There’s no denying that Beyoncé is Queen. From her 2017 Grammys gravity-defying, edge-slaying and twins-bearing performance alone, Beyoncé proved that she’s queen of everything especially when it comes to her makeup (that monochromatic smoky eye and lip!), her hair (that long textured hair!) and her style (that headpiece!) As for her flawless makeup, there is one master behind her face and that’s makeup artist Sir John.
Last week, we got the pleasure to chat one-on-one with Sir John to learn all of Queen Bey’s beauty secrets (yes he revealed them!) and to also learn how he became fortunate enough to work with the “baddest chick in the game.” Read below for our exclusive interview with Sir John.
So I read that you actually went to school to study art?
I went to school for art since I was like 6 years old. So basically my whole life I’ve been working with brushes and paints and chalk and charcoal. I left home at 17 and then I went to Atlanta for very short time and went to school for art history. A model friend of mine was at a catalog shoot and the makeup artist cancelled and she asked me if I could paint her face. At that time, I didn’t know what that was! I gave her a basic look from the makeup in her own makeup bag, and the photographer was like, “This is really good. Can you come back on Saturday and do the same thing?” Mind you I was only 18 years old! Some people found out about me because they were opening a MAC store in Lenox Mall and no one really knows I worked there. I became very popular there and they transferred me to a NYC store at 20. I got fired from MAC at 22 and I thought my life was over. I didn’t really have a plan because I couldn’t afford to go back to school. So I went into visual merchandising, which teaches you about creating a story. It teaches you about creating balance and harmony in an overall theme. Visual merchandising helped me have a different eye and it helps you to understand the entire story. Sometimes it’s hard for makeup artists and hair stylists to see outside of their lane but that’s the only way you’re going to be so impactful and have a harmonious outlook on everyone else’s job.
You worked multiple runway shows and worked with top designers. How was that experience? Do you still work backstage during Fashion Week?
I’m on contract with L’Oréal, which is all red carpet. I haven’t been backstage in few seasons. But Michael Costello is FaceTiming me from his studio to look at his new collection. It’s cool because you go away and you’re still doing something super impactful and you’re still relevant. I was scared to leave fashion because it’s where I got my start but the cool thing now is I can play with lipstick on a woman and know that millions of women across the world are trying to imitate that.
You moved to NYC and became Pat McGrath’s assistant. How did that magic happen?
A makeup artist who I knew connected me with Pat McGrath and I did a couple of shows for her for New York Fashion Week and she really liked my work. She asked me if I was coming to Milan for Milan Fashion Week and I said yes although I had no passport or plane ticket. I got a rush passport and bought my plane ticket. I remember it was $778 for a roundtrip ticket to Milan. I worked various designer shows for her that season and went back the following season. At the Tom Ford Spring 2011 Show, I actually met Beyoncé backstage and ended up doing her makeup. A few months later, Parkwood Entertainment called me in for a meeting and I arrived to see my work laid out all over a conference room table, and they asked me if I was interested in being Beyoncé’s official makeup artist for her tour, and I said of course! I left there and I found a lawyer and an agent. I knew I had to be professional and just get it done the right way. So I went on a tour for her Ms. Carter Show World Tour and I didn’t know what I was in for. On that tour we went all around the world from Australia to Brazil to London and I’ve been with her ever since. It’s been five years now and she’s like a sister now.
You’ve been Beyoncé’s official makeup artist for her tours, albums and more. How does one decide which makeup look to go with for someone like Queen Bey? Is it a collaboration or does she let you do your magic?
It depends on the event. Everything is case by case. For example, I know she has a formula. She just loves beautiful skin and natural beauty so if I know she loves that, I’m going to nail that and everything else is going to be the icing on the cake. So for people who want to be makeup artists, hair stylists, manicurists, when you have a client, know their style and the essence of who they are. Once you have that, you can do it with your eyes closed. Adding other things will blow them away and they’ll trust you more once you know their formula. It’s completely collaborative. I’ll go on Pinterest and pull digitals or look at old work I’ve done, and a lot of the times I’ll have this complete idea and then I’ll see the dress and it changes. The makeup is always the last thing. The wardrobe and hair is first and that creates the moment. They spend a lot more time on that, and then the makeup is the icing on the cake. There is a tug of war that happens sometimes. For concerts, she doesn’t care. She’s just like do whatever you want to do. But for a cover story, there’s a director and then a fashion editor will want her to look like this and then you come in and bring your secret sauce to it. I also do her red carpet looks.
You also work with Chrissy Teigen, Joan Smalls and Jourdan Dunn. Tell us how working with models varies compare to celebrities.
Celebrities have a formula and they stick within their formula. Their fan base isn’t happy if they veer outside of that moment so they have to be a little safer. They know what works for them and then you come in and remix it. They have their lane. Models want to try it all! Any look, any time.
What’s your advice for up and coming makeup artists?
- Understand personal branding. In this day and age, it’s life and death of your career. There are so many people who do amazing makeup, there are so many people who do hair that’s to die for but I always tell people I’m not just in the business of makeup or beauty, I’m in the business of people. I’m in the business of making people feel good like editors, publicists and stylists. You’re not just there to make your your celebrity or client or supermodel happy. If you make people feel great, people want to be around you and want to book you and then your time comes.
- Have the eye of an editor. Know how to edit your social and look at yourself from the outside in. If you can stand on the outside, and see how your career looks, what your posting looks like, what your tweets look like. What’s your overall message? What story are you telling? Who are you? Those are questions that you can ask yourself and you’ll go very far if you start to have that dialogue and conversation with yourself.
- Do not be afraid of competition. There’s so much saturation and everyone wants to do the same thing but as long as you are completely authentic to yourself, then you have no competition. Just be true to your art form and the anniversary of yourself from last year or two years ago. Don’t look at what anyone else is doing, and you’ll be successful.
What are some tips you’ve learned doing makeup backstage or on your celebrity clients that you would share with everyday women?
What makes someone stand out for me, if they don’t have any training or formal knowledge of makeup, is to get the basics down. Understand how to give yourself the most amazing complexion. You don’t necessarily have to have the best skin for that. No one who has good skin has good skin all of the time. Make sure you have a great anti-inflammatory diet. Drinking juiced or blended kale is great because it increases circulation. Circulation helps get rid of dark circles. Alos hydrate! Carrot juice is good because it increases cell turnover, which helps give you a luminous glow. If you spend time on making sure your skin is perfect which you can do with your foundation or powder, then everything else is the icing on the cake. If I had a challenge for everyone in America, it would be to create flawless skin. Skin is the largest organ on your body and it teaches people so many things about you. Your skin shows how much time you had on vacation, how much alcohol you drink and how much sleep you get. Also have statement pieces. A statement brow is popular, or a statement lip is great for someone who doesn’t have a lot of time. Matte lips go really great with glowing skin because there’s contrast. Whenever you have contrasting elements, it gives people visual interest and something to look at just a little bit longer. Skin, brow and lips. And don’t pay attention to Instagram trends! Get inspired by other things than social media. You want to open the conversation to something greater.
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