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Q&A with celebrity make-up artist, Sir John

What brings you to South Africa?

I’m here to host two Beauty Masterclasses with Woolworths with their private beauty label ‘WBeauty’, as well as showcase the upcoming South Africa Fashion Week (SAFW) runway make-up looks.


Biggest piece of advice you wish you were told when you were starting out?

This is an emotional question for me. I’ll tell you what. The biggest piece of advice I was given was from Charlotte Tilbury. I’ll never forget it. We were backstage in Milan during Fashion Week, and as an assistant they want you to dumb down who you are. You’re supposed to wear black every day and basically be seen and not heard, and that was cool for me. Charlotte Tilbury pulled me aside one day and said, “Sir John, I want you to be yourself. I’m not threatened by who you are. I want you to bring your personality. I don’t want you to dumb yourself down when you go out through those doors. I want that light you have.”


I’m an African-American guy; I’m from Buffalo, New York; I’m not a Brit. So I was like oh, I can be myself and I can just do me? Allowing yourself to really own who you are and tapping into that and allowing that to flower is the most impactful thing that I think you can ever teach anyone across any genre.


Who was your first celebrity client?

Naomi Campbell. I met her during my first Paris Fashion Week, and next thing I knew, I was getting called to go do her makeup at her hotel! I remember all of it being so new to me. I was like, ‘Okay, there’s no train back. This is business.’


What’s your most requested Beyoncé beauty look?

The 2017 Grammys. Everyone sort of still references that. It got the most eyes for some reason. For me this 2T9A8527year, I think that was one of the most impactful things that I did, work-wise.

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?

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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 2T9A8769makeup 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.

Do you see a specific trend becoming hot in the next few months for beauty?

I see so many cool things happening right now, honestly. I’m liking the unicorn highlighter. I’m liking the prismatic highlighter for women who are under 35. If you happen to be a bit more mature, I’m going to lean towards under-eye smudges, which would be smoking out the bottom lash line and no eyeshadow on top. No liner on top. Just tons of mascara. Keeping that lid completely transparent on top doesn’t weigh the eyes down. It gives you rockstar vibes because you still have the smoky eye slightly underneath, but you still look young and fresh and it keeps your eyes open and awake.

Is there a certain red that looks good on everyone?

There’s so many different complexions so I’m thinking about all women, from Harlem to Hong Kong. Whenever you want your skin to pop or your tan to come alive, you always want to choose an orange-based red. Think ‘50s red or tomato red. Those will always make your skin look healthier. On the contrary, if you want your teeth to look really, really white and your smile to illuminate, go for a blue-based red. A blue-based red happens to go anywhere from raspberry to dark Merlot lips. Blue-based makes your teeth look really brilliant and an orange-based red makes your skin look healthy.


You have so many gorgeous celebrity clients. What’s a tip that you use on them that’s easy enough for non-makeup artists to do?

2T9A8689I would say a cool thing for a non-makeup artist to do would be statement lips, then treat your brows as a feature. I think that women nowadays know the power of brows, but that there’s also more than one focus. When they get dressed they think, “Okay, what am I going to do with my eye? What am I going to do with my lip?” Nowadays you have so many different highlighters, luminizers, and bronzers that have different effects. So using your skin as a feature, your brows as a feature. Use individual lashes and then do tons of mascara as a feature.

Do you think that a ‘90s thin brow will ever come back or is the thicker brow here to stay?

I think everything is going to come full circle. We had the ’80s where people didn’t even tweeze at all. But the thin brow didn’t come from the ‘90s as much as it comes from the ‘30s: Marlene Dietrich, Ava Gardner, and women of the film noir era. It’s all going to go full circle. If you look at any beauty staple in the 20th century, it’s a re-shopped idea. So wait for it if you love it. If you love something and you want to campaign for it, make a case for it. If someone tells you “oh that’s not in style” or “that’s not really in,” just tell them to wait for it. Have the confidence to rock it and know that it’s coming back in season. And if it’s not, then you’re the only girl who’s wearing it.

What is your message to other South African artists out there?

I think the new generation of artists in the world we live in now, we don’t have the luxury of just doing beautiful makeup or doing beautiful hair. There is such a social and emotional connection that we have to have with our work that you have to be deeper than people ever previously were. You have to have that substance.

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