Maverick Life

Maverick Life

In South Africa, Beyonce’s makeup artist is launching an exclusive line of vegan makeup

Sir John, the man whose list of clients stretches like a Hollywood A-Listers’ Rolodex, fell in love with South Africa’s warm welcome and vim during one of his visits to the country, and now he is launching an exclusive line of vegan makeup in collaboration with W Beauty.

In the last few years, the global beauty industry has exploded with more beauty brands popping up, selling a wide range of products through brick-and-mortar retail stores, e-commerce or direct-to-consumers business models driven by social media influence, à la Glossier, Violette Serrat or Kylie Cosmetics by Kylie Jenner. According to a Zion Market Research 2018 report, “the global cosmetic products market was valued at around USD 532-billion in 2017 and is expected to reach approximately USD 863-billion in 2024”.

This equals to a growth of approximately 7% between 2018 and 2024; the African beauty and personal care market was estimated at $10.3-billion in 2017 and currently increasing between 8% and 10% per year. Adding yet another makeup brand on a market that clearly doesn’t lack choices may seem as a bold and risky move for some, but it is also an enticing opportunity at a time where beauty is fast becoming a powerful mode of self-expression. And Sir John is topping the list of creatives influencing women – and men – to do so.

He credits his childhood surrounded by women and working with famous muses like Beyonce, Naomi Campbell or Kim Kardashian West for fuelling his inspiration. “I have to go no further than the women I work with: (they) are so strong and impactful and they inspire me; when I go into a room and I see Serena Williams or Priyanka Chopra… Priyanka reminds me of Raquel Welsh, she is also old school like Vivien Leigh, and Sophia Loren kind of sexy. And Beyonce has gone miles in terms of her appeal but she’s just a girl. And now she’s a mum, (and) when you’re in the room with her, she’s just like you and me, and us, but when she walks out, she’s the sun. You can’t help but be lit up when you’re in front of these women”, he says.

Sir John Barnett’s bio reads like a map towards celebrity fandom: he lives in West Hollywood, Los Angeles, worked with industry veterans Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury, built partnerships with beauty giants L’Oréal Paris, MAC, Yves Saint Laurent, Estée Lauder and the digital cosmetic company and cult brand Glossier and now, Woolworths.

When asked about working with McGrath, he gently shifts the conversation to his time working with Tillbury, which he evokes with enthusiasm: “She was like ‘Just do your job’. I love how she is a storyteller who creates canvas. As she is doing the makeup she is creating a story in her head as well. What makes a great makeup artist, what made these women larger than life, is that they know references. You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. And sometimes it can get lost with a generation of Millennials and a generation of Gen Z’s. In order to create something new and organic, you should also have an eye on the past. And I learnt that from these ladies.”

Sir John is also the Co-Executive Producer of the TV show, American Beauty Star, which was launched in 2017 and is now in its second season; he has hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, a platform which thrives on fashion and beauty content. And in addition to being a talented makeup and colour artist, he has interests in interiors and décor and, unexpectedly, weed: “In Los Angeles, weed is legal for medicinal purposes; I am a black man and so many black men are still in jail now, to this day, for minor offences and I feel like they should be out now. Why are they still locked up? So, I feel like it’s part of my duty to my community to open a marijuana medical dispensary in Los Angeles.” But that will come later.

For now, he is giving interviews at the Everard Read Gallery in Johannesburg and presenting his new collection in a 10-minute energetic speech that hews the benefits of the Sir John x W Beauty line.

The products – 10 pieces including an eye shadow palette, four brushes, a bronze stick, liquid lipsticks and assorted iridescent nail polishes – are cruelty-free and 100% vegan, using only oils and extracts from natural botanical sources. “This means they’re free from animal-derived ingredients commonly used in beauty products like lanolin, carmine, collagen, royal jelly, beeswax, milk, silk powder and hyaluronic acid. As many of the ingredients as possible are locally sourced through ethical processes and conditions and Woolworths aims to give back and empower the communities they source from as much as possible too”, reads the press communiqué.

The main difference between traditional cosmetics and vegan makeup is that the latter is strictly manufactured without any animal products and not tested on animals. Although a Grand View Research stated that “The global vegan cosmetics market size was estimated at USD 12.9-billion in 2017 (and) surging demand for personal care products, coupled with rising awareness regarding cruelty free beauty, is expected to be one of the key trends escalating market growth”, Sir John says that the move to go vegan was simply about common sense. “Woolworths educated me on what it meant to lower your carbon footprint. We asked each other: when this eyeshadow goes into the ocean, will it dissipate, will it disappear? We had to make a difference. If you look at the products that we used, they are not only adjustable, but they are good for the environment.”

The products created are “convertible” – which means you can use them for more than one area of the face.

The palette of eyeshadows reveals contrasted shades: natural tones followed by sparkling colours, in petrol blue, green and gold. “There’s a duality happening here. There’s natural, supernatural tones and then there’s the rock star element. A woman who loves a mundane approach to makeup, who works in a more conservative environment or an office, she’s somewhere in here (he points out at the natural tones), and someone who’s a rock star, she’s here (he shows the iridescent side).”

The liquid lipstick is great on the lips but applied on the hands and then tapped on the cheeks with the tips of the fingers and it transforms into a soft cream blush.

The concept of transformation – that cuts the need for too many products – echoes Sir John’s wish to create a line that is inclusive and will last. “We’re in the golden age of diversity; when I say ‘inclusion’ it doesn’t specifically mean race, it also means body shapes, it means someone who doesn’t have the perfect skin or whose hair is not the European ideal of beauty. My highlighter works perfectly on darker skin, and on (fair skin), I would use it on the cheeks to give a bronzy glow. One woman’s highlight is another woman’s gold bronze stick,” he explains.

The Sir John x W Beauty collection is a story, to which Volume 1 is only the starting point. The collection will be sold exclusively in South Africa in April 2019. ML

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