All the Details on Beyoncé's Fierce Nefertiti-Inspired VMAs Makeup, Straight from Sir John
The reviews are in and the critics are unanimous: Beyoncé, winner of video of the year for “Formation,” also stole the MTV Video Music Awards show with her medley of songs from her album Lemonade. Did she make it look easy? Hardly, but from her red-carpet appearance in feathery Francesco Scognamiglio to her onstage wizardry, you could say she looked flawless.
Thanks go in part to her makeup artist, Sir John Barnett, who created stunning lips and shimmery blush styles for Beyoncé and an enormous cast of dancers and models. So we asked him to share with us an exclusive behind-the-scenes diary of his experience at the VMAs, along with tips on how you can recreate some of the looks at home. Read on to learn about the biggest looks of this night.
Sir John Barnett: This was actually my first time going to Madison Square Garden, even though I’m a New Yorker for 15 years. I walked in through Penn Station and thought, Oh my god, this is where all the magic happens. There were 96 dancers and models in total, and a team of 25 makeup artists just for us. Rihanna’s team was there as well, and you see all of her models, and there’s Britney Spears. It’s like fashion week in a sense where you see all these hair and makeup artists whom you haven’t seen in such a long time. It’s like the Olympics of beauty!
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The day before, on Saturday, there was a full dress rehearsal. We got all the nuts and bolts worked out. It was very stressful and, at some point, I wanted to go into a corner and fade out. But honestly, in these times I get really calm. I’m used to it, and I feed off the craziness. I get really chill in those environments. The best place to be is there for your talent.
This is the demo look I did initially, with dark matte lips. Bey wanted black, but I knew that wouldn’t read well on stage. So we opted for smoky purple because black appears to drain the complexion. While goth is having a resurgence in a sense, one thing to be concerned with when you’re picking lipsticks at home is to ask yourself, Are they draining your complexion? You want to use a red over top of a black, something to diffuse how much light is being taken away from your face.
I’m a huge fan of brilliance and a huge fan of reflection, or strobing as people on Instagram like to say, so I wanted to make sure the sides of their faces were reflective, even with Bey, to make sure her face emanated light. The average consumer can take away the fact that we should all know our light. In this selfie-obsessed world, we should all know where our light source is—I don’t care if it’s 2 in the morning and your friends want to take a photo—you should know where your light is coming from, whether it’s a streetlight or a candle at the dinner table.
The front of your face should stay matte so there is no luminous property in front of the face because that’s when you start to look oily or greasy. Your shimmery blushes should stay to the sides and the apples of your cheeks, your chin, your nose, and your forehead should all stay matte.
We used liner to give a feline sensibility to the eyes. Nefertiti and Cleopatra were huge influences in this show. I wanted to give not a literal reference, but a nod to the omnipresent winged eye that we have seen from Cleopatra to Sophia Loren and Bridget Bardot, to Madonna in the 80s, to Bey now and even Adele. The timeline of the cat-eye is cool if you look at it from a historical standpoint.
We used gold metallic on the girls’ eyes. I didn’t want to use eyelashes or anything like that, so the punctuation came in the form of using metals. Silver, chrome, rust, or gold were popular for summer, but you can totally cascade into fall by mixing them with a black or brown eyeliner that anchors a bit more.
The gold parted hair is something I saw on Instagram. Inspiration doesn’t necessarily come from fashion or celebrity today, but we’re all looking at what girls in Kansas are doing or how a girl in Korea is remixing a liquid matte lip to do something completely new. This was an Insta-trend, we used this in the “Pray You Catch Me” in the beginning.
You see body paint everywhere. It took hours to do, with a team of 25 artists. Some of them were my trainers when I was 19 years old, working at MAC Cosmetics. We used stencils, taped everything off. This is not every day at all. But it evokes the cultural reference, which lends to the greater idea of Lemonade.
The Nefertiti girls happen to be one my favorites. Those crowns are what [hair stylists] Kim Kimble decided to do for Lemonade, in the “Hold Up” video, where I painted Beyoncé all liquid gold. These are serious headpieces that remind me of Iman à la Michael Jackson’s video for “Remember the Time.”
I gave these girls a huge black liner, a graphic, graphic eye, and then I used gloss to make it look almost like patent leather. She has glitter pressed into the smoky purple lips so when they dry, the glitter is locked in for hours. It doesn’t move all day.
This is the Midas touch. A lot of these girls have gold hands. This is not something that is completely wearable for every day, but it’s fun. You could do this on the eyelids with a little bit of eyeliner for a little bit of a disco look in the day time.
This is a scene of all the girls running out, so happy, on their way up to the stage. They were just pumped and happy to get out of the room that they had been in all day. We started at 9:30 a.m. so it was a 12-hour day before they even went on stage.
There was an emotional moment when Beyoncé goes on and the tense level was at a maximum. No one was talking. I’m watching on the monitors at every blink of lash, every bead of sweat. Your attention to detail has to be on steroids. After it was over, there was a sigh of relief and everyone was hugging, then she accepted a few awards, actually eight of them. That was my first VMAs. I left there, and I had about five margaritas.