By Brandon Schulman

Sir John

Makeup Artist

| Harlem

When your legal name includes a prefix as royal as “sir,” eyebrows are surely bound to raise. Then again, when you’ve been asked to make a personal playlist for none other than Beyoncé herself (yes really), we think it’s safe to say you’ve earned your stripes… err, crown? Sir John, the man behind Queen Bey’s sultry eyes and iridescent skin, is like the professional makeup biz’s midas touch. Falling into cosmetics somewhat serendipitously— he dressed the windows at Bendel’s and Bergdorf’s before a chance encounter with Pat McGrath landed him in Italy two weeks later doing beauty for the runways of Dolce & Gabbana and Prada. As fate would have it, he’d run into Naomi Campbell for the first time, introduce himself to her and, one week later, make Campbell his first celebrity client (she called upon him for a red carpet look). Since, modern models like Joan Smalls and Karlie Kloss have found themselves behind his brush— both for editorial work and fashion events, and of course, there’s his long-standing gig with the aforementioned Queen of Pop, Beyoncé. As L’Oréal Paris’ official celebrity makeup artist too, Sir John has the mega-brand sparkling a little brighter these days— his golden hand christening everything from product development to online how-to’s. Here, he sits down with CITIPHILE to reveal his little black book on NYC.

NEIGHBORHOOD STANDBY: I have two spots— if I have friends and family in town and I want to make sure they have a really great experience, it’s going to be Red Rooster (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x). I’m friends with the owner, Marcus and his wife and it’s always a good time. They just sum it up in the best way possible— that down-home cuisine mixed with a fusion of other elements. Also, right across the street from me, there’s a new spot called Ponty Bistro (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x). Actually, this whole area “Strivers Row” is completely different than it used to be: it’s a historic set-up of brownstones where people like Babe Ruth and Lena Horn used to live, all of these writers and poets; it was another world. But back to Ponty, a Senegalese couple opened it— it’s a mix of French and African cuisine and they have the best steak around.

COFFEE OR TEA: I’m a black coffee drinker. I like tea, but I love black coffee— no sugar, no cream. A cup a day is really good for your overall health and your intestines. There’s a coffee shop called Manhattanville (MAP IT, x) that opened not too long ago and it’s one of the coolest spots now to hang out in among the new “Harlemites.” It’s a nice rainy day solution for a place to go read and have a great glass of tea or coffee.

ALL-TIME FAVORITE RESTAURANT: My all-time favorite is closed now (RIP Bar 89), but I’ll give you my second: Omar’s (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x) on 13th Street. I love the pasta with braised rib ragu— it is everything. Also, I am a bourbon drinker and they have really good cocktails for people who like bourbon.

COCKTAIL DE LA NUIT: I love prosecco, a little bubbly, when I’m in a good mood. If I want something deeper or richer, I’ll go for bourbon on the rocks with a rind of orange. I like Beauty and Essex (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x) for drinks— it’s a really lovely experience for a cocktail. I’m sort of a bartender myself though; I’m not a mixologist per se, but I can make something that’s kind of cool.

AFTER-WORK HAPPY HOUR: Omar’s, for sure.

POWER LUNCH/DINNER: Parkview Lounge in the Time Warner Center (MAP IT, x). The great thing about living in Harlem is you are literally 11 minutes to Central Park on the express train. The Lounge is located upstairs and it’s beautiful; you have this amazingly epic view of Central Park at nighttime— just gorgeous.

MUSIC PICK: I’m such a music head that it’s hard for me to sum up my taste. If I’m on set, I always deejay; every person I work with knows it. Even Beyoncé is like, “I need you to make me a playlist.” I wake up in the morning and listen to a little bit of Ella Fitzgerald— I love her voice in the morning; she puts me in a good mood. In the afternoon, I’m all about world music like samba or Portuguese house. I like a little hip-hop in the evenings if I’m going to party, and if I’m going dancing, I want something with some base like 90’s hip-hop or something funkier. A true New Yorker will remember this place called The Apartment “APT” in Meatpacking; it’s closed now, but it pretty much sums up the experience I would still love to have here today. It was Sunday nights at APT with tribal house and really funky stuff playing; you’d be in the basement of this cool place surrounded by kids like Erin Wasson and Alex Wang before he became “Alex Wang.” It’s where everyone hung out on Saturday and Sunday nights and nothing has been like it since.

BEST BRUNCH: Miss Lily’s (MAP IT, BOOK IT, x).

BEST PEOPLE WATCHING: Number one, Tompkins Square Park (x) on the Lower East Side. Number two, the corner of Broadway and Houston— if you camp outside one of those stores, you’ll see a lot going on. And the Upper West Side, around Broadway and 90th; I came here the first time I stayed in New York and it’s what made me want to move here. Being in that area, walking outside— I thought every day would be like that.

HEALTHY STAPLE: Juicing at home. I am all about kale— it increases circulation which is everything to your complexion because sluggish circulation equates to dark circles. Then, I like to mix in a bit of powdered wheat grass and carrots (they have beta-carotene which increases cell turnover so your skin bounces back quicker from a night of too much partying). Ginger is also good because it’s a great detox and it’s anti-inflammatory so it’s great if you have acne or even arthritis. If you have an anti-inflammatory diet, you’re in a good place.

GUILTY PLEASURE: Pasta— anywhere. And ice cream. I could eat a pint of ice cream a night.

NY’S BEST-KEPT SECRET: This city is like a time vortex. You can look up and, in an instant, all of your 20’s are gone. There’s a sense that time flies by quicker here. Also, people are friendlier and cooler than what we seem like in the media and movies. We’re all pretty chill.

FIRST THING I MISS WHEN I’M AWAY: Sidewalk culture. That’s the main thing I miss when I’m not here. Great cities like Rome, Paris, New York, Tokyo… all of these cities have something that run parallel: you can walk out of your door without an agenda, without a plan, and bump into a friend or an old colleague, go to a museum… Your day becomes organic and takes on a life of its own just by walking out and being inspired to make a left turn or right turn.

REGULAR AT: The gym. I go to New York Sports Club (MAP IT, x) up here. It’s like my Cheers, “where they know your name.” Other regular stops are occupational hazards, but the Sephora (MAP IT) and MAC (MAP IT) stores at Columbus Circle.

DATE NIGHT STANDBY: My sofa and some TV… Netflix and chill, honestly.

DELIVERY GO-TO: Amazon. If you live in the city, Amazon has this same-day delivery which is awesome. If I have a job and I’m missing a product or can’t find it anywhere, Amazon will deliver it. It’s everything.

TO SEE AND BE SEEN: Fashion Weeks in New York and Paris.

TO ESCAPE AND UNWIND: I have a faux sea-less beach encounter at Central Park every summer. I bring a towel, SPF and some beats and take in the fresh air. I pretend it’s the beach which I’m pretty sure every New Yorker does too.

CLOSET CHECK: I say I am a mix of three people: a little Tom Ford, a little Kanye West and a little but Kurt Cobain. I’m really into one designer right now: Ports 1961 (MAP IT). They are so amazing. They have the best men’s essentials in terms of staple street options. For accessories, there’s a pop-up flea market in SoHo called SoHo Antiques Fair (x) on Grand Street and Broadway (open Saturdays and Sundays, 9am -5 pm). Also, Atrium (*Location now closed) is good when you’re in a hurry and want to find something really cool and impactful.

TRICK OF THE TRADE: These are my philosophies: Number one, jumping rope is one of the best exercises for the face. It tightens the face, increases circulation and builds collagen. Number two, contour with sunscreen. When I go to the beach or if I know I’m going to be out in the sun, I’ll apply SPF 15-20 everywhere but around the eyes, down the center of the nose and on the lips.  For those areas, I’ll use 60-80 SPF. Once you go in and wash your face, you’re immediately brightened around the eyes and the nose. It’s the  best way to do a permanent contour; you’ll look refreshed and awake.

GROOMING BLACK BOOK: I’m all about taking care of my scalp in the same way I take care of my face. I get laser hair removal (so that I don’t have to get a haircut) from a girl named Dimple at Laser Touch Aesthetics in Midtown (MAP IT, x). Laser hair removal is the best way to go, for women and men. I think it’s so cool and modern. Plus, they are very reasonable there.

BEST HOME DÉCOR: I’m obsessed with the regency era of Hollywood and old Hollywood glamour so I love layering textures or contrasting textures like velvet and glass, fur and chrome. When you mix these contrasting elements, you build a story. I love ABC Carpet & Home (MAP IT, x), but it is too expensive so I go to the ABC Carpet Outlet in the Bronx (MAP IT, x). You can find great deals there.

BEST HOST/HOSTESS GIFTS: Crate & Barrel (MAP IT), hands-down. Or the liquor store.

FIT PICK: I like to work out all around the world. I’m obsessed with the psychology around fitness. If I go for a run in Italy, no one else is running because it’s such an American thing, but if you go to Paris, people are obsessed with the gym. South American people are working out outside, using their bodies as their machines. It’s all so interesting to me. I go to the gym 5-6 days a week, but I don’t work out the same things every day. Sometimes I’ll spin just to keep my mind sharp; the gym is my office to a certain extent. One thing that’s always consistent is my jump rope though; I’ll start with that, then go into some resistance training which could be squats, lifting or arm curls. I try to make sure I throw my body off every once in a while. When I feel like I’m plateauing or not seeing the results I want to, I’ll do something completely different. I might save my jump rope until the end and do mountain climbers first, something to make sure that I’m not doing the same thing all the time— that’s the goal.

ULTIMATE NY MOMENT: I think my story, the fact that I started doing makeup by mistake, is a NY moment. I started as Pat McGrath’s assistant after I was doing windows for Calvin [Klein] on Madison Avenue and Bergdorf and Gucci. Then I was a men’s merchandiser at Gucci and a friend of mine said “Hey, listen, this women named Pat McGrath is an amazing makeup artist and I know you know how to do this. You used to paint. Can you just meet her? We need an extra assistant for the show.”  I worked the show and afterwards, she asked if I was going to be in Milan for Milan Fashion Week. I said of course— mind you, I had no passport. I was like 25. I left the show knowing I had to get my ass to Italy. I got a passport rushed, found a cheap flight and crashed on a friend’s couch over there. My first show was Dolce, then Prada. That sort of started my career. That’s one of those things that can only happen in New York though— that US self-made story. In Milan, I met Naomi who was backstage. Everyone was like, “Don’t talk to her, leave her alone, don’t say anything. And I was like, “No, I’m going to say hi, I’m going to introduce myself.” So I walked up to her and told her my name; Naomi just said, “Okay.” I told her I was going to work with her one day and she says, “Okay.” A week later, she called me. She was the first celebrity I ever worked with. It pays to have guts. Then, a year later, I was working with Charlotte Tilbury. We were at Tom Ford’s first show in New York in 2011 and Charlotte says, “I’m going to have you do this girl.” I looked at the sheet and said, “Is there a model named Beyoncé?” I couldn’t believe it was actually Beyoncé. My hands started sweating… I had to go call my mother to tell her what was happening. That was one of those moments I’ll never forget. CP

Sir John’s New York

From L to R: First Row: Ports 1961 menswear; View from Harlem; A cocktail at Omar’s; Brunch at Miss Lily’s. Second Row: Beauty by Sir John; A salad at Red Rooster; ABC Carpet & Home décor; M Coffee.


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