The word effortless is frequently overused, but when it comes to describing DJ Alex Merrell, no other adjective will do. Whether it’s the sets she spins for the likes of HBO, Vogue and Louis Vuitton, or the way she effortlessly pulls her less-is-more beauty looks together on the fly, an innately instinctive approach is evident in everything she does.
Canada-born Merrell moved to New York after a stint working in the music industry in Los Angeles and, after a decade in the industry, it’s hard to go to a party in New York City without spotting her on the desks.
As someone who lives on a plane between gigs, we quizzed Merrell on how she stays fresh faced and glowy straight off a red eye, what it was like DJing at that Oscars after-party and the products that are mainstays in her makeup arsenal.
Growing up, was DJing something you always wanted to do?
I grew up in an artistic family and was surrounded by music and musicians since the beginning, going to festivals and playing on pianos and drum sets at my parents’ friends’ homes. The career I have now as a DJ working with brands on events didn’t really exist at the time so it wasn’t something I was even aware of, but looking back it all makes sense.
What sort of music did you grow up listening to at home? How, if at all, do you think those sounds influenced your approach to music today?
My parents had expansive taste in music, but I was the one who brought hip-hop into the house. The first tape I bought at 5 or 6 years old was LL Cool J, which was promptly confiscated for the lyrical content. Coolio was next. My mentor when I started DJing was the original tour DJ for the Pharcyde, so hip-hip is a big part of my roots, even though it may not be what I’m known best for.
How would you describe your DJing style?
The reason I chose this career path is my strong love of music, and I hope that’s still what comes across the most. I play a wide variety of events and enjoy mixing different genres and eras from each to keep it fresh for clients and myself. After 9 years, it has stopped being as much about me honing a specific sound and more about the experience I want to create. I just want people to have a damn good night.
What is the most memorable set you have ever played?
There are way too many to count but so far this year, a real standout was a Golden Globes event I played in Hollywood. It was cocktail hour and I didn’t know if people were ready to start dancing, but it was such a celebratory evening that I took a chance and started to move the vibe in that direction. Emma Stone danced into the room, having just won the Best Actress award, and single handedly started a dance party which went hours later than expected. Before the night was over Derek Hough was dancing on top of a piano.
You travel around 125,000m a year. How do you find all the traveling for work?
I feel extremely grateful to be coming up on a decade of getting paid to do something I love so very much. Travel has been a highlight of this whole journey, and I find it ceaselessly inspiring. Over time you find the hacks that make it manageable. You get a good chiropractor on speed dial. It works itself out.
What’s your in-flight beauty routine?
I keep makeup minimal and avoid anything on my eyes that could smudge mid mandatory nap. Maybe a serum if my skin is feeling dry. I dream of being one of those experts who wears a full face mask to hydrate while strolling up and down the aisles, but I haven’t graduated to that level of skincare yet.
What makeup products could we find in your carry-on?
Concealer for under my eyes upon landing after a red eye and a blush/bronzer to make me look awake regardless of how successful I was with the whole napping thing.
What are some of the products you never travel without?
Because of how often I travel, my makeup bag on the road is basically the same as it is at home. I just switch in a few bright lip options, making sure they don’t clash with my manicure. I also love a lightweight BB cream with SPF so my skin is protected from the elements. I’m also a new convert to the highlighter movement. Unless you’re getting photographed and have to be cautious about looking too shiny, a good dose of glow is a girl’s best friend.
What’s your approach to beauty trends? What are you loving right now?
I’ll try a metallic liner if I want to feel a bit glam rock for a night out and have dabbled in nail art, but I always come back to more classic beauty looks. I like the idea that someone could take a photo and you wouldn’t know what era it was from. Trends can be fun but I’m more a fan of timelessness.
Any tips on taking your makeup from day to night?
My daytime look is very clean – concealer, blush/bronzer, mascara, brow liner, and little else unless I feel like wearing a bolder lip. At night, I love pumping things up with a smoky eye or a cat eye, if I have an extra ten minutes. I never get that one right on the first try!
What’s the biggest makeup mistake you’ve ever made?
Too much daytime eyeliner in high school.
Any beauty treatments you always book in for?
I have a pretty epic dermatologist in New York who has changed my skin dramatically in the six months I’ve been seeing her. I like treatments that allow me to be low maintenance and natural during the day, so playing with makeup becomes more about fun and less of a necessity.
What beauty mantra do you swear by?
Take care of yourself on the inside to help you glow on the outside.
Who are some of your beauty icons?
My beauty icons are women who are fiercely unique, like Carla Bruni, Florence Welch and Charlotte Rampling. I try and focus less on copying their looks, and more on finding what works for me.
When do you feel the most confident and beautiful from the inside out?
Having tried and true products I can rely on in my arsenal lets me forget about what I look like and focus on my career, my relationships and my inner strength. I don’t want to be the girl fixing my makeup in every mirror I pass. I want to be the one at the table of friends laughing my butt off, or coming up with a great idea in a creative meeting with a collaborator, who just so happens to be wearing a great lip.