Artist In Residency: Harold James’ Secret to a Parisian Red Lip
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Artist In Residency: Harold James’ Secret to a Parisian Red Lip

Welcome to Artist in Residency, our series that brings the industry's most innovative makeup artists to Rose Inc. for a month of creativity and inspiration. Each week, you'll discover an original look—and the story behind it—created by an artist we love.

Harold James was working in finance in Paris 10 years ago when his life changed forever. A good friend, who was an American makeup artist, had double booked clients and phoned James for a quick favor. “He asked me if I could take care of one of the clients and I thought, ‘he's crazy’ because I had never done makeup, I had just observed him doing makeup,” James recalls. “Just imagine a guy working in a bank, doing makeup.” Still, he didn’t hesitate to show up for a friend in need.

Shortly after James arrived, his friend whisked one client into another room and left James with the other. “I was super scared, of course, because it's my first time and I was sweating,” he says, noting that he’d always loved watching his friend work from afar, so he knew his way around the nearby makeup kit. “She wanted a smoky eye...so I did a smoky eye.” A little while later his friend returned to realize what had been lost in translation: James was meant to bring her tea and keep her company, not start her makeup, but it yielded an unexpected end: “The client was happy with the result!” James says. After a laugh over the miscommunication, a new reality came into focus: James had an exceptional amount of natural talent and his days at the bank were undeniably numbered.

One introduction led to another and James found himself packing his bags for an assistant position in New York for six months, then Tokyo for nine more. “I realized that from one place to another, the approach to makeup is not the same,” he says. “It was the best shock and I decided to take a year off to travel to different countries to understand the philosophy and the approach of beauty to each culture.” Gleaning inspiration in China, South Africa, Brazil, and Dubai, James returned home to France with a new perspective. “It really changed me,” he says. “Even today, when I take care of a client, the first questions for me are, ‘what is your background? What is your belief? What is your culture?’ From that, I can start doing my makeup.”

Fast forward a decade and his risk leaving finance has paid dividends: James’ artistry can be seen in Vogue Italia, L'Officiel Paris, and Harper’s Bazaar; his client roster includes Kendall Jenner and Carolyn Murphy; and he’s worked on campaigns for Dior, Louis Vuitton, and Marc Jacobs Beauty, for which he is an ambassador. For these reasons and more, Rose Inc. is delighted to welcome James as our May artist in residency alongside his longtime friend, and model, Tina Kunakey.

His Residency Inspiration:

For James, pairing a red lip with a white T-shirt and jeans is even more beautiful than a formal outfit. “It's something Parisians love to do,” he says about the high/low combination, but adds that his version packs a little more je ne sais quoi than a single shade of crimson. “I mixed red and pink just on her upper lip,” he adds. “It's something very subtle, not too much…” Alongside fluttery lashes, it’s a chic look that can be worn anytime, anywhere — whether one finds themself in the City of Lights or not.

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I mixed red and pink just on her upper lip…

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Behind This Look:

James first added a boost of hydration to Kunakey’s complexion using 111SKIN Repair Serum and Ole Henriksen Banana Bright Eye Crème, then lightly contoured her face with two shades of Chantecaille Future Skin Cushion Skincare Foundation. To keep the look light and fresh, he groomed her brows with Benefit Cosmetics Volumizing Eyebrow Gel then prepped the model’s pout by applying a thick layer of balm. Pro tip: Lightly exfoliate lips with a soft, damp towel, then allow the balm to soak in while working on the eyes.

“I started with bare lashes and a bare eyelid,” James says about the lashy look, which called upon the same protocol as his second week in residency. That is, he first applied individual lashes using classic lash glue, then applied a thick coat of Marc Jacobs Beauty Velvet Noir Mascara over top. But this week, things are even more streamlined: He patted Shiseido Crystal Gel Gloss directly onto Kunakey’s eyelids for the perfect clear sheen but skipped shadow to keep the finish extra glossy.

Like the rest of his work, the lips require special attention: “[Tissue off any remaining balm then] powder the lips a little bit to ensure that the pencil is going to stay,” James says. Using two shades of Make Up For Ever Artist Color Matte Pencil — Lava And So On and Perpetual Fire — he defined her lip line before layering the pink and red color. “I'm going to tell you something, I'm not really looking for perfection in my makeup,” James says. “For red lipstick, the most important thing is the curve of the lips, and after if it's not perfect, it's okay!”

Tina Kunakey photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane. Makeup and hair by Harold James. Written by Lexy Lebsack. Retouched by @retouch_club.