A DEEPLY INSPIRATIONAL DISCUSSION WITH OUR ‘BEAUTY CREATIVE OF THE YEAR’ MAKEUP MASTER SIR JOHN ON: VIBRATIONAL ALIGNMENT & SOUND SECRETS TO SUCCESS!
" Sir " [/sur] noun:
Sir is an honorific address used in a number of situations in many cultures. —used as a title of a high ranking man, or a title of respect, before the given name of a knight or baronet. A respectful term used to address a man, derived from the word “sire.” The word “sire” was once used to refer to an authority or a person of general importance. ”
The accuracy in this definition is almost inarguably synonymous with our 2018 Beauty Creative of the Year Mr. Sir John Barnett. It’s as if his namesake was a predestined marker of the life he would eventually grow to lead. He’s literally traveled the world touching the faces of some the most beautiful and talented people of our time. As such he’s quite literally growing into one of the most influential creatives of our generation. But don’t let any ideas pomp or circumstance elude you, underneath his own alluring aesthetic is a driven, hard working, self made, master of his craft who is beyond deserving of his growing accolades. We had what felt like a perfect day with him on set of his 26 Magazine shoot. Our interview session took on a life of it’s own, resulting in our most connected conversation to date. From Sir, with love on life, luxury and leveling up.
Where did your journey begin Sir John?
I grew up in Buffalo, New York upstate, like 10 to 15 minutes away from Niagara Falls, Canada.
Did you go to Niagara Falls a lot as a kid?
All the time. I mean, going to Niagara Falls for us is like going to Brooklyn for somebody who’s from Manhattan, it was always a fun time, they have a good food up there.
Well, you can’t beat good food!
What was life like growing up for you?
I started school for art when I was six years old, my mom got me into art and basically navigated me through it. I went to a performing arts high school & then college for art history. I just followed my passion, one thing sort of led to another thing, beauty happened organically and here I am.
Here you ARE indeed! -We’re sure you’re asked this often, but we’ve gotta ask: is Sir John your real name?
-Yes! On my birth certificate since 1982 it says “Sir John Barnett” [laughs] My grandmother named me. All of my uncles were in the Marines or Navy, so my grandmother wanted to commemorate her brothers. It was a tough childhood, I had it really rough as a kid, not so much from children but from teachers and educators who would say things like, “Well, I’m not going to call you that, you’re not royalty. I’m not going to call you Sir John.” meanwhile I’m like, “well, that’s what my mom named me.....& she’ll be here at school tomorrow to discuss this”.
-So no, this is not a stage name, I didn’t make this up because of the business. Thankfully I like my name, there was never a point where I hated it or wanted to get rid of it. To me it’s like having any other name like Joe or Michael.
Tell us, How did you discover your love for makeup?
-Honestly, It happened almost completely by accident. Originally it wasn’t something I sought out. I was in school for art history in Atlanta when and a friend of mine who was a model, asked me to accompany her to her shoot just to keep her company. So we get there, and the scheduled makeup artist was like an hour late. After while, the photographer says “Hey, listen, do you mind sort of painting her face? I heard that you’re an artist. Hesitantly I replied that I was indeed an artist, but not a makeup artist. Then he says “I’ll give you $250 if you can do this.” So I obliged, I looked at her makeup bag, and I sort of painted her together. Of course looking back at it now it wasn’t what it should have been or could have been, but that was in fact my first makeup job. After the shoot the photographer ended up asking me if I could I come back the following Saturday to do the same thing for the same amount of money. At that point I remembered thinking, “Is this a job? Is this a thing?” -I was 18 years old at this time. Eventually that same photographer told his friends about me at MAC Cosmetics and then I got hired at a MAC Cosmetics store. By the time I was 20 I transferred to MAC in NYC because I’d apparently earned among the highest sales in the Southeast. But by 23, I ended up getting fired from MAC for being late and when that happened I quit makeup all together. I’d completely moved on and had new jobs doing the windows at Bergdorf’s and Barney’s and even became the men’s merchandiser at Gucci for a while. Cut to me meeting an old MAC makeup artist friend for lunch one day and that’s when things really took a turn. During our meet up he says to me, “hey listen man I’m working with this lady named Pat McGrath as her assistant”. The next thing you know I’m at a show and she is asking me if I too am going to Italy in 2 weeks for the Italian shows. I offered up a, “Yeah, I’m going to be there.” Meanwhile I had no passport, no money to get there, but somehow I figured it out and found a way. In Italy I did my first show, which was Dolce & Gabbana, followed by Prada and then like 60 other shows that season! I met Naomi Campbell, she was my first celebrity client, and that’s how everything REALLY got started!
That’s amazing! We talk a lot at 26 about trusting the process; one of our mantras is that ‘all things are working towards my highest good’. By that usually we mean; you might get a left turn one day, you might get a right turn, you might get a red light, a stop sign, whatever, but if you have an intention and if your intention is to let’s say be successful at something that you love to do, the universe will take you there! You just have to get into what we call “the flow”. Organically, everybody’s life has a flow, everybody’s life has a stream, a natural current and if we can calm our- selves, lay back and align ourselves with that stream and get into our flow, it’ll take you to exactly where you need to be!
- Listen, speaking of what you’re talking about, I won’t get too deep [I’m getting chills]. But I live my life by that, it’s called “vibrational alignment” and it’s basically being in alignment with what you want to receive. It could be a cup of coffee, it could be a parking spot, it can be a multi-million dollar contract, it could be a home, it could be a husband or a wife! But basically making sure that you are vi-brating on a higher level. Sometimes it becomes imagination before it becomes real, but It’s like Wi-Fi. You don’t see Wi-Fi, you don’t touch Wi-Fi, but you know it’s there. So it’s about having faith, you know? Literally the reason I’m in front of you today is because I was in alignment with what I wanted in my life.
Yes! You got on the frequency of it! -That’s it, man!
Here at 26 another one of our mantras is that “you turn your thoughts into things”!
The magazine itself was just only once an idea. We wanted to create a space where we celebrated creatives like your- self. Knowing how valuable celebrating talent is & how valuable it is to create jobs for other creatives; that’s how 26 even came about. So it’s true, we do turn our thoughts into things, we have that power, it’s real stuff people. You CAN manifest your dreams. YOU (Sir John) are living proof!
Tell us about your dues, did you have to pay dues in this industry? -Wow, gosh I paid so many dues. You see the thing is you can’t lead until you can effectively follow, so you can’t be a great leader until you know what it’s like to interpret the needs of a leader. So I was the best assistant, when I used to assist Charlotte Tilbury or Pat McGrath, I made sure that I was the best assistant! I made sure that if they needed coffee I’m going to get coffee before they want it. If she’s going to reach for a Q-tip after she’s done applying eye-shadow, I’m already going to have the q-tip in my hand. I’m going to make sure as soon as we get to a venue or a show that she’s being set up. My whole thing was, I needed to create a space where there was always a need for me. I needed to create a destination for myself. I needed to BE a destination. That happens by outshining everyone else who is taking a break or who’s just chilling. Now I might not be the first in the door, but I’ll make sure I’m the hardest-working one there. All the while with a smile on my face, because I want to do it, and not because it’s like, “Ugh, you asked me to do it, so I’m going to walk slowly.” No, I’m going to run, I’m going to have a sense of urgency. I carried out this ethic even on an emotional level; If they were stressed out, I was going to look stressed out too even if I wasn’t. But the idea was if you’re under it, I’m going to be under it with you. The other side of me paying dues in the beginning was also financial. I was working in the fashion industry and I’d be assistant Charlotte on a cover for Vanity Fair with like a Mario Testino or other huge photographer, but I’m only making $50 or $70 as an assistant that day. So even after a long week of work I was only making like $200- $300! Well one day a fellow makeup artist friend of mine at the time said “Hey listen, I’m doing makeup at a strip club in Queens, it’s called Riviera’s would you like to come with me and do some makeup, it’s cash in your pocket every night! Initially I’m thinking, “I don’t know if I should... but then she’s follows up with, “you’ll make $600 a night, tax-free.”
Say no more!
-Right! I’ll be there tonight. I ended up staying at that strip club for two years with the girls. It became one of those things where you’re running from like the highest of the high areas of fashion by day and then off to the strip club at night and all over again the next day. The contrast couldn’t be bigger! But for me I learned so much about character and just people, like, I’m non-judgmental anyway, but that was even more of a school for me to just remember that no matter how far or how high I spent my days up that seemingly prestigious ladder, it got real when I had to go back to the strip club that night! With that contrast, with that experience, I would take the wisdom I was gaining back and talk to the girls about life, like what’s your big picture game plan? When are you leaving? What’s your exit plan, what’s your exit strategy?” This contrasting life went on for years, definitely some dues that I paid.
Photography: CYOER Photo
That’s amazing. Backtracking on one of your earlier points, ‘on set’ etiquette is so important. It’s really big in this industry & so interesting how a lot of aspiring people do not understand that. Nice lesson for any of our industry aspiring creative 26ers out there. Learn how best to get on set, gauge it and apply your on-set etiquette going forward.
- Yes and it goes so much further than just behaving properly, it’s also like being able to adapt. So for me I’m a black guy from Buffalo, New York and I just remember Charlotte Tilbury telling me one day, “I don’t need you to be dressed in all black, I want you to be you. I want you to bring that light you have in.” When everyone else is telling you, “No, you need to marginalize your personality so the talent can shine”. Her encouraging me to be myself was eye opening and from that day, I was myself and I learned that you don’t have to sacrifice who you are to adapt. Additionally, there were many times growing up in this business where I was the only person of color in the room. I would look to my left and to my right, day after day on sets in the US, in London or Paris and you’d see no people of color. Even that can start to chip away at your psyche and make you think, “Hmm, do I need to conform to be more like the European aspect of it all?” –For me, I was like, “No, I’m going to be me. I’m going to be who I am, but I’m just going to be the best me that I can be! Also, pay very close attention; I studied how things were, I studied how Charlotte would talk to the editors, I paid attention to how she talked to all the editors from Vogue, from Conde Nast, from Allure, from InStyle when they interviewed her after the shows about the look she created. I took pieces from those observations and I made them my own. On set etiquette just happens to be as Beyoncé says “pulling yourself up” basically it doesn’t matter if you’re from Brooklyn or Compton, just be aspirational!
When was your big break? Like, the big “this is it” this is going to take me to the next level. -I’m leaving the strip club now!
- Ha! I’m leaving the strip club now. [laughs] So I think ... I’ve had a series of breaks, and so I don’t know necessarily when was the biggest, but I mean, for me it was huge to go on tour with Beyoncé for the first time. Huge! I still remember the first time I even did her makeup, I was so scared and intimidated.
When was this?
This was in 2010 at Tom Ford’s first womenswear show. After that I didn’t get a call back for like eight months but I kept going about my business and kept doing my thing, I knew she had a really great makeup artist already. I can say though that working with someone who is instantly recognizable helps. Eventually I got into an agency -in fact I was signed to the same agency as Pat McGrath, so I went from assisting her to being on the same agency and having the same agents between New York and London. One day I got a phone call from L’Oreal Paris basically saying that they’d been looking for a brand ambassador. Turns out they’d already been asking editors at like Vogue & InStyle about me, completely unbeknownst to me. So that’s why you should always be amazing to everyone, because you never know who’s going to impact your journey. Honestly it doesn’t matter if they’re sweeping the floor, or answering the phones, it’s about character. Character is how you treat people who you don’t think can do anything for you! Eventually I got that phone call from L’Oreal to come in, this was followed by like seven interviews for the position but I ended up finally landing the contract! This was about 3-4 years ago. What starts to happen is that all these accomplishments start to accumulate, even now I have a television show on Lifetime [American Beauty Star] that I’m one of the producers of!
- I always look at how I see the most successful people continue to push the finish line back for themselves. So when you get to that place of like, “Oh, my God, this is amazing, this is what I wanted.” You get there and you’re like, “you know what, let’s accomplish more”! You start to think, I don’t have a home yet, I don’t own my own cosmetics yet. So you keep pushing the finish line back, and hopefully if you have that drive, your inner sense of progression will keep you propelling yourself forward!
Were you intentional about creating or manifesting the life that you have now? We hear your story and there were just moments where key things just aligned into place, where you met this person, you met that person, and things just happened. But even before this, were you back in Buffalo NY thinking, I want to manifest a very specific type of life. Was there intent behind all of this that we see today?
- I was and am still very strategic about everything! I’m a dreamer, so I dreamt of everything before I had it. I’m still dreaming, the things I have now; I was dreaming about last year! If I was a superhero, I would possess the power of manifestation. This is basically being able to hold on to a thought, KNOWING that it’s coming, and then it appears in front of you! If you really adopt this as a habit [and you can try by starting with one small thing] I’m telling you guys it’s like the coolest exercise.
It’s our magic!
-It is magic and it becomes an expected way of life. But [spoiler alert] don’t just sit on your ass and expect it, you do have to go out and work towards it. Back in the day I wanted to be a women’s wear designer [which of course came with a certain lifestyle] Obviously I ended up getting into this business in a completely different way via beauty, but the same/similar lifestyle that I wanted for myself did in fact manifest. And of course I don’t have ALL of what I want for myself just yet, but [for all I DO have] I feel blessed.
You’re on the way, and that’s exciting because you know that there’s much more life to live!
-There’s possibility and there’s hope in possibility, there’s hope in knowing that, hey listen, I still have the possibility to manifest more dreams before I leave this planet.
Have you had a “mama, I made it moment”?
-So my mom is like the Prince song, ‘she’s never satisfied’ [laughs]. She’s like, “Oh, that’s great son, but what’s next?” [lol] and though that has motivated me, I’ve recognized that I should pause to take it all in, pat myself on the back. I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my life because I’ve been always so hard on myself, pushing and pushing that I’ve never been present. I live by the motto ‘yesterday’s win is yesterday’s win’, but when you get into that habit you can start to not be as presently thankful.
And you miss the moments.
-And you can miss the moments! This year I just signed a three-year partnership with a brand called Woolworth's in South Africa, in Jo- hannesburg and Cape Town, so I’m developing cosmetics for them. I’m also renegotiating my contract with L’Oreal. I’m embarking on things I’ve never even fathomed. So I think right now I’m just in a space of “God, thank you.”
Congratulations!! That’s a big thing when you’re manifesting and when you’re living life; being present in the moment and celebrating all of the little things. It’s so important to pause and take it in! Being grateful truly opens up the space for more manifestations to rush in!
-That is so true.
What’s one of your most luxurious pastimes?
-I am a beach bum, I love water, I love the ocean, I love being pool side. So when I get 2 or 3 days off, I’ll drive over to Palm Springs and just rent a room and stay poolside for like 72 hours. So for me that’s like the most luxurious thing I can do with myself, just be near water. That and well, I do enjoy an herbal refreshment every once in a while. [smiles] Oh and also; home interiors are very important to me! I’m a huge interior design person. Like I designed the sofa for my home. I like little renovation projects, I like the idea of meeting a thing one way and turning it into something completely different after I’ve paid some attention to it!
From all of the tours and the engagements overseas, has any one place turned into your absolute favorite place to go?
-South Africa has been a huge favorite. I’ve been working with a company there and I’m so attracted to the incredible people there on such a personal, spiritual level. So Cape Town, Johannesburg, I also love Rio, -oh and Amsterdam, I would live in Amsterdam, I love it, I think it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. So for me those four cities are like my home.
Do you have any advice for any creatives that would like to eventually turn their artistry into a full-time life?
-Yes, a couple of things: one is don’t take no for an answer, don’t believe it, If someone gives you a no, just take it as, “Okay, that just means I can’t do it with YOU. Even when people tell you something can’t be done, it just means it can’t be done with THEM, but if you want it, you can absolutely do it! That and also; unfollow people who don’t make you feel good about yourself! There’s an increasing sense of anxiety and depression with millennials and younger people because they are so attached and associated with social media, but social media is not always real life. You’re looking at something that’s fiction. If you are following only Victoria Secret models who are getting off of VS Jets and going into their boyfriend’s Bentleys and they only have 2% body fat, who would feel good about themselves by ONLY following “perfection”? So yes, unfollow people who don’t make you feel good about where you are in your journey right now.
-Heck if that means unfollowing me for a second, only for a second [smiles] -unfollow me too. But yes, only follow people who make you feel good about yourself. Don’t waste time feeling bad thinking you have to mirror anyone else’s life. Like, no one needs to keep up with anybody else. There’s no such thing as competition, if you’re being authentic to yourself and set goals of only leveling up on yourself, you’ll have no competition! For example, If you’re a baker and you’re not wasting time looking at what your next-door neighbor’s is baking but spending that time figuring out how to make YOUR secret sauce better you’ll be wildly successful and competition will be something that you don’t focus on & it’ll be non existent for you. Like myself, there are so many people who do great makeup in this business, but I’m not in the business of just makeup, I’m in the business of people. So how I make people feel is why they’d call me back. Your personal brand, is how people feel about what you when you’re not around. When you make people feel great, they’ll fight for you, they’ll pay your rates, they’ll fly you business or whatever because you’re a destination! So if I’m the last person someone sees before she sings in front of 90,000 people at Stade de France or Wembley Stadium or if I’m the last person a model like Karlie or Joan or Naomi sees before they hit the runway or takes a photograph for a major magazine or campaign, MY energy impacts that space and it means something! It contributes.
Indeed it does Sir John and what you’ve created for yourself is a true testament to not just your awe inspiring work and talent, but to all of the magic that you leave behind, imprint- ed on all of the incredible moments in time that you’ve poured yourself into. Because of a combination of all of it, the beliefs, the actions etc., you’ve manifested a life of creativity, of luxury and of beauty and we couldn’t be more proud of you. Shine on global beauty star, shine on!!!