"Looking through a woman's make-up bag gives you a real insight into their personality. It's as if they're baring their soul." I'm baring my soul to Janine Bird, course director of London's newest cosmetics school. The Make-Up School, in Clerkenwell, is where aspiring make-up artists can learn their trade, but it is also open to mere mortals who could do with a bit of help.
At £200 for a half day's training and £400 for a full day (fee negotiable for two or more people), a lesson from Bird and her colleagues isn't cheap. Then again, if you think of it in investment terms it's more fun than talking about pensions - and, if the doom-mongers are to be believed, it'll probably be worth more in the long run, too. The lesson covers all the basics of modern make-up application, from how to apply a good base to how lighting can alter its effects.
You'll learn other gems such as how to turn daytime make-up into evening make-up, and where you should be applying blusher ("much lower than you think"), but the best thing is what you pick up just by watching and chatting to Bird. My top tip was how to find the perfect nude lipstick for black skin: "Get a concealer or foundation a couple of shades darker than your skin tone, apply over some lip balm, add a touch of gloss, and there you have it: totally naturally toned lips."
The school, all exposed brickwork and natural light, is a world away from the glaring hell that is the make-up floor of any department store. And because it's a school, rather than a make-up counter, there's no hard sell and the advice is impartial. The most fun bit - that's fun in the "wow, that freezing cold shower was fun" sort of way - is when Bird ruthlessly trawls through your make-up bag, telling you what to ditch and how to update your staples. My favourite Chanel lip gloss (a shimmery purple) is deemed "too disco" and my red lipstick is "very Donna Summer", although I'm still trying to work out if that's a bad thing.