How a Top Makeup Artist Used Instagram to Build an Empire

You know that feeling you get when you’re in the presence of someone really special? That’s pretty much how the team felt when we first met L’Oréal Paris celebrity makeup artist Sir John. In addition to being poised, über-articulate and a genius with a makeup brush, Sir John is also about as nice as they come. After our initial meeting with this makeup wizard, who’s worked with the likes of Karlie Kloss, Naomi Campbell, Lupita Nyong’o and — wait for it — Beyoncé, we knew we needed to get his full story. Check out our recent sit-down with Sir John (and check out our pic with him at Marie Claire's Image Makers Awards!), where he spills on his accidental start with makeup, his natural knack for social media and, of course, his most essential makeup tips.  

Makeup Artist Sir John First and foremost, tell us about your journey to becoming a successful makeup artist.

Sir John: Growing up in New York, I went to performing arts school and had always been obsessed with art and brushes. When I was 19 and going to school in Atlanta, I went to a photoshoot with a friend who was a model. I just sat there on the ground watching her do her thing. The makeup artist that was hired never showed up so the model turned to me and asked, ‘Can you put a situation on my face?’ So I did it! The photographer told me I did a great job and asked me to come back next week to do makeup and he would pay me $300. So I went out and bought makeup and returned the next week.

Shortly after that, I started working at a major makeup company at one of their beauty counters where I learned so much about makeup and women. I was eventually transferred back to New York.

After doing that for a bit, I actually left makeup altogether and went into visual merchandising for companies like Henri Bendel, Bergdorf Goodman and Gucci. While I was at Gucci, I crossed paths with a former colleague who was now working as an assistant for makeup artist Pat McGrath. He told me she was looking for a makeup assistant and that I should meet her at a show she was working. I figured I’d show up and give it a shot. When I went to the show, I met Pat backstage and she asked me if I was going to be in Italy two weeks from that day. I told her, ‘Yes,’ even though I didn’t even have a passport at the time!

So I went to Italy where I worked my first major runway show — Dolce — and met my first celebrity client: Naomi Campbell. This got me back into makeup where I continued to work as an assistant for prominent makeup artists, one of which actually first introduced me to Beyoncé.

1/3 Talk to us about that. How did your professional relationship with Beyoncé come about?

I was at the Tom Ford show that didn’t include just models, and Beyoncé was on the roster. Before I knew it, I was assigned to do her makeup. I remember walking over to the room (reserved for Beyoncé), opening up the partition curtain and seeing all this big gold hair! It was one of those pivotal moments that will forever be ingrained in my mind. It definitely changed the course of my life.

Now, Beyoncé had a great makeup artist and was in truly good hands, so I didn’t really think anything would happen after this encounter. But I guess she quietly watched my career over the next year or so and ended up offering me a contract to go on tour with her. And, that’s how that whole dynamic started. You have an amazing social media fanbase that includes more than 100K followers on Instagram. How has social media has been instrumental in the growth of your career?

Sir John: Social media is the reason I’m here in this place in my career. It gave me visibility while I was an assistant and has served as a view into my world and a way in which I express everything. Professionally speaking, it’s been the biggest advertising platform for myself. 

2/3 Instagram also played a role in you being chosen as a celebrity makeup artist for L’Oréal Paris. Tell us how you landed that dream gig!

Sir John: I’ve been working as a contributor for publications like Vogue Italia and InStyle for a while now. About a year ago, an executive from L’Oréal asked the editors at Vogue and InStyle if they knew of any one that the company should be working with. One of the editors took out her phone, showed the L’Oréal exec my Instagram account and said, ‘This is who you need.’ L’Oréal then reached out to me and asked me to join the team. All I could think was, ‘Is this really happening to me right now?’ How would you describe your beauty style?

Sir John: I’m a person who appreciates the aspirational qualities of this industry. When it comes to being a makeup artist, you learn from the background and knowledge of others and what makes them who they are, and glean from those perspectives. You become a mix of the people you’ve learned from. If you could give our readers one quick pro tip or piece of beauty advice, what would it be?

Sir John: Maximize your features. Invest in a liner or add a bit of contrast with faux lashes to make your eyes more expressive. Focus on subtle changes to your eyes and lips that draw attention to you in a non-ostentatious way. 

3/3 What makeup product do you always keep in your kit?

Sir John: Probably a shiny stick (illuminator). I’ve also been loving the L’Oréal Paris Infallible Pro-Last Lip Color because they do not move and they don’t dry out your lips. What are some of your favorite makeup trends right now?

Sir John: I love strobing. Everyone is doing such aggressive contouring right now, so I’m looking forward to a few seasons in the future when we’ll be experiencing a more toned-down, sophisticated form of contouring. I’m looking forward to contouring 2.0! I also really love the liquid matte lip trend. They’re huge right now and offer a nice contrast to strobing. What’s the biggest career lesson you’ve learned to date?

Sir John: Make sure you are living what you want to exude. Relationships are everything in life. Be nice to absolutely everyone you meet and work with because you never know who they will be or how you will be working with them in the future.



    About the Author: Angela helps inspire and inform the audience by delivering the latest beauty tips, tricks and trends.