"I have always lived my life waking up each morning and asking myself, Aesthetically, who do I want to be today?" said Annamarie Tendler Mulaney, as she sat across from me in a bustling coffee shop in Manhattan's East Village, drinking a blood orange tea. On this particular day, Mulaney's aesthetic was particularly ethereal; she looked like a well-accessorized fairy. On her ears, she was wearing large gold earrings with carved-out mountains and stars, and on her right hand was a silver ring that read "Petunia," the name of her French bulldog, in cursive lettering.
Such charm and whimsy are only fitting for someone like Mulaney, who's no stranger to her liberal artistic expression. Growing up in the golden age of Nick at Nite and captivated by family favorite The Addams Family, the 33-year-old had some of TV's best-dressed characters from whom to draw inspiration, and she used that inspiration to create a style inimitably her own. "To me, [my style] is so much tied to TV shows that I used to watch as a kid, and how you can change the way that you look depending on what you wear or what makeup you have on," she said.
While fashion is one of Mulaney's strongest suits, it's hard to pinpoint a singular thing that she does best. She's the author of two beauty books (Pin It! 20 Fabulous Bobby Pin Hairstyles and The Daily Face), a professional makeup artist and hairdresser, a Victorian lampshade craftswoman, and the brain behind her popular eponymous Tumblr blog. She's a student, wife, and the owner of her business, Silk Parlor. For her, this seemingly endless list of talents can simply be attributed to one word: artist. "I'm very aesthetically driven. Every aesthetic decision that I make is based in some sort of art background, that's just how I see the world," she said. From David Bowie-inspired makeup looks to hand-built Victorian lampshades, her creations walk the line of practical and dramatic, fitting for both a home and an art gallery.
Mulaney possesses an amalgamation of talents and skills, a trove of artistic curiosity that knows no bounds. After graduating high school, the young artist was eager to escape her hometown, itching to do anything but go to college. Her parents let her take a gap year but expected her to keep herself busy. So, what's a determined 18-year-old to do? For Mulaney, the answer was clear: She was going to move across the country to Los Angeles. "I went to Vidal Sassoon and learned how to cut hair there. Then, I came back to New York, started college, dropped out, got my certification in makeup, and started working," she said.
As a New Yorker familiar with the competitive job market myself, hearing Mulaney nonchalantly say she "started working" was like hearing of some cosmic superpower. Despite landing on her feet, she admits this journey wasn't always smooth sailing. "There were plenty of times where I was doing makeup and I was taking jobs that I didn't really want to do because I had to make money," she said. "There's also that aspect of it, and it's an incredibly real thing that you have to make money." Her foray into New York's competitive beauty industry was accompanied by the start of her Tumblr blog, where she posted makeup tutorials for an audience that would later reach nearly 350,000 followers. "I approached my Tumblr wanting to make the tutorials photo-based. In everything that I've ever done, I've had to carve out my niche. Doing the Tumblr photo tutorials was my way of carving out my niche [in beauty]," she said.
That once-small niche would continue to morph into something bigger, giving Mulaney opportunities to create content that reached beyond her Tumblr presence. She partnered with Amy Poehler's Smart Girls for a paranormal-inspired YouTube tutorial series called The Other Side. She wrote those two books, changing her scope from pixels to print. "Putting out my own things on my blog, I had complete control over what I was doing. I didn't have to work with anyone or answer to anyone. Working on a book, more people came in and gave their opinions. I can sometimes have an authority problem, so that was difficult for me," she said, laughing.
As Mulaney was planning to retire from the beauty world in 2016, a new opportunity appeared on her horizon. Mulaney's husband John was to star in his Broadway show, Oh, Hello, and was in search of a makeup artist to transform him and comedic partner Nick Kroll into old men. Obviously, Mulaney was more than ready. How could one pass up the opportunity to transform their then-34-year-old husband into an elderly man? "It was hands down the most rewarding thing that I did in makeup in my entire makeup career," she said. "It prolonged my career in makeup for an extra year and a half. We did 140 shows just on Broadway, that doesn't include the tour and off-Broadway. I went from writing books, which was very solitary, to working on Broadway on something really collaborative, and that was so fun."
Once the curtains closed on Oh, Hello, Mulaney put her makeup brushes aside and traded them for a needle and thread. When a quest to buy a Victorian lampshade for her home yielded unsuccessful, she took it upon herself to learn the craft. After a few failed attempts and one or two trashed lampshades, she gained yet another title: lampshade artisan. "I wanted to make something for myself, and I did. Then, I made one for a friend. I don't even know how it happened, but I think that someone saw it and was like, 'Oh, can you make one of those for me?' I had an epiphany and realized that I was getting commissions, that it was becoming a business," she said. "It all happened rather quickly, and it was really surprising."
Before she knew it, Mulaney had started Silk Parlor, an online store where she sells lampshades, weavings, and embroidered necklaces. Her creations are labors of love, with some taking dozens of hours to finish. "I like doing a lot of different things, and I know that I would be happy just doing lampshades or just doing weavings or just doing embroidery, but I like to try my hand at a lot of different things. An embroidered necklace isn't going to cost the same as a lampshade that took me 40 hours to make," she said.
Silk Parlor is now her full-time job, and it's one that keeps her very busy. "I love working with my hands. I think that just based on that, doing something that's artistic with my hands is really fun for me and something that I really enjoy," she said. Whether she's stitching away at a new commission, making a weaving or embroidery, or trying her hand at something new entirely, Mulaney's artistic drive never sleeps. "It's definitely been fun, it's been a learning experience, but it's also sometimes surprising and hard," she said.
Although Mulaney's artistic journey seems like a natural progression, she admits that it was rarely a stable one. Reflecting on her career, Mulaney says that, despite where she's ended up, there were often moments where things felt anything but clear-cut:
I think that we're expected to feel like we have things figured out at a really young age. That has not been my life experience at all. While I've done things consistently in the art and beauty space, it has felt, at times, very meandering. I think that now I see that those things were leading me to something. It didn't lead me to that thing until I was in my 30s. I think that can be really scary, and was really scary for me when I was going through my 20s. I was like, Why haven't I figured out what my calling is? I felt like so many of my friends had an idea of what they wanted to do, and they did it. I think that some people are just not like that, and they'll continue to reinvent what they do and do different things.
Mulaney's experience is entirely relatable—the stressors of college and career are often blinding, presenting the world as an insurmountable force to be reckoned with. However, she never let her world get a leg-up on her; she took its insurmountable force and made it her own. She went back to college and got a degree in psychology, she started a business, and now, she's studying for a master's degree in costume studies. "Though I love working with my hands, I also like to be challenged academically. So, I wanted to go back to school, partially to prove to myself that I still had that," she said. "Not that doing art isn't cerebral—because it is very cerebral—but making a lampshade or a weaving is way different than writing a research paper."
Her success speaks for itself, and it's all thanks to her fiery, unapologetic passion for creating something new, rewarding, and personal. With change comes hesitation, but there's something exhilarating about diving right in. To women everywhere, that all-too-familiar meandering feeling is something that seems inescapable, but, if you ask Mulaney, it's a tool for an unparalleled growth.
"If I could tell my younger self something," she said, "it would be that it's okay if you try things out for size."