Written by Elyse Moody. Photos courtesy of Mari Shten.
Growing up in the western part of Siberia, makeup artist Mari Shten doesn’t hesitate to admit she’s a perfectionist. On the rainy early morning we meet at the DUMBO loft where she’s shooting a personal project, she explains her goal to show the craftsmanship behind several looks.
“I’d rather see skin than makeup,” Mari tells me over the eclectic soundtrack — Elton John, ABBA, Erik Satie, Nat King Cole — playing in the background. “I’m not into special effects. I’m into beauty.” This philosophy along with her flawless style of work has brought Mari many followers and clients including American Vogue, Glamour, Elle Italia, Sony, Verragio, Make Up For Ever, and Victoria’s Secret.
Mari worked in Moscow and across Europe before moving to the U.S. for makeup school in Los Angeles, and has since worked full-time as a makeup artist for five years. She moved to New York City from Washington, DC, three years ago and has lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, ever since. “I don’t miss DC at all,” she says. Her tall suede boots, shiny black leggings, and long gray cardigan set a neutral background for the rings she wears on every finger and beaded bracelets on both her wrists — not to mention her shoulder-length hair that fades reverse-ombré-style from yellow-blond to blue-green.
“Sometimes it comes out the best when you just let yourself play.” – Mari Shten
Her latest project is Artists’ Moxie, a blog cofounded with her friend Julie Kandalec, who happens to be the manicurist she’s working with for this shoot; Sephora PRO makeup artist Sara Biria; and Around the World Beauty founder and makeup artist Stephanie Flor. “Our role is to be that professional voice for the beauty industry,” Mari says. Artists’ Moxie features reviews and how-tos, as well as inspirations — “because we meet so many interesting people every day,” she says.
Mari also works outside editorials and fashion, including a recent campaign advocating for immigration reform that treats women fairly. She collaborated with photographer Albert Watson for We Belong Together’s campaign, Fedoras4Fairness, doing makeup for a promotional video featuring Christy Turlington Burns, Rosie Perez, Cynthia Nixon, Judith Light, and other celebrities promoting its message that while “women wear many hats, on this issue we speak with just one voice.”
Today Mari’s tentative plan calls for starting with a “clean” look, something light and pretty, like a Seventeen prom concept. “That’s my first love,” Mari says — a fresh face with lots of lashes, gloss, and glowy cheeks. From there, she thinks she’ll build up with color, perhaps adding a strong coral lip or a blue or green eye, but she’s willing to wait for the mood to strike. “Sometimes it comes out the best when you just let yourself play,” she says.
I watch as Mari transforms a shy, giggling 14-year-old from Arizona. First, she gently grooms the model’s lashes and brows, then applies a toner and moisturizer. She has a soft touch as she mixes and dapples on sheer foundation, then checks the result of each brushstroke against the light.
When I ask if she always uses a brush for foundation, she says, “I don’t really have rules. Today I feel like, Okay, brush.” After finishing her skin, Mari then lines the eyes, trims and glues in place individual faux lashes, and finishes with several coats of mascara, plus a generous application of lip gloss. The result is a dewy, doe-eyed, teen-appropriate look — all flirty lashes and shiny, glossy smile.
Nothing seems to faze Mari’s preternatural calm. When the hairstylist for this test fails to show, she simply plugs in the flatiron, finds a brush, and starts dividing her model’s long, honey-colored hair into sections. “You do what you have to do, and it’s good to have extra skills,” she says, recalling the time she braided a celebrity’s hair at the last minute (“I’d grown up braiding my sister’s hair, so I’m actually pretty good with braids,” she says modestly) and another when she stitched up a hole in a dress for a model on a Sports Illustrated shoot. That model later sent her a thank-you note.
Now that Mari’s tamed this model’s tresses into a shiny sheet that falls down her back, Mari dusts glimmer powder atop her cheekbones. As the model begins to preen for the photographer, Mari stands off to the side, ready to check her work against the camera’s flash.
Elyse Moody is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor who enjoys covering books, culture, travel, science, and nature. She has written for (published and forthcoming): ELLE, ELLE.com, Creative Nonfiction, The Daily Beast, BBC Travel, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and Popular Mechanics, among other publications. Elyse has undergraduate degrees in English and journalism from Washington and Lee University in the Shenandoah Valley and a master’s in nonfiction writing from Johns Hopkins University. You can view her portfolio here and follow her on Twitter.
+ VIEW MARI’S WORK AT MARISHTEN.COM
+ ARTISTS’ MOXIE BLOG
+ MARI SHTEN MAKE-UP ON FACEBOOK
+ CHARLIE WAN STUDIO
+ YULIA GORBACHENKO – FASHION & BEAUTY PHOTOGRAPHER
+ DANIEL SCOTT PHOTO
+ JAYME THORNTON PHOTOGRAPHY
+ ALBERT WATSON & FEDORAS4FAIRNESS CAMPAIGN