Career Diaries: How Molly R. Stern Became One of the Top Makeup Artists in Hollywood

November 24, 2021
Mary Honkus
By: Mary Honkus | by L'Oréal
Molly R. Stern Interview

Red carpets are one of our top places to look for beauty inspiration, but have you ever wondered who is actually behind some of your favorite celebrities' flawless makeup looks? It’s very possible that it’s Molly R. Stern. For Stern, being a celebrity makeup artist is about forming connections with her clients and making them feel their most beautiful. We recently sat down with her to take a deep dive into her passion for makeup artistry and to learn how her career has evolved during the COVID-19 pandemic. Below, she shares her raw, personal experiences working in the industry and some of her favorite makeup products she can’t live without. 

Why did you decide to pursue makeup artistry?

I fell into it at a very young age. I was 16 when I got my first job as a makeup artist. I'm turning 50 in April, so it's been a long, long dedicated haul for me. I always loved beauty and fashion — I had like a zillion tear sheets from magazines all over my walls as a kid. I loved glamor and all of that. So I walked by a Shu Uemura beauty boutique that used to be in the Century City shopping mall in Los Angeles where I grew up, and was enamored with the gorgeous, clean, crisp, acrylic boxes. It was like a candy store, but for makeup lovers. 

They hired and trained me and from there I kind of fell into the [entertainment] industry side of things. I like to compare myself to growing up in a coal miners town — like most kids that grew up in coal-mining towns end up working in the coal mine. It just feels like working in the [entertainment] industry felt pretty easy and natural for me because I was always around it. 

How did you start working in the film industry?

I was really lucky that I had incredible mentors. I first met Jillian Dempsey when she was Jillian Fink working at that same boutique as me. She took me under her wing when I was a teenager. I also met Jeanine Lobell back in the nineties who was another mama bird figure. She was doing amazing, beautiful work ranging from music videos to photo shoots. So I was able to understudy with those two ladies and, you know, just persevere. I kept showing up, kept doing the free jobs, and kept making myself available in any way possible to learn the ropes. 

What is the most difficult part of working with clients in entertainment?

I don't know if it's the hardest part, but the most important part is being able to read the client and being able to check whatever's going on for me personally at the door so that I can show up and really be there for the client — whether they're transforming into their red carpet version of themselves or they're transforming into a character. I think it's really important to hold space in the room for them to go through whatever they need to go through to get into that character that they're about to step into. 

My favorite part of what I do is connecting with these women and encouraging them to do what they do is definitely the highlight. But don't get me wrong, there are many days where it's very hard work — in the sense that it's like long hours and my makeup bag is so heavy. I must downsize. So it does take a physical toll, but I am passionate about connecting with my ladies for sure. And I love makeup as a tool to make you feel good. You know, life is hard. Anything we can do to feel better, I'm all in for it.

How has your work changed since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic?

I was really sad and freaked out during my first couple jobs back because we were behind masks and at that time behind shields as well. We had to stand distant from everybody — they didn't have the testing and the sort of bubble concept figured out just yet. All that was really scary and lonely. A huge part of this job is connecting to the people that we're with. We wanted to talk to each other but we couldn't even whisper to somebody. We worked behind this veil of fear, so that was really hard and the masks make it really challenging. It really infringes on the social connection and camaraderie of a crew. 

That said, I can only speak for myself, but I can’t imagine not wearing a mask when I'm working on someone. I mean, I'm in such a vulnerable spot, you know, because they can't wear their mask. So it really does fall on me to protect myself and protect them. If the long term effects of me wearing a mask in that situation keeps me healthier across the board I'm all for that. 

Personally, what are your favorite looks to create on your clients?

I love beautiful skin, so I think finding the perfect foundation is key. It doesn't need to be heavy, but just something that can even out the playing field — you know, sort of gesso the canvas. I like to make that paint comparison. So of course I love the Giorgio Armani Beauty Luminous Silk Foundation, and I also am equally as obsessed with the brand’s Neo Nude True-to-Skin Foundation, which is a little bit sheerer. 

I love a healthy cheek, so I like putting in a more bronzy, healthy sun base and then popping it with a brighter color on the cheek. My go-tos are the Jillian Dempsey Cheek Tint and the Tower 28 BeachPlease Luminous Tinted Balm. I love a mid-range toned, smoky eye and maybe throwing a little copper in there for good measure. I love doing a lip on my clients. The Giorgio Armani Beauty Lip Power is incredible because it wears like a longwear lipstick, but makes your lips just feel good — it doesn't dry out at all. I lean more towards less than more, but just enough to make the clients feel beautiful.

Giorgio Armani Beauty Lip Power

As the world returns to more normalcy, what makeup trends do you see emerging for 2022?

People are feeling makeup right now. I think of it as an energetic opposition to the masks and being at home not having to show up anywhere — people are ready to show up. People are ready to go for it and you can see it on the runways with color being used. There's so much exciting fluorescent and pops of color being used in a broader way. I see a lot of lipstick coming back and people wanting to feel bold and empowered by choosing a bright color. It's all really bold and unafraid. 

Even if you're a more modest makeup wearer and the idea of wearing a chartreuse eyeshadow is like never gonna happen for you, it still might inspire you to throw on a little chartreuse liquid liner — just a kick of it — or, even a little tiny something. I love when the fashion-makeup world encourages us to step outside of our comfort zone and play around a little bit more. 

If you could go back and give your younger self any bit of beauty advice, what would it be?

To be bolder, play more and don't be afraid. Just go for it. 

Photo: Courtesy of Molly R. Stern

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