For hair and makeup artist Bruce Dean, a typical day is never typical. He could be working with magazines (Vogue, Elle, Paper, Playboy, Men’s Health), models (Robyn Lawley, Lauren Mellor, Sean O’Pry), musicians (Missy Elliott, Cyndi Lauper, Gwen Stefani, Maroon 5), actors (Amy Poehler, Kim Cattrall, Cynthia Nixon, Sandra Bernhard, Paul Rudd, Alan Cumming), Broadway stars (the casts of Bombay Dreams, Steel Magnolias and Heathers) or us here at Bare Necessities.
That unpredictable mix of high-pressure, high-profile work could be a recipe for burnout, but Bruce’s easygoing, charming demeanor—he treats the talent with the same respect as the rest of the crew—ensures he takes it all in stride. Bruce, who learned how to do makeup growing up in Ventura, California, by practicing on himself and his younger sisters, is equally happy to glamorize the elite as he is his friends. He’s just as comfortable on the red carpet as he is (wait for it) quilting at home in Spanish Harlem, New York City. Though he has the world’s best products at his fingertips, it’s only fitting that, as a makeup artist, he says his perfect day must include “making someone smile.”
Read more about the man who knows how to bring out the best in anyone, inside and out.
Q: How did you find your calling and become one of the preeminent artists in your field?
A: I remember as a kid seeing this movie with the actress Marlene Dietrich. In one particular scene, she leans back, lifts her chin, and the light hits her face just right, and I knew that somehow, some way, I wanted to be a part of that world. I have always loved everything that iconic golden era of Hollywood embodies.
Doing my due diligence and making sure each and every day I’m giving it my all helps. On set, I’m both focused and creative. This plus the support of my agent and her constantly pushing for me has led to where I am now.
Q: What challenges did you have to overcome along the way?
A: The biggest challenge I’ve had to overcome is loving myself and being comfortable with me. For so many years, I was picked on in school and made to feel worthless. Well, I can say that today I’m very far away from those old feelings, and I’m in a much better place now as a result of all of the wonderful friends and incredible therapy I’ve had over the years.
Q: Of all the high-wattage events you’ve been part of, what’s been your most memorable job so far?
A: I managed the MAC Pro location in Manhattan for four-and-a-half years, where we catered mostly to VIPs and celebrities. One day, I got a phone call from the singer Roberta Flack, asking if I could do her makeup at her apartment in the Dakota. After I finished, I gave her the bill, and she took it from me, looked at it and said, “You see my apartment? I’m able to buy these things because I am paid what I am worth.” Roberta Flack paid me double what I asked for, and I never forgot that. I learned a big lesson that day—it’s important to know your worth.
Q: Where do you find inspiration?
A: So many different places! For example, a movie or Broadway show can trigger something, and my imagination starts to run wild; all of these things come to my mind and take me to a place that could allow me to create something nobody has ever seen before. I also read a lot and subscribe to various magazines. My favorite book is The Color Purple by Alice Walker. I try to hit the art galleries as much as I can. The last exhibition I saw was the Irving Penn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and it was an incredible experience.
Q: What’s the most surprising part about your work?
A: One challenge that’s very surprising is that, due to the human element, you never get the same shot twice. A model’s energy, expression and passion can really elevate the shoot. Sometimes the photography itself can elevate a shoot, as well as the hair and makeup. It’s always exciting when that happens. The challenging part is when ideas clash, and then it becomes about trust. Any idea that you have for a shoot is a risk. Sometimes it works incredibly well, sometimes it doesn’t—some shoots are put together with the best intentions and just don’t work out. It’s hard when this happens, but it’s part of the creative process. I don’t think you can do anything fresh without taking risks to get to the new place you want to be.
Q: What does it take to make a shoot successful?
A: The most successful shoots are when you’re a part of a team. It’s important to approach work with the frame of mind that it’s not about you, it’s about everyone. That synergy is everything.
Q: What’s the secret to living well?
A: What I’ve come to find in life is that you have to stop being your own worst critic and learn to laugh at yourself. We can get in the way of our own happiness. I’m a perfectionist, and sometimes I’m my own worst enemy. I just have to step back and allow things to be imperfect because sometimes that’s exactly what needs to happen.
Q: What drives you?
A: I always want to try new things to keep it exciting. This drives the curiosity in me. I want to be a part of what’s going to happen next.
My first job was working at Wendy’s. It was horrible. I saved the name tag and still have it to this day so I will always remember to never go back to that!
Q: How do you find balance?
A: Being “on” all day long takes its toll after awhile, so it’s very important that I take very good care of myself by eating right and exercising. That said, my guilty pleasure is the banana pudding from Magnolia Bakery. The best mood-booster? Blasting “All You Need is Now” by Duran Duran in my headphones. I also find the time to get a massage at least once every two weeks.
Q: What’s the best advice you ever got?
A: My dear friend Sondra Lee suggested that, instead of telling people what I want, I should ask them how they see me, and as what. It’s a great way to start a conversation and get the perspective of a new employer or collaborator about your role in the bigger picture.
Q: What’s your best beauty tip?
A: Always start by doing eyeshadow first and foundation after. You get a cleaner foundation application without eyeshadow crumbs falling, and once your eyes are done, you really feel like you’ve got some makeup on and tend to use less foundation. My favorite look is a chocolate smoky eye. It always looks sexy, and it’s not as harsh or garish as a black smoky eye. You can even add a touch of gold to it. Those warmer tones make you look more alive and enhance your natural features.
Q: What is true beauty? What does your social media handle @ArriveBeautiful mean to you?
A: Acknowledging and being acknowledged for the positive things you have done, for yourself and for others. “Arrive beautiful” means being your best self. When you’re good to yourself, you feel your best and people respond to that in a positive way.
Q: What’s your greatest strength?
A: That I’m drop-dead gorgeous!
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