Trinidadian-Born Makeup Artist Jaleesa Jaikaran Shares How She Broke Into the Beauty Industry, Her Advice for Aspiring Artists and the Makeup Product She Can’t Live Without
June 12, 2020
If you obsess over editorial makeup looks on the ’gram, odds are freelance makeup artist Jaleesa Jaikaran is behind more than a few of them. She’s done makeup for publications like Paper and Glamour and has worked countless seasons of New York Fashion Week. We recently caught up with the Trinidadian-born artist to talk about how she got her start, the moment she realized makeup was her passion, inclusivity in the industry and what beauty means to her.
How did you get into makeup? Tell us about your journey.
I was helping with the organization of a fashion show in Trinidad and they kept asking me to walk in the show. After much resistance, I gave in and was told I needed to buy my own foundation. I was pissed about that. My view at that time was that foundation was heavy and cakey. I bought the foundation, though, and immediately fell in love. I started buying new makeup when I got paid and would practice every Sunday by watching videos and researching everything I could find. [During] this discovery phase is when I started my YouTube channel.
I eventually decided to take a makeup class, but I never actually finished the course. I didn't know I had a natural knack for it. After a year of assisting my coach on jobs, I started booking my own shoots and eventually started working for MAC Cosmetics. I spent a year and a half in Trinidad and travelled with the brand as a product specialist before realizing I wanted to move to NYC. I interviewed and moved with the brand in 2013. I stayed with the brand for a little over three years and started assisting more established artists part-time, most notably, Kabuki. I became the first assistant and did Fashion Week and ad campaigns. Now, I have been freelance full-time for the past few years working in fashion and beauty while also creating content around my love for makeup.
When did you realize makeup was your passion?
I always knew I loved makeup, but I didn't realize it could be my career. My initial goal was to be in marketing — I lived on sites like Ad Age and Ad Week. When I started doing clients and seeing their reaction, it was amazing. Ever since buying that foundation, I found myself buying books of all kinds — photography, lighting, face painting — anything that would make me a better artist.
We loved your Instagram post about how brands can support Black makeup artists. Tell us how you're feeling regarding the beauty industry and the Black Lives Matter movement — what changes would you like to see in the makeup/beauty landscape?
I can go on and on about this, that's why I wrote the guide. I really want to see equality in opportunities, pay and general upward mobility for Black artists, creators and other marginalized groups.
Can you share some of your favorite Black-owned beauty brands with us?
, Mented Cosmetics
, Juvia's Place
, Lip Bar
, 54 Thrones
and KubraKay Skincare
What's the coolest photoshoot you've ever worked on?
I would have to say the story I did for Paper Magazine. Our model was absolutely stunning, and I played with different lip colors and iridescent and gold highlights. I would also say a creative story where I stuck real flowers on the model’s eyes but it hasn't been released yet.
What makeup look are you obsessed with right now?
Even though I don't wear a lot of eyeshadows often, I am in love with glitter! Just a hint of it applied with the fingers can upgrade any look. I also love that everyone creates their own trends now.
Name a beauty product you can't live without.
UOMA Beauty Barbados Highlighter from the Black Magic Collection.
Any advice for someone who wants to become a makeup artist?
Oh my! That would be a long conversation as there are so many directions you can go. If you're looking to become a makeup artist, my advice is to experiment. There are so many different lanes. Try bridal makeup, special FX, clean makeup — try it all! This will be your compass as to what direction you should take.
What does makeup mean to you?
I always say that makeup is to be unapologetically you. Like a painter and a canvas, makeup is a form of self expression where you can do what you want, when you want and have it be OK.