In our Instagram-filtered world, where more and more makeup artists are coming under the spotlight themselves, Sir John is a true king.
His royal credentials include being the makeup artist to megastar Beyoncé Knowles for a decade. Besides her most recent tours, some of their most iconic moments include the Grammys, the Superbowl and her visual album Lemonade, to name a few.
His other clients have included singer Mary J Blige, tennis great Serena Williams, actress Margot Robbie, and models Joan Smalls, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Kat Graham and Naomi Campbell. And he’s not just an artist with a makeup brush, but also has a wonderfully human touch, with many more stars lining up in the hope a little of his magic will rub off on them.
Sir John is also an ambassador for leading brands including cosmetic giant L’Oreal , Paris, and a producer and mentor on reality show ‘American Beauty Star.’ He also co-created a limited edition collection for Disney’s The Lion King.
And lifting his spirits in these challenging times, Sir John has taken on the crucial new mentoring role of coaching and inspiring young people in the importance of attending and applying themselves in the classroom.
Here Sir John becomes the latest subject of our ‘Who The F*** Are You?’ profile, where he answers the 20 questions that get under the gloss and to the heart of who we are. And, using his own experience of quickfire ways of getting to know his clients and others he meets in celebrity circles, he even added a couple of extra questions of his own.
A huge music fan, who has had his ears tuned by some of the greatest in the business, he has also curated a special playlist of his favorite tunes for the Mr Feelgood community.
Who the f*** are you?
Who am I? I am Sir John. I’m an artist. I’m a Black man. I’m a brother. I’m a son. I’ll tell you about my name. All of my uncles are Marines.. They all served, so that’s where the Sir came from. My grandmother made it up. My mom had me when she was pretty young, and she was like, “This is what we’re going to go for,” and my mother said, “OK, let’s do it.” And I’ve been Sir John since 1982.
How are you feeling right now?
I’m feeling happy. It’s Friday. Even though I have work in the morning. I had a really, really amazing morning. I had a Zoom call with a group of eighth graders. Their school found me, I don’t know how, and basically wanted me to rally them up, to make sure that they show up for themselves in terms of attendance. This is why it matters for them. It’s the home run. For your freshman year, everyone’s looking at their attendance now. So they wanted me to chat, and I spent an hour with them and it just lifted my soul, man. You can tell it really did something for them. I saw so much promise in their faces. Talking to them, showing love and encouraging them to push through kind of fell on my own ears … it was for me tool.
I was actually invited by the Chicago Superintendent to do the same with all the schools in the south side of Chicago. I’m going to try to round up some friends of influence, “Guys, I just need you for five, ten minutes.” You’ve got to breathe some love and light into these babies?
Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Buffalo, New York. It’s a small place, near Niagara Falls, Canada. It’s literally right on the border. I grew up next to the Peace Bridge. It has really great food, they’re known for pizza and wings and the Bills. But I left when I was 17, or 18, and moved to Atlanta for a year, and then I moved to New York City at 19 and I was there until 35. Now I live in Los Angeles.
What excites you?
I love to love, man. I love people. That’s part of the reason I’m here, that you even know about me… Listen, there’s so many people who do amazing makeup, who do amazing hair, but I’m in the business of people. People will come back for you. They’ll campaign for you. They’ll ride for you if you make them feel something, or feel good, so that’s what makes me happy, I guess, or what gets me going. I love the life I live. I’ve worked really hard and I still work really hard, but it’s a struggle.
Sir John and model Joan Smalls // 📸: Sir John
What scares you?
Racism. Bias. What scares me is white supremacists. I’m going to say it doesn’t scare me, it disturbs me. It makes me sad. And then, any sense of oppression just takes my vibration down.
What else scares me is… wow, damn. That’s a really good question. That, and then also sometimes I feel like, “Can I do it?” I have a lot of pressure. A lot of people are looking to me [for support]… if I fall, a lot of people will fall I feel, so I don’t have any option. It doesn’t scare me, but it just concerns me at times.
What is your proudest achievement?
I don’t necessarily know that I am proud of one singular thing, but I feel so blessed and humble to have had so many. I think about events and places. Days that I had a lot of fun.
I think about being at Wembley Stadium; being backstage at Stade de France in 2018 after the French won the World Cup and we were doing the show [ Beyoncé and Jay-Z]. We did a concert, literally that same afternoon they won the World Cup, so the energy was buzzing. I’ll never forget the energy in the crowd.
And also what makes me proud is the fact that I can hold my mom up and she’s not stressed. I come from a really close family, so when my family’s good, I’m good. But I want to be a father. My partner and I. He’s a preschool learning specialist, so he’s actually out there working with [kids], but I want to be a dad more than anything in the world.
What is the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Honestly, you know what? One of the most difficult things was speaking up and becoming a truth teller. I am growing more in to my role as an activist and it wasn’t because I wanted to. I became activated. I was apprehensive. I was like, “I’m going to lose my contracts. I have a new venture and other deals on the table right now.” So I just felt like, “I have so much at stake. Can I speak up for change? Can I be a voice for change? Can I talk about the experience of marginalized communities? Civil rights matters. Black lives matter…” Whenever you show love for the Black community, it can be seen as being anti-American. I always thought that would be taken away from me if I showed love for my community out loud. And so that, initially, was a fear or a butterfly in my stomach, but now it gives me wings.
Who is the greatest mentor and what did they teach you?
My mother. A great mentor in life was my mom. She sacrificed everything she had, her life, everything for me. And she’s wise. She’s really, really wise. When I just don’t know or I’m trying to figure it out, she just has a way of just coming in and just bringing the peace. Just breathing a breeze of fresh air into my life.
Who are your fictional and real-life heroes?
A lot of my real-life heroes, I have met in person. I know you guys know her really well, but one of my real-life heroines growing up was Naomi Campbell. She was my first major client. So I just adore her because, honestly, I’m a small town, inner-city kid, Black family. So to see someone Black, backstage at Versace, in the newspaper, on the front pages of magazines was amazing. You didn’t see that. Now we have the internet, we have Instagram, there’s so much that the youth see, they have visual representation. But that’s why visual representation matters. I got into this business because she made it look so glamorous and attainable.
What is your favorite item of clothing in your wardrobe?
I love my jewelry. I have a huge obsession. Right in front of Breonna Taylor [Sir John has a painted portrait of Breonna Taylor on the wall behind him as we Zoom], I have Elizabeth Taylor [Sir John shows us a book of Elizabeth Taylor’s Bvlgari jewelry]. And so I love the Richard Burton collection of Bvlgari that he gifted her. I love emeralds, but emeralds are so soft. They break off. So I have this guy I love, Eden from NYC Luxury in the diamond district, and I try to treat myself to a little bling every once in a while.
What music did you love at age 13 — and you still love it now?
So I wake up in the morning now, and I listen to Ella or a little bit of Aretha. I love Aretha, my grandmother loved Aretha, I grew up around Aretha. I listen to Dionne Warwick and sometimes Motown soul, but also I’m always up for a little bit of Brazilian samba. I love Portuguese dance music. I’m a lover of music, bro. So when I started working around musicians, they taught me how to have a better ear. Like being around Beyoncé, she’s taught me how to listen for things that I’d never heard in songs. It just opened my world to music. So I went back and started listening to some of the stuff that I used to listen to, and I was hearing it in a completely different way.
Same thing with Mary J Blige. I was at her house one time and she’s playing ‘Nights Over Egypt.’ She said to me, “Doesn’t it just cover you? Doesn’t this song just cover you like a blanket…” And I was like, “You know what? I guess it does. I get it.” But no-one taught me that portion of what music can do. It’s not just an auditory kind of thing. It is physical. Like when you tap into a certain song, it does rock your body. It moves you.
Sir John’s playlist, curated for Mr Feelgood.
What is the most inspiring book you have ever read?
‘The 48 Laws of Power’ and ‘The Art of Seduction’, both by Robert Greene. In my twenties, they were really my go-to books. It was like the keys to power. And life. It brings you into a place where you’re hearing about Josephine Bonaparte and Napoleon and all of these stories, everything that was happening, and it’s just recycled energy. There’s nothing new. All of these things that we’re seeing have happened before. Everything that we’ve seen on the news in the White House, that happened some time ago, 300 years ago. Look what happened to Marie Antoinette. This is similar to how we’re trying to chase him the f*** out of the office right now. So it’s really just re-shopped and recycled stories. That’s why I love those two books so much.
What is a movie that left a lasting impression on you?
What is your favorite word or saying?
What do you want people to say at your funeral?
I don’t know, man. Damn. Wow. I died. Honestly? Ok, I have one. In the famous words of Donna Summer, “He loved to love.”
Sir John and Rosie Huntington-Whitely // 📸: Sir John
And finally, a quickfire five favorites…
The one I have now. I have a 2020 silver Mercedes G 63 Wagon. Or a ‘67 Mercedes 250SE Cabriolet would be nice.
I’m not athletic, honestly.
I love a bowl of pasta. Pass the pasta. Carbs, carbs, carbs.
Fillers and SPF.
Jerry Lorenzo is my style icon. I just like what he does [for Fear of God]. I like him. I want to look like Jerry Lorenzo. But if I had to quantify it in a brand, it would be… s***, guys, you know what’s so crazy? Dickies. I don’t really designer or label it so much.
Sir John and model Kat Graham
Working with clients and mixing in celebrity circles, Sir John knows a thing or two about quickfire ways to get to the heart of who we are. So he now turns the tables on us with a couple of his own questions he uses to break the ice at work.
So I have a couple more questions I want to throw at you guys, right? So I have this game, and this is what I’d usually do around dinner tables, because a lot of times I often attend dinner parties where people don’t know each other. So I like to break it up with games, that can make them all have a sense of community, especially when you’re around a lot of women.
OK. If you were in the car and you had to take a trip from New York to DC — which is not a lot of commitment, it’s not from New York to Florida — five people, dead or alive, who would you want in the car? And everyone gives you something, and everyone’s thinking about something. So that’s one game, and I’ll answer it if you want me to.
And then also if you were an animal, what animal would you be? What does that look like and why? And then also, if you were a city, any city in the world, what city would you manifest yourself? What city would you be? And it just is the ultimate way to just break it all down.
You can see who the person is.
We want to hear your answers. So what animal would you be?
So I believe I would be a big cat. Because I love being a guy, but I’m in touch with my femininity in a way, and I’m OK with that. And I think that cats are smooth and they’re stealth like, but they’re beautiful creatures, they’re powerful. So I would want to be like a jaguar. That’d be really nice.
And if I was a city, what city would I manifest myself to being? I’m not as fancy as Paris. I would be Cape Town. I would be Cape Town, South Africa.
And who would your five dead or alive people be?
OK. I mean, it would be nice to have a conversation with Barack Obama. It would be really nice to be in there with someone who can make me laugh, I’m thinking Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor can make us laugh. I want to be in there also with someone who gives me a little bit of life. Grace Jones action would be nice. Elizabeth Taylor, because we would be riding in style. Hopefully, she can tell me about one of her husbands or how to keep one, possibly! I think the last one would be Nelson Mandela, for the wisdom and humility.
So guys, you have a blessed weekend. And tell everyone to vote, please.