Hollywood Jobs: Monifa Coffee, Makeup Artist

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In our series Hollywood Jobs, Rebecca Rose interviews people who work in all aspects of the entertainment industry – except performing. Here, you’ll meet the people who keep the show going on behind the scenes.

Monifa Coffee, 31, from New York, is a celebrity make-up artist whose work has appeared in the pages of magazines such as FHM and Essence and with the casts of shows like House of Anubis, Victorius, and VH1’s Love and Hip Hop. Monifa spoke to me from New York,about why she loves her job so much and what make up artistry is really all about.

I am very jealous of you. I was the girl who butchered her dolls hair and smeared black marker over it.  All my Barbies look like Courtney Love on a bender or something. You must be hailed as a visionary genius, like Picasso.  I have seen some of those “Celebrities Without Make-up” things.

I don’t think my family really understands what I do for a living.  They think I work for Mary Kay or something.  People don’t realize how much work really goes into it.

How did you get into this field?

I am from a small town in New Jersey. I’ve always had a passion for hair, makeup and fashion. In high school I studied cosmetology. I went to hair school after I graduated. I worked at the Christian Dior counter at Lord & Taylor. I was 18, and sometimes I felt like I had no idea what I was doing. There were all these thirty and forty year old women who were pissed that I was their manager and treated me terribly.  I cried to my grandmother, because they didn’t respect me at all.  She told me to go them and ask for a meeting, to tell them that I was hired for my skills and my talent and I was here to do the best job possible.  And that’s what I did; I went to them one by one. It was the best advice.

Grandmothers never steer you wrong.

After that, I started doing weddings, proms, anything I could get. A friend of mine dad a client who was an artist signed to Jermaine Dupri’s record label. She was doing hair and needed someone to do make up. So we formed this team, doing hair and makeup and wardrobe.  After that we decided to start an all girl team of stylists.  We called ourselves “The Glam Squad.”

The Glam Squad sounds completely awesome.  Were you like the Powerpuff Girls? Did you have matching costumes and fly around, fighting evil, like people who wear too much blue eyeshadow?

(Laughing).  Well we were really working hard to promote ourselves.  We were an all girl team, focused on hair and make-up and glamour.    We would have been more successful if we weren’t so young and weren’t so focused on being famous.  We were all best friends.  I saw the bigger picture.  My girlfriends, when they saw the kind of work that went into it, they decided it wasn’t really for them, and  just went on their own lives. They are very supportive of me now, of course.

What was your first big break, or big gig that you booked?

I met a photographer, Felix Natal Jr.,  who needed a make up artist.  You know, that was 8 or 9 years ago?  I was about 22. And we are still working together to this day.  And from there, because of him, I have worked with so many different celebrities.  We do magazines, editorials, lots of things like that.  With him, I worked with Wendy Williams, Terrell Owens, Adrienne Bailon, and a lot more.

So you’re not starving to death, begging to do people’s eyeliner for food? How did you manage to make a steady job out of it?

It’s kind of like a snowball effect.  I never had an agent or representation of any kind.  I just hustle and bustle on my own. Networking really is the key in this profession. I love to network.  I got a gig through Facebook like that.

What?  You got a job from Facebook?  All I ever get is ads for tooth whitener and pleas for me to “like” Doritos Fiery Habenero Chips.

Yes!  It was a job for Nickelodeon. I got a call from Jessica Wilson there. She was just looking through my profile page didn’t even realize that I was a make-up artist until she saw my portfolio.  She was looking for new talent to bring on, so she hired me.

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