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Call that "research."
I was flying in to participate in her makeup masterclass with Mario Dedivanovic, her makeup artist of choice for nearly a decade. In my bag, I had the following: a new copy of her art book, Selfish, four kinds of contour powder, a camera (for selfies), three nude lipsticks, sunscreen.
Call this, "method research."
I'd been given the opportunity to be in the room with her, to watch it all go down — or more specifically, on. A face-to-face, step-by-step construction of the body that broke the Internet just a few months ago. The Instagrams of the event preparation alone garnered thousands of likes within minutes — I had no doubt I'd walk into the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to a line around the block, in a sea of Kardashian clones.
I was actually completely wrong. The reality was so much better — or worse? Depending on your perspective, of course. There was no line out the door, simply because people had arrived hours early to secure the best seats possible. In the dim light of the theater, I was greeted by rows and rows of girls with Kim haircuts, hair glossed to a glow that bounced off the plates of their Michael Kors bags (which greatly outnumbered the Celine totes, I feel compelled to note). More of a surprise, actually, was that in between the many variations of Instagram beauty addicts contoured to their most severe angles and lacquered in Anastasia Dip Brow, there were several children in the audience, some younger than 11 years old, sprinkled in between older women and men as well. It seemed like everyone was trying to keep up with this Kardashian, and they weren't afraid of forking over $300 just to get in the door. Those who had spent the thousand dollars for their golden wristbands were cordoned off in the front, taking group pictures with Mario's entourage.
Kim walked on stage in a cloud of black silk and a skintight black dress to screaming applause — but no flash photography. The selfie queen had forbidden cameras for the duration of the event. In any case, she sat down, poised, and so began the four hours.
It seemed like everyone was trying to keep up with this Kardashian, and they weren't afraid of forking over $300 just to get in the door.
At my count, there were more than 40 products used, counting brushes but excluding skincare. ("I love Guerlain moisturizer, but it's so expensive that I ask for it for Christmas," said Kim. "Yeah, because she can’t afford it," Mario added with an eyeroll.) Much has been made of the Kardashian contour routine of concealer stripes, but in reality, the artistry is actually mostly invisible: most of the four hours was dedicated to blending, and blending thoroughly. I lost track of how many beauty blenders were used — at least three, of different sizes, dampness, and color.
Of course, when they reached the contour routine, a hush fell over the room like they were predicting winning lottery numbers, and Benefit Hoola was the winning ticket. While making her up, they entertained questions about everything from Kim’s pregnancy beauty routine ("I just fly Mario out, I look too weird and swollen otherwise.") to what makes a professional prepared (Their advice: bring your own lighting.) They debunked myths, too: Kim and Mario don’t ever use the banana powder that they have made famous by being associated with. In fact, Mario warned against using it on her olive complexion — "It would look too yellow under her eyes, way too muddy. I’ve never used banana powder, no." I think I heard the distant screams of Youtube Gurus in the distance: millions of YouTube views — two million on this Kim Kardashian video alone — have been made on the banana powder myth, only for it to go up in smoke.
It was meditative, actually, to watch Kim zone out and trail off as she answered questions while getting her eyebrows shaped: you could see that it relaxed her. Mario and Kim have built a relationship as important to Kim as any of her others: a creative partnership that has outlasted marriages and scandals alike. Mario helped make her as much as Kanye helps create her with outfit choices and Kanye-approved collaborators. While he shaped her eyebrows, Kim said this of Mario: "He brings out what I see in the mirror — what I want to look like. I love that he makes me look very ethnic, and brought out my Armenian features. When he first did my makeup, I asked him to go with me to buy everything that he used. I asked him to move in with me when we first met! He even edits photos with me. I’ve never met someone who has the same eye as me. I think that’s very rare." He’s done her makeup through tears — he tells her to breathe in through the nose and just keeps going, reapplying it and clearing the snot. Beauty doesn’t stop for crying, it apparently only detours.
#before and #after of my #Muse @kimkardashian from today's #Master Class. I taught the class our signature look what a treat this was. #epic #grateful. She took a red eye flight last minute to be there for me after my model cancelled last minute. And she gave all the artists amazing advice about all the things that are important when it comes to client/ artist relationships. I'm still in shock. Thank you thank you thank you. (Ps each photo was taken with different lighting and cameras)
While her beauty routine was, of course, fascinating (and we've included it, in excruciating detail below), I think the most interesting thing was how much everyone there wanted it, and had traveled so far. One of the most beautiful ironies of the situation was that the techniques Mario used on Kim were actually quite old school, similar to the techniques used by the iconic Kevyn Aucoin — and yet, Mario's success can largely be attributed to the social media star power of Instagram and reality show starlets like Kim and her Krew. Everyone there found out about it from his social media, or from her. While most people defined themselves as makeup artists at the event, a lot of them were really beauty hobbyists when I asked them individually — hobbyists that spent at least $300 to get into the door.
At the beginning of the class, people raised their hands if they were from town — few hands. Out of state? Most of the audience. Out of country? The air was filled with manicures. Before almost every question, a breathless introduction: "Hi Kim, I love you, I'm from Ethiopia [or Sweden, or Dubai, or Cairo, it went on]. I flew here to see you. Please answer my email. Also: what face powder do you use?" I interviewed a mother and her 11-year old child who had traveled from Mongolia for the event — they were fans not necessarily of Kim, but of Mario. Every other person I talked to had a similar story: Instagram super-fans of Mario, flying in from out of town. At one point during the contouring process, I overheard a girl whisper: "It almost looks three-dimensional." I couldn’t help but smile.
I overheard a girl whisper: "It almost looks three-dimensional." I couldn’t help but smile.
Witnessing the pull of the Kardashians in real life didn't illuminate the magnetism of Kim's empire for me. If anything, it clouded it, made it all the more ungraspable. Coming away from the event, Kim seemed... nice! She talked about Nori with the devotion of a mother. Since Nori’s birth, she’s become more wary of the new artists she invites into her home, for fear of how they approach Nori, who often sits in her makeup chair with her. She was soft-spoken and she trailed off a lot. She seemed at peace in a sea of cameras and devotion and security guards and five kinds of lip gloss: she made it seem normal, and those who witnessed it were the ones out of touch. It was an odd contrast to the amount of people who had spent hundreds, even thousands, to be there to take a selfie with her, to learn what she knew. What she really knew was how to make money off of celebrity fascination, and that particular lesson wasn’t taught.
The next morning, I tried out some of the tips I learned from the event while listening to her husband's music — "Power" blasting through the hotel speakers. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror all that much: I looked strangely both too alive from the contour, and too virtual, like my face had taken on the characteristics of my still-favorite cast member of the strangely puzzling reality show.
It’s fascinating: Kim is everywhere, in my face and on television, but I don’t think most people have access to her as a human being. Being in a room and watching her put her famous face on, fielding those questions — that just proved it to me. She’s covered it up in three kinds of eyeliner, two concealers and a plethora of security guards. It’s out of necessity from the lack of chill around her, and in desire to be the best at what she does: being a celebrity version of Any (Beautiful) Girl, a sweet woman of the cellulose. A living, celebrity, cyborg ghost — her video game self is as real and as malleable as her human body, she curates both selves with a certain amount of freedom and control — she finally let people take photos at the event after her makeup was completely done, but not a moment before. I went to learn her beauty tricks and see into her celebrity, and I learned this one truth: it is perfect, absurd in intricacy, unachievable and slightly incomprehensible.
People could devote the four hours and thousands of dollars in beauty to be like Kim Kardashian, but they’ll never be her, not for a second, not for a moment. They all bought the tickets to try, though. But $300 dollar visits into her beauty realm are just another long con. Mario said it best as he blended her eyeshadow: "The secrets are part of the job." It’s all smoke and mirrors, really: the magic show is just a blending brush.
Either way, I suppose it’s fun to watch.
Editor: Meredith Haggerty
Correction: This piece initially cited a video by Wayne Goss as extolling the virtues of banana powder. This was incorrect and has been updated.