I HAVEN'T HAD much luck with the whole "makeover" experience.
The first time I tried it -- at one of those glamour shot places in the mall -- they slathered on the makeup with a putty knife, teased my hair until it looked like a fright wig and photographed me in a feather boa.
My children, who were much younger then, actually backed away from me when I returned home. My husband commented that he liked me "plain," and I was afraid to ask if he meant "unadorned" or "homely."
Some years later, I had a second makeover for a photo shoot for the cover of a book I was writing. I was still dolled up when I returned home, and I bragged to my son and his friend, Jack, that the makeup artist from the TV show Homicide had done my face.
"Does she only do the dead people?" Jack asked.
Over the years, I've sat for a couple of department store makeovers, but I always end up buying too much expensive makeup that I don't know how to apply, and it ends up under the bathroom sink.
As you might guess, I was not hopeful when I was assigned to write about celebrity makeup artist Karim Orange's "Practical Makeovers."
Karim Orange used to commute between Los Angeles and New York, shuttling among rock stars and television stars and movie stars. But on the fateful morning of Sept. 11, she was in L.A., her 5-year-old daughter was in school in New York City and her ex-husband was on a commuter train underneath the World Trade Center.
It took him hours to escape and get to their daughter's school. It took her days to get to New York. Badly shaken, she retreated to her father's home in Columbia with her daughter, Jazz, and is now living and working in Baltimore.
"I needed to regroup. I needed a new start," said Orange, who saw the huge demand for her artistry shrink in the economic aftermath of 9-11.
"I love working with celebrities. But to them, I am a dime a dozen. I found I just wanted to work with regular women."
But Orange has lost none of her L.A.-New York pizazz, so she is staging a number of "makeup events" around town to introduce herself.
One of the first was this "practical makeover" thing. For $50, she would examine your makeup bag, tell you what to keep and what to throw out, show you how to use what you have and recommend a couple of essential additions.
So, I took my collection of samples, Rite-Aid bargains and leftovers from long-ago makeovers and spilled them on her table in Studio 500 near Roland Park, grateful that Deb Hines' shop was not full of witnesses to my hodgepodge beauty regimen.
Orange set the stage for a good experience by praising my choice in mascara (Maybelline's Great Lash, Dark Brown) as exceptional quality for the price. She liked my blush, too (Cover Girl's Classic Color, Rose Silk). I was so grateful not to be made to feel like an idiot for my previous purchases that I was ready to write a check for everything on her table.
But that was not her goal. She recommended that I add a concealer and purchase a couple of good brushes ("You can do anything with the right brushes").
After showing me how to use what I had in my bag, I looked better than I have since that book-cover photo shoot, a day I have since referred to as "the best-looking day of my life," and I had not spent $150 under the critical gaze of a department store clerk in a black smock.
She knew just how I felt.
"I had been in a competitive environment for so long, with an agent booking me everywhere, that I took a job in a department store for a month to humble myself," said Orange, who was nominated twice for an Emmy for her makeup work on The View.
She hated pushing a single product line -- and infuriated her department store employer by mixing and matching -- but she also rediscovered her love of makeup, something she has been playing with since she was a little girl.
"I really love what I do," she says. "And I love doing it without a photographer or a stylist hanging around. Without the time pressure."
Orange has lost none of the event-driven energy that characterizes New York and Los Angeles. She plans to connect with a number of salons in the Baltimore area for what can best be described as "fun with makeup."
Bring in a picture from a magazine and she will make you up to look like that picture. Take a personality quiz and she will make you up to look like the Sex and the City character you most resemble. A makeup Survivor tale: three girls lose their makeup bags and have only enough money between them to replace one -- what products will suit all three women? Ten dollars for a 10-minute makeover.
Stuff like that.
Orange is having fun reconnecting with regular women, but she has been alarmed by what she has learned about the skin care habits of the common folks.
"No one uses skin care products. That shocked me," she says. "When I asked, they would just shrug and say, 'Soap and water.' "
These are the makeup truths she lost sight of in the rarefied atmosphere of makeup rooms in Los Angeles and New York.