You probably wouldn’t expect that the man responsible for Beyoncé’s iconic bulletproof beauty looks (remember that Coachella white towel reveal?) got his start with lap dancing Candy. But in a recent episode of ESSENCE’s Color Files, the celebrity makeup artist revealed that before he was working with big names like Naomi Campbell, Viola Davis, Joan Smalls, and Queen Bey, he was moonlighting at the strip club.

“I was there for almost three years. I would go from these elaborate sets working with Pat [McGrath] or working with Charlotte [Tilbury] for Vanity Fair, and directly from those sets, take a nap, and go right to the club with the girls and do [makeup] until 2:00 a.m.” he recalled. “Working in the club with the girls allowed me to work for free in the daytime, basically. When you’re an editorial assistant, you don’t make any money. I made like $50 on an editorial shoot for a 10-hour day.”

Sir John credited the dancers at the Riviera in Queens for his first passport stamp, and possibly the launching of his longterm professional relationship with Pat McGrath. After assisting the famed makeup artist during New York Fashion Week, she asked if he would be in Milan to assist her there. At the time he didn’t have the money, or even a passport, but knowing that it was an opportunity that he couldn’t pass up he said yes.

“I remember I told the girls ‘I got this cool opportunity to go to Europe with this lady named Pat McGrath but I can’t go because I just got bills, and I have stuff to do.’ I didn’t think I would be able to make it. And they were just like, ‘Oh no, you’re going to go.’ And so they took a jar and they actually peeled some dollars off.”

And he made it to Milan with McGrath, and that was a turning point for his career. It also made it very clear to him that there’s an advantage to being able to work for little to no money, and it’s a privilege reserved for certain socioeconomic classes. But despite that, Sir John took a leap of faith and trusted in his abilities. His willingness to receive whatever would come is a blessing he credits to changing his life.

“When you’re trying to do something, the universe will conspire to help you if you’re in vibrational alignment. I think at that time I must have been in alignment,” he said. “I got to Europe, and she sent me to my first show which was Dolce & Gabbana. And then after that, she took me to Prada. And then after that she sent me to the Bulgari Hotel in Milan to work with Naomi Campbell. She was my first client.”

The story almost sounds like a fairytale, like a Cinderella story. His ball was Milan Fashion Week, his Prince was Pat McGrath, and his glass slipper was a makeup case. And instead of little mice putting together a gown for him, Sir John had exotic dancers help him get a passport and a plane ticket to push him towards his dream. If it wasn’t for that night gig doing makeup for strippers, who dropped it like it was hot to get him to Europe, we might not have the magical work he’s famously known for today.

“Whatever you spend emotional attention on is your reality. So it could be a parking spot, it can be a cup of coffee, it can be a million dollar contract, or it can be a trip to Europe,” he said. “Whatever that looks like, [be] in alignment with what you’re going to receive.”

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