Sir John
Credit: Courtesy Sir John

“All I knew is it would be the most important smoky eye I’d do,” says Sir John of his first makeup trial with Beyoncé in 2010.

Now one of the world’s most sought-after makeup artists, Sir John has been by Beyoncé’s side ever since for nearly every album, tour, and major red-carpet event (he also works with clients like Priyanka Chopra and Karlie Kloss in between). “Bey’s like my sister,” he says. “I’m the last person she sees before performing in a stadium filled with 80,000 people, and she feels comfortable knowing I’m obsessing over every little detail.”

Credit: Coutesy Sir John

Landing Beyoncé as a client has been the high point of a stellar career that started out more or less as a side job. In 2001, Sir John was in college in Atlanta, studying art history. “I was working with charcoal and watercolors long before I had any knowledge of what mascara was,” says the Buffalo, N.Y., native, who left school in his sophomore year because he couldn’t afford tuition. Soon after, he was living in N.Y.C., working at MAC to make ends meet.

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“The counter allowed me to become every girl’s man,” he says. “I learned about women from Harlem to Hong Kong, about their varied cultural nuances and their perceptions about beauty, and how to adapt makeup to their different skin tones.”

From there he got jobs on backstage runway teams for Pat McGrath and Charlotte Tilbury, working especially closely with models of color Naomi Campbell, Joan Smalls, and Jourdan Dunn. “I spoke their language,” he says. “They knew I understood their skin tones, and they trusted me.”

Sir John with Karlie Kloss
Credit: Coutesy Sir John

It’s that intimate relationship with his clients that helps explain how a former art history student—who never stepped foot in a beauty school—became a L’Oréal Paris ambassador and a producer and mentor on American Beauty Star, a new Lifetime competition show airing this fall. Never underestimate the power of a good smoky eye. “Eyes are the quickest connection we have to someone,” Sir John says. “If I can enhance their silhouette to make that connection last a little longer, I’ve done my job.”