Makeup Artist Molly R. Stern on Making People Glow With Happiness

Seeing clients like Reese Witherspoon gorgeous and happy is "incredibly intoxicating."

Molly Stern
Photo: Courtesy Molly R. Stern

Long before YouTube or beauty blogs even existed, Molly R. Stern was developing her own makeup tutorials. As a little girl growing up in L.A., she played with her mom's cosmetics and practiced being a beauty spokesperson in front of the mirror. "I'd say, 'This lipstick is going to make you feel like a million bucks!'" the 49-year-old recalls. Years later, in the mid-2000s, when she became a CoverGirl spokesperson, she had a revelation: "I was filming my first video for the brand when it hit me — I'd been rehearsing for this moment my entire life."

Cara Delevingne Molly Stern
Stern and Cara Delevingne fully embraced the Met Gala’s Camp theme in 2019. Courtesy Molly R. Stern

The super-vivacious makeup artist now shares her sunny outlook on social media with messages about positivity and self-worth. Sprinkled in between are photos of her star clients, like Reese Witherspoon (Stern was nominated for an Emmy for her makeup work on the actress on Big Little Lies), Nicole Kidman, and Cara Delevingne. With her signature hashtag #LOVEyourself, Stern calls herself a cheerleader. "I'm there to lift people up before they walk onto that red carpet," she says. "I let them know, 'You've got this! Yes, you look amazing, but you've got this from the inside out too,' " she says. "Because whether you're famous or not, we all need to nurture that inner beautiful part of ourselves. It too needs to be stimulated and fluffed and blushed."

Reese Witherspoon Molly Stern
Witherspoon in makeup by Stern, on Big Little Lies. Courtesy HBO

Stern's first brush with the industry was at age 16, when she got a job at Shu Uemura in L.A.'s Century City. "It felt like my candy shop," she says of the store where she trained as a makeup artist. And while Stern can't recall exactly when she did someone's makeup for the first time, she remembers vividly how it made her feel. "It was for a store customer. When I finished her makeup, she looked in the mirror and said, 'Oh, wow!' That moment, when she saw herself in a positive light, was incredibly intoxicating for me. It became the high that I'm always chasing."

Shailene Woodley Molly Stern
Shailene Woodley. Jean Baptiste Lacroix/WireImage

Stern's path from shop clerk to celebrity makeup pro is "a total zigzag," she says. At 18 she met two up-and-coming makeup artists: Jeanine Lobell, who would go on to create Stila Cosmetics, and fellow celebrity favorite Jillian Dempsey. "They both took me under their wings," says Stern, who began assisting the women on photo and video shoots. "One of my first gigs with Jeanine was a Color Me Badd music video," she recalls with a laugh. Dempsey helped Stern land an agent, and for a few years she was getting steady work—until she was struck by a quarter-life crisis. "I went to my parents crying, saying, 'Is this really my contribution to the world—making pretty people look prettier?' I felt I had more to give."

Nicole Kidman Molly Stern
Nicole Kidman. Jason Kempin/Getty

Stern packed it in and moved to New York City, where she cut her "bangs really short, lived in the Chelsea Hotel, and played bass in a Black Sabbath cover band," she says of her mid-'90s grunge period. During this time she also began designing clothes. "At first I did it for myself, because nothing ever quite fit me," she says. "I have short legs, big hips, and big boobs. I didn't know you're supposed to tailor your clothes. I thought only movie stars did that." Her fashion line, M.R.S., quickly gained a star following: Shalom Harlow wore one of her slip dresses to the CFDA Awards, and Jennifer Aniston appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone in an M.R.S. piece. One dress even made it into the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute exhibition in 2003. "My staff and I rode the subway from our Brooklyn office to the museum to see our dress on display," she says.

Molly R. Stern

I felt I had more to give than just making pretty people look prettier."

— Molly R. Stern
Sarah Paulson Molly Stern
Sarah Paulson. Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty

Though Stern continued working as a makeup artist while designing clothes, it was the everyday woman's appreciation of her collections that inspired her full-time return to beauty. "I was striking a chord with girls who felt confident in my clothes, and it reminded me of why I started doing makeup in the first place: to help people feel good about themselves," she says. So in 2004 Stern shuttered her fashion line and moved home to L.A. to dedicate herself fully to Hollywood clients like Witherspoon, whom she first met in 1999 when the actress was promoting her film Election.

"We clicked right away," Stern says of her close friend. Ever since then the stars have lined up for her fresh-faced, lit-from-within makeup style and her joyful, nurturing spirit. "It's so intimate doing a person's makeup," Stern says. "I'm literally in their face as they're telling me about their dark circles and puffiness. So I come in with positive energy and say, 'I'm here to serve you.' My purpose is to pump you up so you feel amazing. If I haven't done that, then I'm not doing my job."

Maya Rudolph Molly Stern
Prepping Maya Rudolph for the 2019 Oscars. Courtesy Molly R. Stern; MPS

Get Her Signature Look

Step 1

After applying moisturizer, Stern runs this vibrating facial massager along the cheeks and chin and under the cheekbones for a minute to stimulate the skin and bring about a natural radiance.

Jillian Dempsey Gold Sculpting Bar

Molly Stern
Courtesy Jillian Dempsey


Step 2

Stern is known as the master of flushed cheeks and credits this rosy hue for creating, as she calls it, the "I just had sex" perfect, healthy glow.

Laura Mercier Crème Cheek Colour in Blaze

Molly Stern
Courtesy Laura Mercier; MPS


Step 3

For a doe-eyed effect, Stern curls the lashes and swipes on this mascara, which she says delivers just the right amount of lift and length and won't irritate sensitive eyes.

Chantecaille Faux Cils Longest Lash Mascara

Molly Stern
Courtesy Chantecaille


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