He's part of Beyoncé's entourage and is one of the most sought-after editorial and celebrity makeup artists. He trained with Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath. He's an ambassador for L'Oréal Paris, and in 2016, was crowned InStyle's Makeup Artist of the Year.
You'd think all that success would go to Sir John's head, but I've gotta say—he is one of the most down-to-earth and genuine people I've EVER had the pleasure of interviewing.
Let's get one thing out of the way first. The name on his birth certificate really IS Sir John (last name Barnett). ("I've had to explain my name every single day for the last 33 years," he told Fashionista in 2015.) As one of the few artists who straddle both the fashion and celebrity worlds, he lives up to that title, and more.
Thanks to L'Oréal Paris, I got to sit down with New York-based Sir John when he was in Toronto last month—and found out how he got started, his favourite makeup tricks, and what it's like to work with so many famous faces. I hope you love him as much as I do!
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I love glamour. But I like a minimalist approach to glamour. With some people, it's very Jersey, Long Island—like excess, excess, excess—whereas it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
I feel like glamour is any kind of aspirational quality in a look. Someone should want to wear what you have on. Just like they want to wear your dress or your haircut, they should want your eyeshadow or your lipstick.
I love symmetry, I love contrasting visuals. Anything that is visually arresting and not too busy on the eyes.
What type of makeup do you think you're known for?
I think I'm known for skin, so they say. A lot of makeup artists, they're not necessarily well-versed in [working with] different complexions. But when you're a makeup artist or a hairstylist in 2017, you're like a doctor. When someone goes to a hospital, they don't necessarily say, "Oh, I don't know if I can work on that kind of body type" or whatever. No, they just go to work.
In this multi-culti world we live in, you should really know how to deal with every hair texture, every complexion, and not even think about it. Everything else is the icing on the cake. If I can give someone a beautiful complexion, everything else is going to look so much better. The lip will be more impactful, her eyes will be easier to do. Skin is the basis for everything.
So that would be my look, I think. That or using one colour to give a sense of impact. For example, that Met Ball purple lip back when no one was wearing purple. It's that one statement—having that one thing that adds an exclamation point to your look.
I think many women can relate to that, because when we look at social media and we look at makeup trends, there's a lot going on. But if you can take just one thing—your eye or lip, or even your skin—you can make it the focus.
Also, I want whoever I'm working with to turn heads a bit. It's not popular to say this nowadays, but that doesn't always come from doing more. That doesn't always come from the extra contouring and lashes. It can actually come from pulling back. In a sea of everyone who is wearing short, tight dresses, it's actually refreshing to see a woman who has a dress that's long. Or when everyone's wearing big hair, wear a top knot. It's that contrast.
Who are some of your most famous clients?
Well, we have Beyoncé, but we also have Joan [Smalls], we have Karlie [Kloss], we have Chrissy Teigen, Viola Davis, Serena Williams, Liya Kebede...
Do you prefer doing editorial or red carpet?
I prefer editorial. I like to be on set. I like being under good light. I'm not a fan of music videos at all—I don't like the hours. It's too much time commitment for me. I've been on video sets for 17, 18, 22 hours. At that point, you're just like, riding on fumes.
Is it more fun working on celebr