“You need to watch what I’m doing before you ask questions.” A deathly silence fills the darkened theatre where I’ve been sitting for the past four hours, next to a petite brunette girl who not only travelled from Romania to this central London theatre, but who proudly tells me she was first in the queue at 7.
30am. A short trip compared to the boy I met earlier who travelled alone from Indonesia.
The sheer authority in the man on stage’s voice has an almost hypnotic effect on the 600 warm bodies surrounding me. People who normally could not be parted from their iPhone for even a moment listen intently.
Swapping their touch screens for paper, they frantically scribble down notes as they watch him work. In the dim light I can’t make out the individual characteristics of their heavily made-up faces, except for the metallic highlighter that shines from their noses and cheekbones like beams from a lighthouse.
I turn my gaze back to the man on stage as he gently starts tapping his fingers across a woman‘s face, his dark eyebrows furrowed in concentration. The only sound is his breathing echoing into his head mic.
Afterwards they walk away with a goodie bag and more importantly, a selfie with their lord and saviour.
Dedivanovic changed all of that in 2009 when he filmed a YouTube tutorial with his then-relatively unfamous client, Kim Kardashian, lifting the veil on the smoke and mirrors of celebrity makeup and showcasing previously little-known theatrical techniques such as contouring and baking.
8 million Instagram followers and counting) and with brands, who realised how lucrative his endorsements could be. Eleven years ago no one had a clue what a Beautyblender was until a baby-faced Dedivanovic showcased it in that grainy video recreating Kardashian‘s Vegas magazine cover makeup.
Now Dedivanovic and Kardashian score Vogue covers while those little pink eggs have sold 50 million worldwide, spawned hundr of clones from rival brands, and expanded from sponges into colour cosmetics. It’s fair to say that if it wasn’t for Dedivanovic, the way we apply our foundation would be far more primitive.
And it’s not just Beautyblender that benefitted from his clout. After Kardashian shared a picture of his baking technique (leaving a heavy layer or loose powder over concealer for five to ten minutes to “set” it), theatrical makeup brand Ben Nye sold out of its Banana Powder overnight globally, and tripled the price in response.
I have followed Dedivanovic’s career since those early days, when I, too, would buy every product he recommended on his now long-defunct blog. I’d have done anything to watch him apply makeup to someone else, if only I had the £700 to spare.
I have even met him, briefly at various beauty events (albeit never for more than a quick selfie against a branded board). But how does a makeup artist go from painting faces to packing out theatres? What’s really behind “The Mario Effect”?
“Mario’s on his way.
They say never meet your idols and after a harrowing 30-second meet-and-greet with Britney Spears in 2018 that left me feeling hollow, I briefly wonder if we should cancel the whole thing.
In person he is less intimidating than I expected, dressed in an off-duty grey T-shirt and hoodie.
The only sign of his estimated $15 million net worth is one single silver Cartier bracelet on his wrist, which he tells me was a gift – “I’d rather take care of my mum and dad than buy lavish things”. Not only is he humble, but he’s also incredibly handsome – all tanned skin, dark hair, dark eyes, and a moustache that is just the right level of groomed.
I suddenly feel very aware that not only am I staring at him rather a lot, but that he’s also studying my bare, blotchy face closer than you would a real-life Jackson Pollock. Suddenly, all brisk and businesslike, he gives instructions to the hairdresser on set and asks for the shoot brief.
Then, switching his attention away from the specifics of the shoot, he turns back to me..
. “You’ll make me sound intelligent won’t you?” he asks, an endearing note of vulnerability in his voice.
“Of course,” I respond, finding the suggestion that I would have any kind of superiority over him frankly hilarious.
In a world full of YouTubers and their mind-blowingly glam beauty room tours, Dedivanovic’s nondescript palettes, de-potted lipsticks and theatrical cream pigments strike me as exceptionally modest. But I suppose if Jesus can feed 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes, Dedivanovic can free me from my blotchy cocoon with just a cream colour wheel.
As he gets to work beating my face with a Beautyblender (“My clients love this feeling, it makes them feel safe”) he tells me about his humble beginnings in the Bronx, where he was raised by his Albanian immigrant parents. His mum was a cleaner and worked in the L’Oréal head offices.
His devotion to her is evident when he tears up telling me a story about travelling to work with her when she was unwell. “I’ll never forget that moment.
There he immersed himself in the world of makeup artistry, visiting the library after work to research his favourite artist Kevyn Aucoin. He kept his new-found hobby a secret from his traditionally minded family, but they found out after they discovered a hidden shoebox filled with makeup and brushes.
“My sister found it and showed it to my mum. When I came home that day they were freaking out and staged an intervention.
I broke down and told them that I’m a makeup artist and this is what I do.” Their initial disapproval only motivated him more, and after building a portfolio he quit his retail job and went freelance.
“I told myself, ‘This is it. You have no other option.
You can’t go back, you have to make it work.'”
After establishing a small roster of celebrity clients and socialites including Natasha Bedingfield, Dedivanovic’s photographer friend called in a favour and asked him to do makeup the next day for a little-known reality star called Kim Kardashian, who had just filmed season one of Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
As her fans became increasingly obsessed with her aesthetic, Kardashian started sharing her glam transformations on social media and Dedivanovic’s star ascended. “After we uploaded that first YouTube video in 2009, I came out of the subway and I had hundr of Facebook messages from people asking me questions.
” That’s when the idea for the masterclass was born and he hosted his first workshop the same year with just 16 attendees. Ten years later and his masterclasses are a phenomenon, taking him to Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.
I’ve perfected the “Oh my god, I love it” reaction, while staring at my reflection and wondering why I look like Mad Eye Moody mid-Polyjuice Potion transformation. It’s not that those people aren’t talented, by any means, but after doing my own “glam” for 17 years, I know what I want to look like and no one else has managed to deliver it.
Sitting in his chair, I feel completely at ease. he doesn’t once check his phone or wander off for a break – I can honestly say that no makeup artist has ever given my doughy face this much attention.
When I see my reflection I’m genuinely shocked. I don’t look like a completely different person, but I feel truly beautiful.
I look like the version of me that I’ve always envisioned and hoped for, but have been unable to articulate. My skin is flawless, my eyebrows so naturally defined you wouldn’t know they had any product in, and the pink-red lipstick (something I would never normally wear) makes my eyes look far bluer than they do when I use my usual copper-toned shadows.
“You look like a doll,” he tells me and now I truly get it. He is a miracle worker, not only because he has made me look beautiful, but because for possibly the first time in my life, I truly feel beautiful.
I have a sudden urge to hug him, to grip onto him so tightly and pledge my allegiance.
As he gets ready to leave (two hours later than planned, and with not a single complaint), I ask him why he thinks he’s been so successful.
“I’m not the most talented makeup artist by far, but I have a great gut instinct and intuition. That’s a huge part of my success, understanding exactly how someone wants to look and feel without them having to tell me.
” Holding on tight to both my signed eyeshadow palette and my improved sense of self-worth, I can certainly attest to that.
A group of girls tell me how much they love Mario when I ask why they travelled down from Birmingham. A flash of jealously crosses their eyes when I tell them he did my makeup the day before, but it’s quickly replaced with curiosity.
“What was he like in person?”, “What look did he do on you?”, “How can you get in touch with him?” Before I can excuse myself they ask me for a picture. It appears that being painted by Dedivanovic has promoted me from a mere follower to a fully fledged apostle.
For a microscopic moment I imagine what it must be like to have such a hold over people.
Photo session over, I take my seat as a film begins to play.
It’s the story of his career to date, the same one he told me the day before. When the Nike shoebox pops up on screen with “Mario’s Suff” scrawled on it, I can’t help but feel emotional for that young boy who had to keep his talents a secret for so long, not knowing just how far he would go.
Throughout his masterclass Dedivanovic stresses to us that it’s not about the products he uses, rather how he uses them. He preaches the importance of editing, knowing when to stop, of making it look like the makeup was made for their model.
I get the sense that he is trying to take his followers – who are obsessed with the techniques he brought to the masses – down a new path. “Just because you know how to contour and bake doesn’t mean you should do it every time.
After 116 audience questions, I step out onto the grey London streets, my Mario face washed off the night before, but not forgotten. After two days with him, it’s clear that Dedivanovic has something that cannot be emulated, despite 600 people writing down every brush and product he uses.
His most important tool is the warmth that makes him addictive to be around and the intuition that turns makeup into a transcendental art. He has reignited my love for beauty and as I add that nondescript colour wheel to my online shopping basket on my phone, I remember just why I got into this industry in the first place.
It’s not about Instagram likes, or product launches, it’s about the transformative feeling you get when you’re alone, armed with a brush and an eyeshadow palette. As society feels more divided than ever, Dedivanovic’s ability to unite people might just be exactly what we need most.
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