Some celebrity makeup artists are so talented and charismatic that they become superstars in their own right, and one of the best examples is Sir John. He got his start doing makeup for the dancers in strip clubs and worked his way up to painting some of the most famous faces in the world, including Zendaya, Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell, Margot Robbie, and Celine Dion—and that's just to name a few.
I've been lucky enough to have had my face touched by Sir John, and he's just as lovely as he is talented. As an artist, has a knack for making you feel special and cared for. It's this special attention he pays to his clients that has propelled him to icon status, and he brings this passion to his latest role as the chief creative officer of CTZN Cosmetics. The brand's new Eye Elements collection ($30 each) is the first launch he was fully involved in from tip to tail—and it shows.
The line includes seven dual-ended cream eyeshadow sticks—each with a satin matte and shimmer side—designed to give customers the options they need. The shades weren't just created to serve all skin tones, but undertones, too, so everyone can have a go-to neutral. "I love sculpting eyes," Sir John tells Byrdie about how the launch came to be. "Before even adding color, I love sculpting and making sure that you can create lights and shadows. So we wanted to find ways that we could give sculpting some kind of architectural structure to the eyes."
"So these are complexion-focused eye groups or eye elements," Sir John continues. "One thing no one thinks about is how to make the eye space a little bit more inclusive. But when you do think about [things like], How can I make my eyes look a bit deeper? If I have hooded eyes, how can I make the eyes look a bit more reflective? [Those things] are kind of nuanced by our complexions."
In honor of the new launch, we caught up with him to chat about all things eyes. Ahead are eight amazing makeup tips we learned from Sir John.
How to Create a "Spotlight" Eye
"You can use [the Eye Elements] directly onto the eyes to sculpt—they go on so creamy and blend so easily. It's just insane. They're almost like a magic marker. But they do dry fast because they are water resistant. You can swim, you can tear, you can cry, and they're humidity-proof.
"I'm not doing the Renaissance tour right now because I have so many other contracts and obligations, but when I do shows, I always love to layer. I never use just basically a light, medium, or dark primer because I don't want to take all of that texture away, that depth away. So I always go in with eye kohl first, and that's kind of how I was taught how to do makeup with Charlotte [Tilbury], using eye kohl first to smudge and then a shadow on top of that.
"And then whatever, maybe a shimmery shadow in the middle, but it creates this dimensional eye. It's almost like a spotlight. So whenever you're doing your makeup, don't be afraid to go to the ground level with either the shade sticks that we have or any pencils and kohls in general. It changes the game when you do your eyes."
Use Concealer to Snatch
"Do your eyes first. Get in there and blend, you know, figure out everything you need, and then what I want you to do after that is always keep around a cotton bud. What that does is basically, you give yourself a beautiful cleanup after you're done. And then always re-moisturize your eyes after you take anything off, and once you put your concealer on after you do that, it lifts the whole eye. Doing it this way is very lifting, so this is great for people who are a bit more mature and want more of a sculpted snatched look. I love putting concealer on—concealer is like the reveal, you know?"
Moisturize, Moisturize, Moisturize
"Always rehydrate. Especially the eye area. I mean, listen, there are so many beautiful creamy concealers. But every time—especially editorially—anytime I take makeup off of an area before I go back in with complexion, I would take just the tiniest amount of like Embryolisse or some kind of moisturizer just to rehydrate."
The Makeup Trend He's Loving Right Now
"Basically, I coined the phrase, it's called 'dopamine glam.' So I work with Psycom, and I believe heavily, heavily, heavily in the mental wellness space. And I believe that beauty is a feeling—beauty is something that is not always seen, but it is felt. And when we think about the feeling of beauty, we think about the choices that we make: I chose this red room because it makes me feel something. You'll choose a cute color when you go on vacation, like orange neon nails, because it makes you feel more festive when you're going to Miami. And so dopamine glam has everything to do with fashion's reaction.
"I'll give you a little history. If you think about the punk era of the late 1970s and early '80s, when everyone was gelling their hair up or wearing tons of metal studs on their leather, that had everything to do with anarchy and rebellion. It was fashion's reaction for the time. And then think about the '90s, maybe like eight years later, [we had] grunge. So grunge was the anti-glamour, it was like the anti-supermodel—everyone was wearing no makeup, this was Marc Jacobs at Perry Ellis, like the whole moment was just about like, somber anti-fashion, anti-glamour, don't look at me, but it wasn't rebellious. It was inward.
"And now I'm looking at the fashion or the beauty reaction to where we are in society, which is a lot. We're gonna do a lot! It's 'how do I feel post-pandemic?', seeing everything that we see in the news and the politics of it all. How do I make myself feel something? Feel better, feel whole, feel connected to myself?
"And so when I'm looking at TikTok, or I look at the Gen Zers, people are choosing these beautiful whimsical liners. I've never seen such artistry in my life. They're teaching me! I save everything for references in folders when we do shoots. But when I see all this happening, this is not what [my generation was] taught, which was, Are you getting dressed for a woman? Are you getting dressed for a man? No, this is everyone's getting ready for themselves. They're getting ready to show up for themselves.
"So the biggest trend we are seeing right now is the fact that I'm picking things whether they're trendy or not, whether they're in style or not. [Things that] make me feel whole, that make me feel sexy, and allow me to show up for myself."
Ignore the Red Carpet
"[I'm getting inspiration] from the people. Social media is so democratic, you know, and when we look at how people have the power to hold brands accountable, make us see ourselves, speak up when they don't see shade ranges and concealers or this or that, that's inspiring. The sense of the autonomy to say, Hey, listen, you need to fix this because we're not being served or we're not being seen is so inspiring.
"So inspiration doesn't come from red carpet or runways or celebrities. I'm actually kind of anti that—I've always talked to editors about [how] I think we're past the point of assigning, what celebrity can go with his look? Or can you tell us what celebrity you can see here? Or what red carpet or runway show? It's not about that! Because right now, we're in a space where fashion and beauty, we're being led by the people. This is one of the first times where the fashion and beauty [industries are] not leading technically. We have large megaphones, but if we're really being smart, we're looking at what the people want to see and how they want to see themselves."
An Eye Look That Works For Everyone
"Two things that will never go out of style... Since the dawn of time, it has predated the Bible, the Quran. Since Mesopotamia, women have always been smoking their eyes out. They've always been taking a kohl, or some tar, or some kind of element—back in Egypt, it was for sun protection so they wouldn't burn their eyes, and then basically giving themselves some kind of beautiful lining rim. And so what that does is it creates a beautiful feline silhouette to the eyes.
"A smoky eye doesn't necessarily have to be big and blown out. All it is is taking one continuous liner and slightly smudge. Something else that really is popular is the feline flick. So elongating your eyes with your liner is never, never gonna go out of style as long as we have eyes. And it works on women who are more mature as well, who want to elongate their eyes and make them look a little bit larger, more awake. A la Sofia Loren, and Elizabeth Taylor, we look at Adele, even what I did with Beyoncé for the first On The Run Tour. These kinds of elements are just going to be forever reoccurring."
How to Keep Your Makeup In Place All Summer
"With the Eye Elements, you don't even have to try at all—they're gonna stay. But in terms of the face, whenever you're looking at your foundation, any of the hotspots, you're going to have a problem with. When I say hot spots, I mean high-traffic areas—the crease of your eyelid, they are going to be the sides of your nose, the front part of your cheeks, on your chin, and we do a lot of blinking, so maybe possibly under your eyes. I will give you a quick tip: If you ever want to refresh your makeup going from one place to another, all you have to do is just change your concealer. Take off your concealer in your T zone, and reapply it. You have a brand new face on!
"But for ways to keep it on, I would say to make sure that you start with skincare—a mattifying toner, possibly a mattifying primer, would be great. Then use less—the more foundation [you use], the more you cover your pores, and the more sebum your skin will produce. And then, make sure you buff in a powder. So liquid foundation maybe with a wet egg sponge, and then buffing in a powder, and then you should be good."
The Three Products He's Loving Right Now
"I love the Nudiversal Lip Duos ($29) by CTZN for sure, hands down. They're for everyone, and I'm an eye guy, so I love a nude lip. I love L'Oreal Paris Lash Paradise Mascara ($13). I always have loved that. It just goes on beautifully. And then something I'm really feeling right now is the Supergoop Unseen ($48), and then they have the Glowscreen ($38). Love that SPF, that new one with the glow? Beyond! It's beautiful. And for a bonus round, I want to say Mario's foundation."