At this point, the allure of Queen B is boundless. From her musical oeuvre to that Sasha Fierce sass, British Vogue’s July cover star has the whole world falling hook, line and sinker for all things Bey. But behind every icon is a team to help her look and feel her best. One longtime member of her glam team is Sir John, a make-up star in his own right, who has worked with the singer for more than a decade after being introduced to her by Charlotte Tilbury (then his boss), backstage at Tom Ford’s first womenswear show.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #87 series on my blog.
“I’m blessed to be able to work around really strong women – Beyoncé being one of them,” he tells Vogue over video call. “She beams from within, almost like the sun, and you can’t help but just be heated – and raised – up. My inspiration literally comes from whenever we see each other, I’ve known her for such a long time. It’s really cool to see how she continues as an artist to grow and push herself. It pushes [me] to ask new questions, investigate and be curious, and I think the more curious we are as creatives, the more we have to add to the world.”
Calm and gracious, you can see why B would choose Sir John as her go-to make-up artist – after all, actually creating a beauty look is only half of his task, the other half is (even if subliminally) helping her get into the zone. He is a big proponent of “dopamine glam” – the act of putting on make-up to boost your mood.
On the July cover shoot, he worked with his great friend, the hairstylist Jawara, on creating Beyoncé’s glam. “I remember going in and seeing all of these beautiful hair references, but when it came to make-up, there weren’t any,” he explains. “So I started out with fresh skin to make sure she looked effortless, and then I knew if I got approval [from Edward Enninful and the team] I could keep pushing the look.” As you can see, that’s exactly what he did, from the punchy vinyl lips to molten gold “halo” eyes – not to mention skin to die for.
“I’m confident that she loved how she looked that day,” he says. “Oftentimes, she’ll be like ‘Hey, listen, can we take this down [a notch]?’ She’s very vocal and doesn’t bite her tongue!” he laughs. “I wanted her to feel like she really did wake up like this in terms of ease and manoeuvrability. There are no lashes, minimal mascara, but I just wanted her to feel elevated. One thing I will say is that when you see someone who’s killing it on the red carpet or on a cover, there’s harmony in that dressing room.”
Below, Sir John shares the tips, tricks and techniques he employed on the day.
Structure not contour
“I love creating a lot of architectural structure on the face – I don’t like contouring so much, but sculpting instead. On Beyoncé [in British Vogue], you’ll notice that there’s sculpting to the eyes, temples and there’s a really beautiful halo effect on her eyelids. I predominantly used cream formulas and manipulated them in a way that made her look really pulled together. It’s all about giving yourself the shadows that your face naturally has, and magnifying them, to create a supernatural glam.”
The halo eye
“On her eyelids, I created a halo effect. The halo eye is lighter [in colour] in the centre of the eye, and deeper on either side. It creates a very 1930s or ’40s – think Marlene Dietrich or Jean Harlow – effect and vertically elongates the eyes. I wanted to open up this area as much as possible. It’s all about juxtaposition – take a little fluffy brush and sculpt the interior of the eye in the inner and outer corners. The halo eye creates a soft glow effect on the face, but doesn’t look literal or intentional, just like she fell into good light.”
How to get make-up to last
“People always ask how I get her make-up to last for hours when she’s on stage at Coachella, or whatever, and it’s really about duality. It’s using a cream or liquid foundation and then slightly buffing a powder into it. If I use a cream blush, I’ll buff a powder into that too. When it comes to sculpting eye products, it’s about setting them with a shadow. All of these are dual moments. Even with brow pencil – it’s waxy so by the time you get to lunch, brows will look shiny. Set them with a little brown powder or eyeshadow. The duality will make your face make-up last forever, even if it’s a super fresh, no make-up make-up look.”
The top make-up rule for mature skin
“As we get more mature, the areas we add shine or highlight our face have to be more strategic. When you’re a baby you can put highlighter everywhere, but as we become more mature, make sure that you only find shine at the side of the face, the areas that span outwards from your pupils. From pupils inwards – so in the centre of the face – you should have not have anything sculpting or shimmery. That’s key because if you look at the photos of Beyoncé, you’ll notice she’s glowy everywhere but when you look at her directly onwards, the little heart in the middle of her face is always matte.”
Contrast it up
“I love contrast and texture. Contrast creates something that is really compelling to look at – it’s visually arresting. That’s why when we see diamonds on matte velvet, or matte skin and shiny lips, it’s attractive. When it came to creating the different lip looks for the cover shoot, I wanted to give her lips something to sit on, like a pedestal. What you don’t want is for skin to be oily or balmy and then go in with super glossy lips, so I made sure there was some kind of strategy with how I applied her make-up.”
“On her lips, we started out with red, and did some natural, balmy looks – and then I just kept pushing it. I started really simple and kept sculpting, drawing out and blowing the look up. One of my favourite lips from the shoot was almost like a cognac colour – soft brown, very ’90s in a sense but glossy. I applied the lipstick, then I mixed it with a clear gloss to create a lacquer, and then applied a clear gloss on top of that. Those three layers created a vinyl, patent leather situation.”