Beauty Secrets from The Red Carpet: Q&A with Sir John

If there is one person who knows about red carpet glam it’s American Beauty Star’s mentor, Sir John. From Olivia Culpo’s stunning lavender eye at the 2017 Oscars to Beyoncé’s iconic glow at the 2018 Grammys, this man’s hands have become revered among the stars. I recently sat down with Sir John to discuss his favorite beauty hacks and techniques to get his clients ready for their close-ups.

How do you prep your clients for the red carpet?

In terms of prep work, when going to an event, it’s not so much about the day of as it is a complete holistic approach to their diet in general.  

At least a couple days before the event, I tell all of my clients to stay away from salt. If you’re doing margaritas – no salt. The sodium makes your face puffy, your under eyes will retain water and your face won’t be as tight. Even Gatorade has a really high level of sodium so stay away from things like that.

Also try and get into an alkaline diet. Alkaline water or lemon in your water are great ways to make sure that your skin is in good condition, plus it balances out your PH levels.

Another thing that I recommend is kale juice. Kale juice has 650% of your daily value of Vitamin K which helps to increase circulation, which helps rid under eyes of dark circles. If you look in the mirror and see dark circles, really it’s just sluggish circulation. So things like kale juice and even broccoli are great for eliminating a lackluster complexion and increasing blood flow. It’s also great for guys who shave because it repairs the skin around the beard area rapidly as well.

When you increase blood flow you increase collagen, which helps you look radiant. Also, anything with beta-keratin, (i.e. carrot juice, sweet potatoes, squash and pumpkin) are a great choice because they rapidly increase your cell turnover. Think of it as an internal exfoliator making your skin beautiful from the inside out.

What are your top beauty hacks for any red carpet event?

Whenever I’m doing a client’s makeup I like to first give them a bit of a moisturizing face massage to increase their blood flow and then I start on foundation.

Sir John’s Beauty Hack: I have this philosophy about foundation – When your skin is slightly damp from your moisturizer, it’s time to apply your foundation. The product dries very organically this way and looks like a second skin.

I love beauty blenders. I dampen the sponge, stipple on the foundation so it goes on very organically and soft. Then I manipulate it with my fingers to make sure it blends in seamlessly.

Also for a big day, I like to take an Elmer’s glue stick and put a tiny bit on a tooth brush and brush the brows into place. It keeps your brows in place all day, does not clog your pores and washes off very easily with soap. I do this because it makes their brows fuller. Then I put a powder or a pencil on top of that so it looks like they have more hairs there than they naturally do. Think of the glue stick as your brow primer.

It’s really important to apply concealer with your ring finger (great for eye creams too). Your ring finger is the weakest finger you have and it’s going to pick up the least amount of product. Also, using your fingers changes the texture of the product making it look more organic – like you woke up like that.

How do you choose what look your client will rock the night of the event?

Makeup artists are usually the last to know what the client is wearing and what their hair will look like for the night. Some of these women are in gown fittings for weeks and pieces have to be shipped in from Paris. Sometimes hair stylists have to order extensions or hair pieces to finish the final look. It all takes so much more time. Often I show up the day of the red carpet and just go to work.

However, opposite things happen in the editorial world. If I’m doing an editorial piece,  I will see a storyboard for the campaign weeks or days in advance. For red carpet, I only have a couple of hours to get the look together.

How do your clients tell you what kind of look they want? Do they show you photos or do they just let their glam team decide?

Depending on what the project is the client may already have a vision in mind, but sometimes they don’t and I get to be creative. There’s never a situation where a member of the beauty team doesn’t get to voice their opinion. Everyone wants to contribute to the outcome.

How do you ensure that a beauty team decides on one cohesive look?

I think the most successful makeup artists are there to create a sense of harmony and balance between the whole look. It’s so collaborative. There are so many amazing makeup artists and hair stylists, but if you lose that sense of  “She’s first and we want to make sure that she’s magnified” you won’t get the call back. Or you’ll see on the red carpet that there was a tug-of-war between the beauty team.

You’re saying you can tell when a beauty team didn’t have harmony when a celebrity hits the red carpet?

Absolutely! When someone is over-styled you can tell that somebody didn’t want to back down. We’re basically in a band. Sometimes I’m lead, sometimes I’m tambourine and sometimes I’m the back-up singer.

Do any of your clients make you nervous?

No, you know who makes me nervous? Non-celebrities.

For example, I  teach beauty classes. This month, I’m going to Amsterdam to teach a class of 300 women on March 18th and in June I’m going to Paris to do something similar. It’s one of those things where I’m surrounded by all of these women who so desperately want me to emulate something I’ve already done or live up to the hype that I already have.

I don’t feel pressure when I’m in front of Beyoncé, Serena Williams, Karlie Kloss or Margot Robbie. They already know who I am and what the extent of my brand is. It’s not like I come in and they have no idea what I’m capable of.

Was there ever a point where you were nervous in front of celebrities?

I was nervous when I first met B. My hands were sweating profusely. I also used to get nervous with Naomi Campbell a lot. You know, these women are used to working with the best of the best hair and makeup artists every single day. So every day is the Olympics of hair and makeup for them.

But when I work with real women who are not used to that, they get emotional after they see my work. In this industry, when you don’t get a “thank you” that’s how you know you did a good job.

Social media is huge when it comes to how impactful a look really was. For instance, the Grammys were not too long ago and when that photo dropped on Instagram and that Glossier collab hit, it was everywhere from the Daily Mail in London to E! Online. So that’s where I look the next day for my love.

Who is somebody you haven’t worked with but you would love to?

Jennifer Lopez is beautiful and I would love to work with her someday, but a lot of the women I would love to work with aren’t alive anymore. Women like Elizabeth Taylor and Josephine Baker are beauty icons to me.

What advice would you give to a makeup artist who’s working with a celebrity for the first time?

The first thing I can tell any makeup artist is all you have to concentrate on is giving your client beautiful skin. If you can give them beautiful skin they will trust you to take them anywhere. They’ll trust you to do a smokey eye later.

They’ll trust you when you have a trend you saw on the runway that you want to emulate next time. But don’t start off with, “Oh, I’m going to give this person a big beautiful smokey eye and a red lip my first time meeting them”. It never goes that way and the comfort level is at a minimum when it comes to what you can do at that point. So if you want her to emotionally put her hand down and trust you, give her glowing luminous skin.

I don’t think people realize how important skin is. It tells people where you are in life, how much time you have to vacation, how much you’re drinking, if you’re going to the gym and even if you’ve had great sex recently.

So you don’t want to go overboard just because you have the chance to?

No, no, no. Pull back. It’s harder to give someone a great ‘no makeup-makeup’ look or an effortless glam than it is to do an excessive makeup application like they just left a department store counter. It takes a level of skill to know when to stop and pull back.

That seems super humbling. Especially when you know you can do so much. Right?

The question is does she need it? You don’t always have to use all of the tricks in your bag just because they’re there. Use them when it’s necessary. She may just want to look younger or go to dinner with her husband after an event and not seem inundated with a look that screams “I just left this huge event”. There’s so many times when it has nothing to do with you. That’s why you have to check your ego at the door and thats what makes great artists great artists.


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