Kilian Paris' Makeup Creative Director Sir John Wants Everyone To Live Out Loud
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With his role as Kilian Paris’ first makeup creative director, celebrity makeup artist Sir John is set on continuing to shake up beauty standards with a dash of fun injected into every look.
Sir John got his start by assisting makeup artists Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath. PHOTO COURTESY OF KILIAN PARIS
I would love to know your thoughts on making luxury accessible.
If I had to be known for one thing, it would be redefining the landscape: making space, holding space and taking up space. When I got into this business years ago, assisting Charlotte Tilbury and Pat McGrath, I would see no Black people at all. For a while, it started to take a toll on me psychologically. But I had to remember to stay footed and anchored in who I am and bring my Blackness everywhere. I always talk to younger creatives: you don't have to assimilate, but you have to translate. When you think about "How do I make my art larger? How do I create more space for it?" you're gonna have to talk to finance people, you're gonna have to talk to people who don't necessarily have the vision or have that the bandwidth creatively that you do. You have to ,ake sure that your ideas translate but that does not mean you have to wipe away the culture.
So I say that to say right now with Killian, the number one thing that was important for me is to make sure that we are redefining the luxury landscape. It was not always just inclusive; it actually thrived on separatism. The idea is that it's not for the people. But when you really think about luxury, luxury is about craftsmanship. It's about consistency. If paid my dues and did all the things that I needed to do to check the boxes, to afford myself a beautiful life, I should have that access. Recently, that wasn't always permissible or equitable for people who look like myself.
I love Kilian Hennessy himself. Before I signed, I had some serious questions to make sure this isn't a performance alliance but that we’re really advocating for people. When we're developing products, it should be swatched on all complexions across the diaspora. From Harlem to Hong Kong.
So that's one area. Then we look at marketing and communications, what are we? How are we speaking about who we are and who are we speaking to? What's not modern and not cool any longer is to create a profile of luxury, a profile of the consumer, a profile of the person that we want to engage with. That is harmful, damaging and is based on colonialism.
Let's create an essence and lean into the philosophy of what Killian Paris looks like: owning the night and making sure that that's an equitable pace for people of all walks of life. It's not about race, socioeconomic background, gender or class. I do believe that people like myself, people who are known by first names and only in our business to the big makeup artists, journalists and editors should make sure that we hold the brands accountable and continue to have conversations. As long as we're continuing to ideate around what's the most modern direction or step forward looks like, we’ll be in a really good place.
The makeup artist’s celebrity client roster includes Beyoncé, Zendaya, Gabrielle Union and Margot Robbie. PHOTO COURTESY OF KILIAN PARIS
I love that. Some of these brands may look at a Black creator of color and think, “Let's get our diversity numbers up, let's hire that person and see what we can do.” It’s like a checkmark. But I really appreciate that you went into this with a mission and wanting to make sure that it was a perfect fit for you, and making sure that you're not just a face or one of the brand ambassadors. You're actively wanting to make change. So I think that's a good distinction when it comes to this partnership.
I've become more brave and anchored in myself and knowing what I can affect. So maybe 10 years ago, I wasn't as vocal but as long as you start to make steps. At one point early in my career I was like, “Damn, am I gonna get canceled?” I think I have the longest-standing cosmetics contract out of any other makeup artist ever. I think Peter Phillips may have me [beat] I'm not sure.
That's a big accomplishment.
Thanks. In the famous words of Donna Summer, I love to show up and to help people show up for themselves. For me, beauty is a feeling. It's not something you always see, it’s something you feel. It's not just about a pretty eyelash application. Whenever I talk about anything in this space, it's about how what you're doing affects how you show up and how you feel. Mental health is so important to me.
I also coined a phrase recently called “dopamine glam.” You look at TikTok and everyone's doing things that allow them to feel more anchored and more connected to themselves. I noticed that beauty has been a beautiful conductor, if you will, or vehicle for people to feel better. If you look at the punk era in the late 70s and early 80s, It was all about spiked hair. That reaction was anarchist back in the day. It was anti-glamour. Now, I want to feel good. So, I feel like we have a duty and I take it really seriously, but I love it.
Did you already know Kilian Hennessy prior?
My best friend and I were in New York’s Meatpacking District. He took me to the Killian boutique and I loved the packaging and the weight of [everything]. It was beautiful. I remember [a friend] gifted me some of the lotions. There were signs that showed me that I've already been a part of the world. Then I got a call from my agent about taking a meeting. I was in Paris for Fashion Week two seasons ago. I met Killian at Hotel Costes for lunch and we hit it off. He's a funny guy and he's real. That's what I liked about it. At this point in my life, I just felt like I can't sacrifice authenticity.
How do you envision the brand growing?
It’s really beautiful becoming a creative director of a brand that hasn’t had a creative director before in color. I kind of feel like Tom Ford at Gucci right now, or even what Pharrell is doing by shaking up things at Louis Vuitton. It’s really great to get into a space where we can create things that are not necessarily just timeless, but impactful. I get on everyone’s nerves a little bit about making sure that there’s beautiful payoff [with our swatches]. This has to swipe once and you see color. True luxury is saving someone a few seconds so they can get out the door faster. One thing I love about this brand is the fact that it’s a night brand. Every other makeup brand I’ve ever worked with, even the ones who delve into their night series, all start out with the day look or the look to wear at meetings. We’re flipping it on its head and we want to be sexy. It’s all about sexy nightlife, and I could not be more aligned. This is my Studio 54 era and I feel like Ian Schrager right now.
I know lipsticks are the primary focus right now.
[The Le Rouge Parfum] lipsticks are already an existing product, so I’m revamping what they already have. Right now is when you start to create the DNA of ‘What is the Kilian look?’. There are many looks just like when you go to a party with your girlfriends. You guys will all rock the same brand but in different ways. So we’re looking at how to spice up the offering. Right now, we are heavily into product development. One thing I do love about this brand is that there are these beautiful notes of fragrances that are inspirations. Whenever I’m storyboarding, looking at products, or when the team and I are ideating, we have these beautiful songs that we can riff off of.
“THIS IS MY STUDIO 54 ERA AND I FEEL LIKE IAN SCHRAGER RIGHT NOW.” –SIR JOHN
What are your thoughts on the current makeup landscape?
We were in spaces where everything was a little slower, and the eras were longer. Now there's more immediacy speed and there's a microwave society to social media in general. I noticed that the community of social media is so thirsty for content. It's almost like having a flower in your garden, you can never water enough. I noticed that the makeup artists who are consistent and are experts, because they're in beauty enthusiast, and then you have experts. Experts, stay true to your craft. It’s okay if you didn't create today, it's okay if you rest today.
As an artist, you don't have to put something out every day. It can be psychologically damaging to artists whom it comes naturally to feed a ravenous audience. So I always tell other creatives and artists, stay true to your path and don't feed the people. Feed yourself, feed your own creativity feed, feed your core audience.
But one thing I am inspired by, there's something really beautiful about letting people into your life seeing all spaces of it and discovering together. So one thing that is really beautiful about TikTok and Instagram. I even look at the wave of YouTube around 2017. There's this whole level of discovery. They want to show people how they are doing it and figure it out together. I can fail with you and that is that's beautiful. That creates more community that we can all be a part of. I just always say social media is the gift in the curse. We just need to be careful about how we interact with it, especially as people who are as vulnerable as ours are.
Sir John and Kilian Hennessy first met during Paris Fashion week a few years ago. PHOTO COURTESY OF KILIAN PARIS
How do you interpret Kilian’s “Don’t be shy” motto?
When I hear ‘Don’t be shy,’ it’s like, don’t turn away from the magic; don’t turn away from your light. This is also somebody who just turned 41 and doing a lot of the work. (My therapist will point it right out to you guys.) There’s no finish line; it’s all about the journey. There’s something magical inside of all of us. It’s gonna take a little digging, but don’t be shy. Be the light that takes up space. There’s this whole thing about ‘main character energy’; all my girls should be main characters! Do not be apologetic about being whole or aiming to be better or bigger.