Upfront with D’angelo Thompson: An Interview with Makeup Artist Byron Barnes
Before I dive into this interview, I truly love and respect Byron Barnes. He is one of three of my mentors. Byron taught me the art of beauty for celebrities, runway, and high profile clients. He entrusted me with some of his senior clients and contacts. And I will be forever indebted to him.
As you will see from his bio and this interview, he has been on top for over four decades (45 years) in the world of beauty as a makeup artist, beauty executive, and product development. His artistry crosses many genres from beauty, fashion, live shows, television, and music.
Note: All pictures provided by the Subject.
DT: Did you always want to be a makeup artist.
BB: I’ve been a makeup artist for 45 years, and it was something I was organically drawn too. I started in NYC after attending the Fashion Institute of Technology studying Fashion Merchandising. I was always drawn to the cosmetic floors at department stores on field trips with school. I could see the psychological difference and posture with women; it was not only the beauty transformation.
I would also watch my mom as a kid transform herself as a child. It was my first imprint into the world of beauty. So, with my school experience and this knowledge, I started doing students and models for going out and shows, like Pat Cleveland.
My first job was with Mary Quant Cosmetics at Bloomingdales, worked for Nardi Hair Salon, and a slew of other high-end salons. Then I got signed with an agency called Beauty Bookings; I was the only makeup artist of color. And ended up working with the hairstylist, Michael Weeks. Our first comp card together was an image of Beverly Johnson.
While doing all this, I set out to meet Naomi Sims. I finally met her (Naomi Sims) while waiting outside of her wedding in NYC just to congratulate her and introduce myself. She invited me to her wedding reception that same day in her home on Central Park West. I actually rode in the limo with her and her husband. That same day she invited me to her makeup for an upcoming Essence shoot. Then Essence started hiring me. And then John Aitchison hired me for Redbook Magazine.
I had an opportunity to do a broadway show called Black and Blue. I was responsible solely for Ruth Brown. She later won a Tony Award for her performance.
Later, Alfred Fornay hired me to do a few covers for Ebony Magazine. My second issue with them they had to run a reprint because it was so popular. Eventually worked on Ebony Man as well.
Later, I became the North American executive for Viva Cosmetics. I think retail is an important training ground for different complexions, ages, makeup needs, and to strengthen your technique…you learn a lot. It’s like a master class or a Ph.D. for makeup artists.
As my knowledge of brands grew, I was offered a creative director position at Naomi Sims in 1989. Who knew that this would all happen from our initial meeting years earlier. (see question about Iman Cosmetics below…)
DT: In a business that is constantly changing, how do you stay current?
BB: I’m always looking for what is new and interpret it for my style. I also do a lot of research through films, books, and magazines.
What I always stress to young artists is to hone in on understanding proportion and composition. And realize not every face needs the same coverage or placement of color, contour, highlight, etc.
DT: Most people may not know, but you helped create Iman’s first namesake brand?
BB: Yes, in 1994, because I understood manufacturing and working with consumers. We started the process in 1993 and launched a year later.
She specifically wanted a line for ‘women of color’ and a wide range of skin tones. I created a ‘cream to powder’ foundation, which was a very intense project to create with labs and getting them to understand our undertones. The color range was sand (1-5), clay (1-5), and earth (1-6). And also created powder and concealers with the same idea. We were sold all over the USA, Europe, Canada, and continued to expand globally.
DT: Have you ever considered doing a master class for pros and consumers?
BB: I have done Masterclasses in the past, I am open to it. Whether it’s an in-person masterclass or a podcast, I just need someone to work out all the logistics.
It’s good when you are at a certain level to have a solid client (s) profile. These clients have taken me all of the world three times over, the White House, and homes of the most celebrated men and women in the world. I feel extremely blessed and honored.
DT: If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give 10-year-old Byron?
BB: I was blessed to have a well balanced functional family life, private schools, summer’s in Ohio…I would say to just stay happy, keep that joy bubbling inside. Never underestimate yourself, never be a follower, continue to honor your flow, and explore your creativity.
DT: What inspires you?
BB: I love everything that’s beautiful from dinnerware, furniture, pillows, travel, orchids, coy fish, as well as makeup.
DT: Finish this sentence, “the shift I would like to see in the world is….”
BB: “kindness and compassion.”
DT: In a word, describe Byron Barnes?
Name: Byron Barnes
Job Title: Celebrity Makeup Artist & Product Development
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