Kim Kardashian makes stars of makeup artists on Instagram: ‘Without them, I wouldn’t be me’

Makeup artist Mario Dedivanovic works on Kim Kardashian in front of a paying audience in Pasadena last month. She regularly credits him on Instagram, where celebrity makeup artists can build huge followings.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

There was the ticket itself — which cost $500, not even for the best seat in the house — a few nights at the Sunset Tower, plus airfare from Sweden. All told, Linda Mehrens spent about $8,000 to watch Kim Kardashian get her makeup done on a Saturday last month.

Credit Instagram. The social media platform has made women around the world aspire to the reality star’s glamorous look. And it’s helped catapult makeup artists from what was a position of relative obscurity in the 20th century to their own kind of celebrity today.

Mario Dedivanovic, one of Kardashian’s go-to beauty gurus for the last eight years, has amassed 1.4 million followers of his own, and it was via Instagram that Mehrens discovered he was putting on a master class in Pasadena in July, with his star client as model. The owner of a makeup academy in Sweden, she decided it would be worth the 5,500-mile trip to learn at the master’s feet.


“I’m using it as a marketing scheme,” explained Mehrens. “I’ll go on my blog and Instagram and say that I learned the American style of doing makeup from Kim’s artist. I want to be one step ahead.”

She was among roughly 1,000 people who shelled out big bucks to attend the four-hour event, where tickets started at $300 and went up to $1,000 — the most expensive promising a product-filled gift bag and a picture with Kardashian and Dedivanovic.

Dedivanovic, best known for his elaborate contouring technique, has seen his star rise ever since Kardashian began giving him credit for her looks on Instagram. At least once a week, she posts a makeup-heavy selfie and tags it “glam by @makeupbymario.” She’s been doing this for years — mentioning other artists she works with, too, such as Joyce Bonelli (1.1million followers) and Rob Scheppy (374,000 followers). Along the way, she’s inspired other celebrities to shout-out not just who dresses them but who applies their fake eyelashes too.

“Recently a woman in London did my makeup and I Instagrammed about her, and the next day she was like, ‘I can’t believe you did that! That’s so taboo!’” Kardashian recalled a few days after the class, phoning from her treadmill. “She said as a makeup artist she was always taught to keep her mouth shut and not self-promote like that. But why not give them the attention? Without them, I wouldn’t be me.”

But there are arcane, mostly unspoken, rules to the Instagram game too — as she and Dedivanovic told the attendees during their class. For instance, if you’re a pro makeup artist, don’t post any pictures of yourself at a wild party, because then it’s difficult for Kardashian to imagine you in her home while her daughter’s sitting on her lap. And never ask to take a picture with her after you’re done, because what if she doesn’t like your work? “Then they just post that picture forever on every Throwback Thursday for the rest of their life,” she told the crowd, which was filled with Kim look-alikes sporting Louboutins, trench coats and Céline handbags.

“The person who gets the job done and is a little more quiet? I’m more inclined to want to post about them and their work,” said the 34-year-old.


“Especially nowadays with makeup artists having tons and tons of followers online,” Dedivanovic added, “it’s important to keep your head down and remember: ‘I’m not the star. The client I’m working on is the star.’”

But when Dedivanovic arrived at the Beverly Center a few days before the workshop, he had a publicist in tow from his agency, the Wall Group. The handler sat in on an interview — a rare occurrence for even a star of Kardashian’s caliber — and trailed Dedivanovic as he wandered through Sephora.

Dedivanovic, 32, got his first job at a New York City branch of the store when he was 17, working as a fragrance consultant. His parents emigrated from Montenegro to the Bronx, where they raised four children; dad worked as the building’s superintendent, while mom was a maintenance woman. His neighborhood was simple, Dedivanovic said, but he tried to look past its rougher edges, often asking his father if they could “drive around and see all the beautiful houses.”

Thus his attraction to Sephora, filled with so many exotic-looking perfume bottles and intricately packaged eye shadows. Soon he started working the counters for different makeup brands at Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel, and then he began assisting well-known industry figures like Kabuki.

When he met Kardashian, he was making up Miss Universe contestants and had yet to work with any major celebrities. But after he did Kardashian’s makeup for a photo shoot, she was so obsessed with the look that she asked him to take her out and show her every product he’d used on her face so she could buy them all. She liked how “ethnic” he made her look, bringing out her Armenian features; he liked how into makeup she was.

Indeed, Kardashian has had perhaps a bigger impact on the beauty world than any modern-day celebrity. Get your makeup done at any salon or department store and you’ll hear it: The young women all asking for the Kim Kardashian look.

Dedivanovic knows this better than anyone. “I do a lot of royalty in the Middle East — Dubai, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia,” he said. “And most of them have one request: They want to look like Kim.”

“It’s always awkward for me to talk about, ‘Well, they’re copying me,’” said Kardashian. “I’m beyond blown away and I get really excited because I genuinely love makeup so much.... I just love to always have my makeup and hair done and be made up. That’s just what my preference is. And maybe people think that’s relatable.”

Top makeup artists like Dedivanovic — those represented by high-profile agencies like the Wall Group and Starworks — can command from $2,000 to $3,500 for a day of work. And if he travels with Kardashian, as he did for her wedding to Kanye West in Europe last year, she has to pay for his flights and hotels.

But that’s not where the real money is, say some industry veterans. Scott Barnes, who has done Jennifer Lopez’s makeup for 11 years, still works with celebrity clients but has also developed his own products, published books and teaches online seminars. He’s partnered with brands too. Last month, he was stationed at VidCon, an annual conference for YouTubers, showing off how to do makeup to complement Air Optix colored contacts.

“I have quite a large following on Instagram: 200,000. But I don’t have 2 million, and everyone’s like, ‘Do you want more followers?’” said Barnes, 47. “It’s like, I guess? It’s great to have a lot of Instagram followers, but Instagram is like Monopoly: You can win Monopoly, but it’s not real. How do you translate it into a business?”

But Patrick Ta, 24, thinks he’s figured out a way to work the system. Just two years ago, he was living in Arizona, doing makeup for Arizona State University sorority girls. Before moving to L.A., he wrote a few goals on a vision board, including — what else? — “do Kim Kardashian’s makeup.”

Back then, he had only 9,000 Instagram followers. But somehow “Pretty Little Liars” star Shay Mitchell stumbled across his page two months after he arrived in the city. He started doing her makeup, and she tagged him in every post about her look. Then model Gigi Hadid tracked him down via Instagram, and through her page, he’s been found by Miley Cyrus and now — wait for it — Kardashian.

“Without Instagram, I would not be where I am today,” said Ta, who now boasts 225,000 followers. “About three hours after I do someone’s makeup, I start looking for pictures of the client that I can post on my page. Because I would never ask for a photo with them. I don’t want them to think I just want them for a photo to post on Instagram. That’s tacky.”


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