“When I shop at Nordstrom, the store employees follow me around,” says Los Angeles makeup artist and handbag designer Allison Burns. If only those department store employees, on the look for shoplifters, knew they were tailing the head of a handbag line coveted by celebrities and now sold at Bergdorf Goodman and more than 250 boutiques worldwide.
Burns started her company in 2001; at the time she had already been working in Hollywood as a makeup artist for more than a decade, and she often wore her own handcrafted accessories to work. It was client Jillian Barberie who finally convinced her to sell the bags. The company took off after stars like Cameron Diaz and Cate Blanchett were photographed carrying her slouchy rock-inspired leather designs. Burns’ makeup clients, like Paris Hilton and Kelly Osbourne, are also fans of the bags. Just don’t expect her to dish any dirt on them. “I love all those Hollywood girls, and because of my tattoos I know what it feels like to be perceived in a certain way, so I try not to do that to others,” she says.
Burns’s success as a designer didn’t stop her from doing makeup. One of her favorite projects was overseeing the makeup for a Rob Zombie video, and she recently paired with longtime friend, singer Theo Kogan, to launch a makeup line called Armour. One of the first products they are launching is a cherry-red lip gloss—and that’s not surprising, since Burns has a thing for fruit.
In fact, one of her largest tattoos is a back piece featuring a bunch of grapes and vines done by Kevin Quinn. “I like the idea of grapes. It’s food, it’s drink, it’s the fruit of life,” she says. After the grapes, she also got a pineapple (inspired by a trip to Hawaii), a strawberry on her hand, cherry cufflinks, a sour lemon, and a peach on her arm in honor of her nickname “Peaches,” which was what friends called her back in New York City.
In addition to all the fruit, Burns has other ink, including an angel, a devil, the word “Mom,” butterflies, an Ohm symbol, and her most recent, cherry blossoms on her left arm that were done by Juan Puente. Other artists who have inked her include Chris Garver, Bob Roberts, Magenta, Mike Wilson, and Dennis Halbritter. “I like going to different people for tattoos. And they all say they love adding their art to other people’s art.”
Burns has plans for more ink in the future, and more projects. This past winter she helped set up a benefit rock concert, Give Me Shelter, to raise funds for The Teen Project, a charity her sister created to help teens in foster care transition into adulthood. And she’s been asked to serve as a guest designer for fashion companies Bebe, Nicky Hilton, and Hello Kitty. Now she’s fighting to fi nd time for tattoos: “I want to finish my sleeves. I’m 41 now, so hopefully I will be done by the time I’m 50.”