In our internet-fueled world, anyone can watch a few Youtube clips and claim the title of “makeup artist.” But, years before the concept of social media even existed, obtaining the right to the title meant years of academia, traveling, assisting other makeup veterans, etc. While most makeup artists have done one or the other, Romero Jennings has found a way to excel in both with ease.
Jennings, who is now the Director of Makeup at M.A.C. Cosmetics, has innovation flowing through his veins, and his makeup artillery—an essential power to have when you’ve been in the business for approximately 30 years. “I like to create eyelashes out of paper or metal, and eyebrows with really weird materials,” Jennings told COOLS. “Many times you’ll see technology seep into those types of looks, and there’s sort of an alien inspiration that comes along with it. Even when we’re sourcing models, they’ll ask me how I want the model to look, and I’m usually into a very alien futuristic look: really high cheekbones, huge eyes, a pointy chin. If she has an alien head, I’m happy.”
His obsession with the futuristic and the progressive, molded together with his tight-knit precision, are what led to Jennings becoming the “futuristic outsider” of the beauty industry. From his early years assisting other makeup artists in Japan, to a stint creating music video glam for the likes of artists such as Mary J. Blige, then currently taking the throne at the legendary M.A.C (where he most recently worked with Troye Sivan for the 25th anniversary of the iconic Viva Glam campaign), Jennings has proven time and time again that he is, indeed, the true king of the beauty industry.
Below, we talk to Romero about the digital age in beauty, the future of the rapid-paced cosmetics industry, and more.
Who or what inspires your makeup looks?
“I remember watching a lot of Star Trek when I was younger, and I would be in awe about it. The space aesthetic; the outer-world experience; it was all so enticing. Anything futuristic really inspires me because it gives an unreal touch to the overall look. Also, I love gardening, so that also really inspires me. It has nothing to do with makeup, but it plays with colors, and nature really helps ignite my ideas. But, I also really love technology, so both nature and technology inspire me, which is pretty contradictory.
But, I also get inspired by the model. When I see their face in person, it really helps me tweak whatever I create. I like to show up to a shoot already knowing what I want to do; there’s something in my head that gives me some added inspiration as I’m prepping the night before. Whatever details I need, whether or not I know what I’m walking into, I almost already know what I’m going to do before I show up. And that intuition is important to have, because I’m really comfortable when I know what I’m going for. It’s so frustrating to try and reach for inspiration at the last minute. I never draw a blank, ever. At the same time, however, I’ve been doing this long enough—I’ve been at MAC for 25 years, and I’ve been overall doing makeup professionally for 30 years—that it doesn’t even feel like work at this point. It just feels like I’m hanging out and having fun. The unsexy part of my job is doing an expense report, that’s the second side to it.”
How have you seen the style and aesthetic of the beauty industry evolve over the years?
“Well through social media, people define their looks in the perspective of how it’s going to photograph. It’s all about how you’re going to get people to talk about your latest look. When I’m designing makeup, I think about how it’s going to look on social media, and how it’s going to translate in person, if it’s going to be impactful enough, and if people will be interested in these looks. It’s not just thinking about the look on the person and with their outfit; it’s a real 360 perspective. I feel like social media has really impacted makeup and beauty in that way, and it influences how I work.”
Social media also helped connect the global beauty community together. It’s so broad, yet so tight-knit.
“For sure, and I use it as a tool for learning and for global communication. I get so inspired by social media, and as people respond to my images I feel like it helps guide me. It can guide you to know what the trend is. I posted this bright red lip once, and all of a sudden everybody wants it and they’re asking where they can get the lipstick and how they can create it. People will communicate with each other through that, which is nice because I always try to bring it back to technique. The products are of course important, but I also try to think about special techniques and different ways of using product, which also helps to innovate and push the beauty world past its boundaries.”
Sometimes the beauty world on social media can get a little stagnant, though. A lot of influencers will do the same thing: glitter cut-creases, heavy contour, overdrawn lips.
“Honestly it’s surprising, because when I really push the envelope with a look it gets way more likes, especially when it becomes more futuristic. But sometimes, when it’s so simple that you question if the model is really wearing something, that also makes a big impact. It’s really interesting to play with social media in that way, and I always tell everyone that it’s basically the new portfolio. Many times, I get hired for work from my social media page. It allows you to have a global reach, and it’s remarkable.”
How has your work evolved from the beginning of your career to now?
”It’s certainly transformed over the past 30 years. I started doing makeup in Japan, and I learned to do makeup there and it was all about symmetry, touch, and placement. But when I came back to New York, I started doing a lot of music video makeup for people like Mary J. Blige and Boyz II Men, and it was amazing to work with them because I learned all about doing makeup for video. I had to change and grow with technology, such as with the rise of high-definition and all of these new platforms available. It feels like my makeup is under a microscope; you can take a photo of my work, blow it up, and see all of the tiny flaws and detail. It makes you, as an artist, feel like you need to get better and better. For me, it’s motivated me to work on my skills over the past several years. There have been times where I purposely use no precision, almost like finger-painting, and people will criticize it for being ‘messy.’ It’s not a mess; it’s creative and it’s a way of thinking outside of the box. You have two sides to it, and it sounds pretty primitive but I’ve been doing makeup before the internet was even a thing. So, just looking back over the years, the world wide web has completely changed the way we look at makeup, and how we do it ourselves, and how we even create it.
“Also, my innovation has grown so much. Working at MAC, I’m constantly in product development meetings where I help to develop products that I feel comfortable using for my own work, as well as externally creating these weird objects like lashes and brows out of different materials. So, that has sort of become my sort of ‘claim to fame;’ just being a futuristic outsider. But in the beginning of my career, it was definitely more music video-focused, and it’s interesting that we can all see the growth over the years. If you take a look back at some of my posts from the beginning of my social media feed to now, it’s developed so much. So, just trying to refine makeup and my own skills as the technology gets more detail-oriented has really pressured me to step up my art.”
Until the 2010’s came along, makeup was pretty simple—drugstore mascaras, single-shades of eyeshadow, and that’s about it. Now it’s become a whole routine of contouring and perfecting the ultra-fine details.
“It’s because people now have access to information. They know now about delivery and making yourself look a certain way. I was doing makeup on someone the other day and she told me it takes her only ten minutes to do her makeup everyday. When she asked me how long it would take to get her makeup done, she was shocked when I told her it would take about an hour. But, I take that long because you see the difference in the photo when I do. So, the landscape has totally changed to be much more precise and clean, even if it’s a messy look you’re going for.”
Which young makeup artists are interesting to you right now?
“Of course, I love Sir John, who does Beyoncé’s makeup. We’ve worked together, and he’s just great. I also do love Ariel Tejada, who does Kylie Jenner’s makeup. He does traditional beauty, but on such a creative level. Traditional beauty can be innovated itself, like how Ariel does it. You’re still doing a crease, just in a different way and using new techniques.”
Where do you see the direction of the beauty world going within the next decade or so?
“Right now, I see a lot of people doing ‘non-makeup’ looks. Also, utilizing different technology to help with your makeup. It’s also very focused on looking perfect in person, not just in a filtered photo. Everyone is so obsessed with filters and lighting, but how does your makeup really look in person?
“I feel like the direction is really going in the way of perfection, but using modern technology to help with that. Is this makeup, or is this something that you can actually glue on? At some point, could we just put a single mask on our face and then we’re done? Who knows, and it’s so interesting because you never know how far beauty can go with its ties to technology, especially since it’s changing so quickly. It’s so interesting to even ponder on the idea of what’s next. Using technology and beauty hand-in-hand will definitely become a major staple in the beauty community. We’re already seeing it now with all of these products: there’s peel-off lipsticks and foundations, eyelashes and liners made out of LED lights and metal, and they all work. Even lash extensions and weaves look extremely natural at this point with realistic hairlines. The sky’s the limit.
“But, even with all of this innovation and technology coming in, artistry is key. You can have all of the tools, but you still need someone to teach you how to utilize these things. It’s going into the terrain of the consumer becoming the artist. When you think about it, everybody is a makeup artist in their own right. It’s almost like you’re going to school by using Youtube and Instagram to see how people create pretty intricate looks and duplicating it yourself. Everybody’s a self-taught artist now—on different levels, of course, but in a sense everyone is an artist now.”
You bring up a very important point. Before the digital age, everyone had to go to cosmetology school to be a professional makeup artist. Now, you can teach yourself everything by watching a couple of videos.
“Exactly. And it’s not just in makeup—one of my neighbors was putting up drywall all by himself, and he told me he learned how to do it through Youtube. While I don’t necessarily trust following a YouTube D.I.Y. video for putting up drywall, makeup is a much more forgiving place. If you mess up, you can just wipe it off and try again. Everyone scours through the internet to learn about everything and anything. It can be a little tricky, but it’s a great tool—just make sure to check yourself. Take a photo of your finished makeup, zoom it in, and make sure you check all of the details and your symmetry.”
Which beauty trends are your currently loving, and which ones are you not into?
“I’m loving all of the innovation coming out of Korea, especially with skin. The whole ‘glass skin’ trend that’s popular right now is all about oversaturated, almost balmy skin that’s perfect for spring and summer. You still powder, but very strategically. I also love any look that allows you to be seen from the back of the room. Electric eyeshadows; beaming glitters; it’s such an impactful makeup trend that’s being done in an articulate way.
“When it comes to the trends I’m not into, I remember a couple of months ago that people were doing this weird thing where they parted the middle of their eyebrows. I hate that, it looks like wolf brows. I love a big brow, but it was interesting to see this weird take on them. There were also curled brows for a moment; just really long curled brows that I was not here for. It was just getting too out of hand with the brows, and it just wasn’t cute. I love big and bold brows, but that’s not the take that I would’ve gone with them.”
For a while, heavy makeup was a huge trend. But now, minimalism is key. It’s a very interesting transition in just a matter of a few years.
“Exactly, the sharp-cut makeup that looks great on Instagram can look unapproachable. Are you wearing the makeup, or is the makeup wearing you?”
What are some of your go-to makeup products?
“My number one is definitely the MAC Cosmetics Powderkiss Lipstick. It’s such an innovative take on lipstick, it’s perfect for daily wear and backstage, and we really went above and beyond when creating it. Before this lipstick, you were using a regular lipstick, liner, and a pressed pigment to get a true matte finish. This lipstick is a true all-in-one, and it’s so easy to use.
“Another one of my favorites is the MAC Cosmetics Prep + Prime Skin Refined Zone Treatment. Normally, you’d put a primer underneath your foundation, but I like using it on top to keep shine under control. If I’m running into a meeting and I’m not wearing a drop of makeup, I grab this and dab it on. Sometimes I post myself using it on my Instagram feed, it’s just my favorite primer ever because you can use it over makeup throughout the day.It’s kind of like a liquid powder, but you can also use it under your makeup, or even both. What’s great about this for me as a makeup artist is that it works for everyone’s skin because it’s clear.
“And the last product I’m really into is the MAC Cosmetics Haute & Naughty mascara. There are so many different mascaras out there, but when I put this one on it does everything I ask for in a mascara. It’s quick; it’s easy; and it makes a huge difference. It also has a wiper system — you pull the mascara wand through it to have little-to-nothing on the wand for a lighter finish, and if you just dip and pull it through the tube you get a more dramatic, defined finish with giant lashes. My 80-year-old mom even uses it, and she has giant lashes with red lips every day. As you get older you have less time and less patience with makeup, so she just swipes this on and she’s ready to go.”
What’s one makeup tip that you think everyone should follow?
“Blend. Seriously, blend. Once you’re finished with your eyeshadow or contouring, use a white tissue to take excess makeup off the brush you were using, then go back in and blend. Many times people blend with makeup still on the brush, and that can mess everything up.”