London-based makeup artist, Megumi Matsuno speaks in tattered phrases. A blend of the land of the rising sun and the chalky outline from which she sketched her goodbyes, Megumi accepted an unspoken promise when the opportunity to dream lead her away from her home in Japan to Europe. Originally an aspiring sculptor, rejection from university kept her at arm’s length from pursuing an adolescent dream and she was redirected when a teacher suggested she pursue the manipulation of another medium, the canvas of the human face.
While Asian beauty standards often mirror Western features attainable only by surgical procedures, perfection becomes as elusive as hoping to see one’s reflection in a closed door. Seeking to escape the prescribed homogeneity of the culture she was raised in, Megumi moved to Paris and enrolled in a nine month makeup class before moving to London. Checkered with accents and knee-deep in diversity, Megumi tightroped across language barriers and felt the unassailable chill of distance as she swallowed a new diaspora like lukewarm coffee. Her aesthetic is colored by perseverance and her ethos is one of assimilation into a culture that she has birthed sans uterus. She has learned from and redefined beauty alongside the likes of renown names in the industry like Charlotte Tilbury, Lucia Pieroni, Alex Box and Lucia Pica. Her work has graced the pages of Vogue, Numero, GQ, i-D, Dazed, Another, Tank, W Magazine, Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair among others.
COOLS caught up with Megumi to chat about leaving home, learning from the greats and why being a good makeup artist means working with your heart as much as your hands.
COOLS: Tell us about your childhood in Japan, were you sad to leave?
Megumi Matsuno: When I was young and decided to leave Japan, I was fed up with the system in Japan because everyone is very uptight and they don’t have any personality or original ideas so I was happy to move to a different country. My father is very, very positive and supported my decision to go to another country. When I moved I didn’t speak French, I didn’t have any friends and I don’t know how I was so brave, I can’t imagine doing that now
COOLS: Can you explain the cultural differences between Japan and Europe in terms of openness of culture?
MM: Japanese people don’t talk too much and keep in silence often so in Europe, people think Japanese people don’t have an opinion but our culture has the dictum of a “virtue of silence.” I feel sometimes it’s very important to know how to read what’s happening around us without talking and just feel because then we can see the reality of what we have to do. I believe this culture is so different from Europe. In Europe, the culture is always to talk and share your ideas, I feel there is nothing to hide on their side so it’s very easy and clear.
COOLS: You’ve been in Europe for 16 years, but are you still proud of your Japanese heritage? Where and when does that pride manifest?
MM: When I feel that I’m proud to be Japanese is the moment when I could offer hospitality through my work and people really love it. I grew up in that environment so it’s common sense for us.
I think it’s good to use the element of my being Japanese and to represent yourself as you are, is very important in order to be successful. I believe that I am unique here in Europe but not in Japan.
COOLS: Would you ever consider moving back to Japan? What changes, societal or cultural, would you want to see in order to make that an option?
MM: I would want to see more of a cooperative, volunteer spirit from the youth. Only the young people have a strong power to change something which is interesting and I like it. What I would want to do in Japan if I were to go back would be to teach the makeup style that’s not stereotypical. I think the the important thing is that everyone has personality and why do we need to follow the trend for what suits as a makeup look? Personality is more of a beautiful thing and is part of being a successful makeup artist.
COOLS: How did you get your start in such a competitive industry? Do have any memorable given given to you that you can recall?
MM: I went to makeup class in Paris for 9 months. They teach everything, celebrity makeup, makeup for tv, fashion show makeup, special effect makeup; but I noticed after I finished school, nothing happened, I had to do it by myself. It took a very long time to be a professional but I never gave up. ‘If you can continue for to stick it out for 10 years, you will be a professional makeup artist’, that’s what my teacher told us. To go from being a student to being a professional, you have to have a strong passion and belief in yourself that you are going to be professional and if nothing else, believing in yourself. My parents were always cheering me up and I had a lot of great support, without that support I couldn’t have been a professional.
COOLS: Can you talk more about your work with Charlotte Tilbury and the other makeup artists that you worked with? What did you learn from them?
MM: I learned how to work in the fashion makeup and how to read trends in makeup, along with new skills and techniques of course. Working with other makeup artists, you learn that so much of it is being a perfectionist. I always try to be aware of and know what my level is in the makeup industry because it is so competitive and there are so many rivalries to be at the top, it’s like a battlefield. But at the same time, I’ve been so lucky to meet other makeup artists and working as an assistant for them. They offered me so many things that I needed in that time of my life and I wouldn’t be where I am without their support. What I got from them were, products, money, job, opportunities, responsibility etc. Since I assisted so many great artists, I made the commitment to be a really good makeup artist in the future and to teach and nurture my future assistant in the same way that they looked after me.
COOLS: What do you think makes someone a “good” makeup artist? Each canvas you paint on is so unique and understanding that uniqueness seems to require a certain astuteness.
MM: I would say do not think about only the makeup, we try to feel the thing which is invisible. I mean it’s being someone who can work with their heart not only hands.
COOLS: That’s beautiful. Can you further elaborate on what you think the beauty is in working with your heart and explain that concept a little more?
MM: Makeup artist’s work is all by hand, we can’t ever recreate something in the same way again because we are not robots and doing so takes skill, we are only human. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity and a once in a lifetime experience. Meeting with people, jobs, even any kind of opportunity has meaning each time, like destiny. What I want to say is what a beautiful world we have borne and how we can we coexist in it without heart? Not only for makeup artists, but I think for everything we need a big heart to thank god. If we want to do good makeup, we need to have strong thoughts that we are going to make beautiful makeup and believe in ourselves.. This strong desire will help your work a lot..
COOLS: Your title is “makeup artist”, do you truly feel like an artist?