James Charles Wants Us to Unleash Our Inner Artist
by Ethan D'Spain
17 December 2018
by Ethan D'Spain
In 2018, more and more major beauty brands seem to be collaborating with male beauty influencers, but there is one person that helped pioneer the mainstream approval that's evident today. After becoming CoverGirl's first ever CoverBoy in 2016 at only 16 years old, James Charles has since become a household name.
With nearly 11 million Instagram followers and more than 800 million views on his YouTube channel, the 19-year-old Internet sensation has grown immensely over the past three years, proving that men in makeup was more than a viral trend. Starting each video with a cheery "Hi Sisters!" James' videos focus on more artistic looks rather than traditional glam tutorials.
2018 was certainly a flourishing year for James. After winning Beauty Influencer of the Year at the People's Choice Awards, James collaborated with Morphe Cosmetics in a viral campaign that has left the collection sold out across the globe. The collection features an eyeshadow palette that serves as an exceptional starter kit for those wanting to dive into makeup. The Artistry Palette offers a unique spectrum of 39 heavily pigmented shades not commonly seen together. In addition to the palette, James curated a 34-piece brush set with Morphe brushes.
At just 11 years old, James was learning ways to monetize social media, long before the rise of the influencer; developing and growing social media accounts was not something the average teenager did back then. James fell into makeup by accident, first conducting looks on his friends and then himself and sharing it on Instagram. His passion for makeup and marketing came together later to help fuel his fame today.
PAPER had the chance to chat with James about his rapidly growing success, his loyal fanbase of sisters, and where he sees inclusivity and diversity in makeup going.
How did your online career first take off?
I grew up in upstate New York with my mom, dad and little brother in a small town called Bethlehem. I was a straight A student, which is always cute and fresh. I took education very seriously, but it came easy to me, so I was able to focus on a lot of other things at the same time. I used to run social media businesses on Twitter when I was 11 and eventually moved over to Tumblr when I was 12. Then when I turned 13, I moved to Instagram where I had a song lyrics and movie account that I eventually sold... which I think is illegal.
But it's OK because it's already over with, so they can't do anything about it. Then I eventually moved into hair, which is where I found my passion for makeup later on by accident. I was just doing hair for my friends from school for military ball and prom, which is huge for little suburbia. It was just a really amazing feeling, making girls feel really beautiful and doing their hair for an affordable price, when salons would charge obviously the most.
At what point did makeup come into play?
I eventually fell into makeup by accident, when one day my friend had a MAC appointment scheduled but she was running late. So she asked me to do it and I said, "Yeah I guess, but if it looks bad then you will not be telling anybody that I did it!" And it looked OK for my first time, I will say. In comparison to my skills now, obviously it was disgusting.
Regardless, she felt beautiful and I had a lot of fun putting makeup on her and experimenting. I had been watching makeup tutorials for a very long time, just for funsies. So I already had a slight idea of what I was doing, and as soon as I did it for the first time, I fell in love. I started doing more clients from school when it came to those events, and then eventually Halloween rolled around, and I put makeup on myself for the first time and that's when I started the Instagram page @jcharlesbeauty which is now @jamescharles of course. So, I started posting looks and here we are three years later.
You never had a burning desire for makeup, it just happened?
Yeah, I definitely always have been into art, but never really cared about makeup. It was just never something I was interested in. And my mom was never really interested in makeup either, so I didn't really have a lot to play with. So it definitely happened by accident and once it did, I just started ordering makeup starter sets online and eventually kept building up my kit. Now I'm thankful enough to get sent PR from different companies that I work super closely with, so my collection has grown tremendously.
What was it like being the first CoverBoy?
That was literally one of the craziest days of my life! I was in NYC for a beauty convention (it was one of the first ones I ever attended) and I was staying with a ton of makeup artist friends, in a tiny AirBnb in the middle of Brooklyn. I remember getting a text from my old manager and she told me she just had a call with CoverGirl and they were interested in having me be the first face for them as a guy. And I said, "Oh cool, that's kinda fun," and she said, "No, they want you to be a CoverGirl." It was just one of the coolest experiences of my entire life — they were just so amazing to work with. I had such a fun time on the set, I got to meet Katy Perry and Zendaya.
Overall, I think it truly changed the path of the makeup industry towards inclusivity, which makes me so so happy. It's really amazing that I got to be a part of that. And obviously there have always been men in makeup before me that I have looked up to and have loved for so long, but I feel like CoverGirl announcing a CoverBoy was a major step forward, especially for the LGBTQ+ community and men in makeup — because it was on such a bigger scale than just one individual person. For a huge international brand like CoverGirl to say, "Hey this cool, this is fun, this is fresh, here's James." It was really an amazing opportunity that I will forever be grateful for.
Do you think you helped pioneer male inclusivity in makeup?
I definitely don't accredit myself to be the forerunner or star of the men in makeup movement, there have been so many amazing role models before me that I looked up to. But I think CoverGirl made a major step forward to that inclusivity, which has made me one of the forerunners. I am in a really exciting position — it's definitely something I never knew I wanted to do, but now love and am so grateful for every single day because I get to inspire kids all around the world by just being myself. It's truly such a blessing and my favorite messages are the ones I get from young boys saying things like "I've always wanted to wear makeup, but I never felt confident enough, my parents didn't let me until we started watching your content together as a family." Those are the ones that truly warm my heart and make me so happy to know that this world truly is changing for the better. All messages mean the world to me, but it's those from the little boys that are too scared to express themselves but are able to find that confidence and just play, thanks to me and my videos. It's amazing that I can put art on my face and change the world.
This industry can be so crazy sometimes — the number of mental breakdowns I have had, the number of times I have cried myself to sleep over stupid shit. I would not be doing this job if it were not for my followers, and the sisters and being able to make that change in the world.
Where did the term "sisters" come from?
"Sisters" actually started by accident, once again like literally everything in my career. Two years ago, I was going to a Halloween party — it was actually my first ever Anastasia Beverly Hills Halloween party. Which is so crazy because I am getting to work with them now — this has come really full circle. I used to have a man-bun and it looked disgusting on me and thank God that I finally cut it off. But I would always wear baseball caps to cover it up because I was too scared to cut it off, but I knew it needed to go. And I was a deer for Halloween, so my best friend's father helped me cut holes in the baseball cap to rig deer antlers through it, it sounds very dramatic and it was for literally no reason. But when he did that and handed it back to me, I just remember saying "Thanks sister Marco." And me and my friends were all shocked. So it just stuck and became a running joke between my friend group, and we even named our group chat "The Sisters."
When I hit a million followers, my fans started asking, "What are you going to call us? We need a name now," and it just kind of made sense. If I already call all my best friends "sisters," it just makes sense to call all my followers sisters too, because I like to think of my fanbase as a family. I hate calling them fans because we're all friends — we all just share a love for makeup and love to laugh and be happy. The whole point of my channel is to just make everyone happier and put a little bit of positivity and entertainment into the makeup community and into the world. It just made so much sense to bring everyone into the family and call them all sisters. It's a total gender non-conforming term, anybody can be a sister — we all are sisters deep within.
In this new palette you ask your sisters to "Unleash their Inner Artist." What does that mean to you?
The tagline of the collection is "Unleash Your Inner Artist," and I created it with literally every single person in mind, because the way the palette is organized in 39 different shades — the top two rows of the palette are your more glam, everyday shades. The middle row are the most used shades in the makeup community. We have white and black for lightening and darkening, and then we have a highlighter shade that is beautiful for so many different skintones and then four different shades to create any warm tone smoky eye. That middle row is really for the everyday sister who wants to support the palette, but doesn't feel comfortable wearing a rainbow smoky eye. It's really for those more neutral looks or even for artists too, who want to change up their look sometimes. The bottom two rows are rainbow, which is so fun because I have always had a huge love for color. I'm not the biggest fan of glam looks; I really just love color and putting every single possible shade on my eye. I have been in the makeup community for three years now, and my goal has always been to push everybody to be a little more creative and have a little bit more fun with it because makeup at the end of the day, washes off. So the tagline "Unleash Your Inner Artist" is to have fun, express yourself and try something new and who knows, you might love it. We all have an artist within us.
Where do you see the beauty industry going in terms of inclusivity?
I think it's already going in such a positive direction, but we definitely have a long way to go. I would love for inclusivity to just be — I hate that this is still something we have to talk about. It shouldn't even be a question, like inclusivity should just be there. Like hello? It's so dumb. Anybody can wear makeup — it truly is just an art form and of course we can use it to feel more confident but at the end of the day it is literally just powders and creams and liquids and it comes off. I would love to see a world where that inclusivity is not even a question anymore.
The Morphe x James Charles Collection is currently sold out, but head over to morphebrushes.com to get on the list for when it's restocked.
Photos courtesy of James Charles (Featured Photo: James Charles & Ethan D'Spain)