We have a special treat for you today. We sat down with our old friend Kevin James Bennett (KJB). Kevin is an / NYC based / member of the IATSE Local 798 / five time Emmy nominated / and two time Emmy winning makeup artist and instructor. If you know Kevin, you know that he does not hold back and has very strong opinions on our industry backed by a 30+ year career in makeup.
We asked him about his career, how he got his start, some of his favorite brands and products, and what he thinks about the new school approach to fame in the makeup biz - social media beauty. We'd love for you to share your opinions, and ask Kevin any questions you may have in the comments below. Enjoy!
Frontline: You've amassed a huge following of adoring fans who love your work. But before all of this exposure, what were you doing in the industry?
KJB: What was I doing? Everything and anything to keep my career moving forward. I’ve spent endless hours on-set in daytime, prime-time, reality TV talk shows, and commercials. Before that, I was a freelance makeup artist working in salons, photo studios, (commercial, advertising, etc) and sometimes fashion runway. Before that, I was a retail makeup artist working the aisles at stores in NYC (Bergdorf, Barneys, Bloomies, Saks, etc.).
Frontline: You teach a lot of people how to apply makeup, but how did you learn yourself?
KJB: It began in college. I was a performing arts major and was required to study theatrical makeup for stage work. A starving actor needs income, so I had lots of jobs to pay the rent. One was working in display design at Bloomingdales NYC. I was part of the Cosmetic/Accessories department but was loaned out to other departments when they were shorthanded. We would style mannequins with the makeup that was being promoted that week. Painting faces with makeup was my "aha moment". I had to start somewhere, so I used my connections to the cosmetic industry through my job in display.
Retail makeup artistry became my new focus and I trained with a number of cosmetics companies. I eventually worked directly with the education department at Chanel. Retail is a brilliant place to hone your makeup skills.
Every day you get to practice on a HUGE cross-section of faces - all colors, shapes, ages. I also spent lots of time assisting working artists to gain more knowledge and experience.
When I decided to transition into television, I took beauty and SFX seminars offered by union artists (Local 798) and eventually assisted them for additional experience and hours toward getting into the union.
I finally made it into Local 798 in 1995 and was invited to upgrade to Journeyman status in 1997. 30 years into this career and I still take education whenever I can. The day an artist thinks they know everything, is the day they need to retire.
Frontline: When did you realize you were onto something with this social media thing? Was there a specific event that made it evident that you had a good thing going?
KJB: I got my first inkling of how social media might be a game-changer back in the old days of Model Mayhem. Here was a global forum of artists discussing (and cussing) in real-time. It was mind-blowing. Information was flowing in a way none of us had ever experienced. Then MySpace appeared and presented another layer. Then Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.
I don't have a large social media following, but according to INC and Entrepreneur magazines, it's not the number of followers you have, it's how well your content is amplified. Beauty and fashion marketers are slowly realizing those of us with a smaller following are just as important to their business. “Micro-Influencers” develop a core group of followers genuinely interested in discussing our content. our followers are engaged in a way that makes them WANT to share the information and continue the conversation in their social network.
The days of just following a person, like a cult member, and mindlessly agreeing with everything they say is quickly coming to an end. (ooops, was that harsh?)
It’s also important to build a presence through multiple networks. Instagram might be the network of choice at the moment, but the social media landscape changes constantly, so don't channel all your efforts into building a singular account.
It’s also very important to connect with the people who follow you. I see lot’s of “popular” social media personalities playing the numbers game and thanking followers for their “support” – but not interacting and offering an authentically inclusive experience.
I'm proud to be part of network of amazing artists that amplify valuable information and beauty education in a personal manner.
Frontline: What are some of your favorite, must-have brands and products?
KJB: I'm obsessed with kit editing. I challenge myself to repurpose as many products as possible. That hones my must-haves to a shortlist.
We'll probably need a separate interview to go over my favorite products...lol.
Frontline: Do people recognize you when you are out and about? Got any funny stories about it?
KJB: I get recognized (sometimes) at trade shows and industry events. I'm not a "celebrity makeup artist", so people don't really care.
I did have an epic moment at a trade show recently. I walked up to a group of peers in mid conversation about social media. There were a few faces in the group I didn't know. One of those folks started going off about a FB group, where she thought the owner was an arrogant know-it-all, a real asshole. I asked what group it was; she said, "IN MY KIT"; I smiled and introduced myself as that "asshole".
Frontline: So let's talk about the highly uncomfortable but growing rift between traditional professional makeup artists, and social media makeup artists. What role in the makeup industry do you see yourself, and other professionals playing?
KJB: I don't see it as a rift.
I see it as misunderstanding, stemming from misinformation, fortified with a touch of entitlement and disrespect (when corrected). I have no disrespect for the YouTube or Instagram “beauty influencer” hustle.
Some very talented people sit in front of a camera and apply makeup to themselves…but they aren’t looking to build or sustain a career as a makeup artist. They’re in the game for Insta-Fame, swag, gifts, trips, and some fast $$$ (from affiliates, sponsors and collaborations).
I have no hate for that hustle - but it does not give them the right to identify as "makeup artist". When I bring this up, I’m often challenged with arguments like, “that’s only your opinion.” Sorry folks, facts and options are two VERY different things. You cannot randomly reinterpret the requirements of a profession to suit your whims. I can’t wake up tomorrow and call myself a lawyer because I’m good at debate (and watched a few episodes of “Law & Order”). That’s ludicrous.
There’s nothing wrong with the titles "cosmetic enthusiast" or "beauty influencer” - just don’t market yourself as a legit professional makeup artist when you’re not (hear that Manny MUA).
Here’s the facts:
Being a Professional Makeup Artist means one of your primary sources of income is being hired (paid) to apply makeup to OTHERS (not yourself). It is a profession, hence the term "profession-al makeup artist". We spend years learning our craft and developing our skills. It is not our hobby or an artistic outlet. It's how we make our living and pay our bills. And like any other profession (lawyer, electrician, doctor, plumber, etc.), it must be one of your primary sources of income before you get to use the title, professional.
Once again…to legitimately assume the title of professional makeup artist, you must be paid to apply makeup to others, on a regular basis, as one of your primary sources of income.
Frontline: We've seen a lot of blowback from the professional makeup artist community about online makeup classes. Here's your chance to clear the air, and tell us why someone interested in becoming a makeup artist may not find these online classes valuable. What would you recommend in lieu of online training?
KJB: Proper basic makeup training cannot be accomplished effectively through an online course. Core fundamentals, techniques and safety practices (sanitation, hygiene) must be taught in-person so the educator can supervise practice sessions and correct mistakes.
The best choices for basic training are reputable makeup schools or short- term workshops presented by working artists with credentials and proven teaching skills.
Online beauty education companies like LiveGlam, prey on enthusiasts who don't want proper training and are more interested in pro-discounts than learning a craft.
People don't understand how insulting the online makeup education business model is to those of us who've worked diligently for years to establish ourselves in this profession.
Companies like LiveGlam advertise that all you have to do is;
1) Pay a fee.
2) Watch a few videos.
3) Answer some multiple choice questions (as many times as you need to to get them right).
4) BAM, you are a Pro Makeup Artist.
The disrespect and damage to the legitimacy of our profession is mind-boggling.
I have absolutely no respect for the makeup artists fronting these scams. The high-profile YouTube and Instagram makeup gurus employed by companies like LiveGlam are selling empty promises wrapped up in a worthless certificate. It's unethical, unprofessional, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
Frontline: If you had to tell your fans one thing about following their dreams, what would it be?
KJB: The way to be successful in ANY career is a combination of hard work, passion, authenticity and being prepared to fail. Failure teaches you how to succeed, but only if you're willing to learn from your mistakes.
Thanks for taking some time to chat with us Kevin. Readers, we hope you enjoyed KJB Unfiltered! Don't forget to LEAVE YOUR COMMENTS BELOW and make sure you drop by and check out www.kjbennett.com, www.inmykit.com, and follow him on Instagram and Facebook!