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YouTube makeup star dares others to be bold

Marques G. Harper

She was running late from her TV interview, but that was OK. There was a moment to wonder not just about her, but about everyone zipping by you who's on the hunt for a new look: the women pushing strollers, the twentysomething college students, and the men and women carrying Nordstrom bags.

Then through Nordstrom shoe department at Barton Creek Square came Lauren Luke, a no-frills, no-fuss, curvy 28-year-old Englishwoman.

These days, Luke is anything but average. She's a self-made YouTube queen who has become a makeup guru by posting a series of homemade how-to videos on the Internet.

Her major message is clear: Believe in yourself, even if it means trying out your first smoky eye.

"I was absolutely astounded," Luke said at our table at the eBar coffee shop at Nordstrom as members from her entourage rushed off for beverages. "People wanted to watch me put on makeup."

Decades ago, there was a time when you'd go to a department store's cosmetics counter to learn the latest eye shadow. Or a girlfriend would have a makeup party, and some vision wearing blue eye shadow and a red lip would teach you how to pretty up your face. Now you can learn by yourself with one of Luke's videos.

If you haven't heard of Luke, here are a few things to know: Luke's videos, which she shoots in her bedroom on a video camera, have been viewed by more than 65 million people; she has a book out called "Looks by Lauren Luke," which will be available in the United States in March; in Europe and Australia, there's a Nintendo DS game about her; and she sells makeup kits and items through Sephora stores, which is why she's at Barton Creek during her first promotional trip to Texas.

Her social media savvy has business schools examining her success. "I'm even going down in course studies," she said. "I really felt I've landed with angels. I really feel like I'm the luckiest girl alive. I really do. It has all been innocent and not planned."

Instead of flying from city to city, she opted for time on a hard-to-miss tour bus, which was pink and covered with a gigantic image of her. Luke's list of official cities to visit were Miami, Austin, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, but she was able to swing a quick stop in New Orleans on her way to A-Town.

For her brief visit to Austin, she's wearing her Texas-inspired outfit and makeup: a yellow dress, brown cowboy boots, a leather jacket, a "big bling" pendant, silver-glitter star under her right eye and sparkling brown eye shadow. (You can see the video she made about her Austin look and other photos on her Web site, Bylaurenluke.com .)

"It's hard to believe," said Luke, taking a sip from her cappuccino with an extra shot. "My life is completely different. If I get famous enough, I'm going to have me own clothing line with sizes for everybody."

Growing up in England, she wanted to be a veterinarian, but she was a mother at age 17 and had to leave school. She didn't make too many friends, she said. Luke was an outcast and came from a poor family. "I didn't come from a rich family," she said. "I feel I appreciate things more. (Growing up) I got bullied a hell of a lot. It's nice for people to treat us with equal respect."

She had some support from her mother, though. Luke, a single mom, worked part-time at the taxi service. She hated the job, she said.

"What life is this for me?" she said she often wondered. So a few years ago, she jumped into selling makeup on eBay. While her son was asleep at night, she'd stay up to work on her site and respond to e-mails from customers in places such as China, Japan and the U.S. To add another element to her eBay store, Luke started making her YouTube makeup demonstration videos in 2007 using the name panacea81.

"I would show it applied on me face," she said. "I got loads of people asking how I done that."

In her first video, she said, she didn't speak. She just waved at the Web camera on her computer. And that did it, leading her on a path to becoming a YouTube sensation. Her page views skyrocketed. She did three to four makeup videos from her bedroom a week, and she got e-mails from people worldwide asking her for makeup techniques. Her instructional videos walk you through makeup issues, and she offers thoughts on how to play up your best assets.

"I love to make myself look pretty," said Luke, who does one or two new makeup videos a week now.

In 2008, she took a formal makeup class in the evenings.

"I love doing eyes," she said. "I learned about foundation."

Luke has found a new celebrity makeup and style fascination: Lady Gaga, the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter whose outlandish outfits are having an impact on the fashion industry.

"She's wearing a lot of makeup to suit herself," she said. "I think Madonna has a bit of a rival."

As for her own videos, Luke said, they are completed in one take even if she messes up on camera. Being honest with viewers is crucial, she said. "It's important to show everyone everything," she said. "I tell people not to worry. Just try it again."

Her videos, which now are shot with a video camera, usually are 15 to 16 minutes in length. She loves using color, especially tropical colors. She's into smoky eyes, but they have to be unusual.

"It's about pushing yourself and being more brave about color and makeup," she said. Just take the star painted near her eye, for example.

"A star painted in glitter isn't an ordinary look," she said. "But I'm going to be brave. I haven't stopped yet. I'm going to carry on and encourage people to follow your dreams. I want people to have belief in yourself. If you believe in yourself, and it's not going to hurt anyone, share it.

"I feel like I'm getting my second chance," she said, moments before she left me to greet a waiting crowd at Sephora in another part of the mall.

mharper@statesman.com; 445-3974