like to have her own celebrity clientele someday. She also dreams of working in fashion.
“My main goal outside of celebrities is to be able to work for fashion week. Although I do love soft glam and high glam and red carpet looks, my heart and soul are in beauty and editorial looks, just because it’s a bit more creative,” she said. “You get a bit more leeway. It’s something unconventional.”
With her dreams in mind, Davis continues to work hard and learn.
“There is never a day off. You always have to hustle, especially if you’re a freelancer. You’ve got your own business, and no one else is in charge of you,” she said. “And I think one of the top things I’ve learned is that makeup can change how a person views themselves. I watch their confidence go up when they have it on,” Davis said. “I love to help people. That’s letting them know, ‘Hey, you are beautiful in your own skin.’”