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China’s Most Bankable Makeup Artists

A rising tide of talent in the country is helping to shape a diversifying aesthetic in local fashion media, fashion week shows and advertising.
China's burgeoning local fashion scene has given rise to a new generation of local make-up artists looking to make their mark.
China's burgeoning local fashion scene has given rise to a new generation of local make-up artists looking to make their mark. (Valentina Li)

In the early days of Chinese makeup artist Xin Miao’s career, in the late 2000s, the mainland’s homegrown fashion and beauty market was still nascent. In 2008, he travelled to Paris for a month. That international exposure was a big part of what inspired to become a makeup artist.

The idea of being a fashion makeup artist in China “only started happening with our generation,” 41-year-old Xin said.

Little more than a decade later, the situation has changed completely and Chinese makeup artists don’t have to leave the country in search of opportunities.

Hand in hand with the growth of China’s burgeoning fashion market has come the emergence of a new creative class in China, which includes photographers, stylists and makeup artists who are defining the multitudes of ways that modern Chinese style can and should be represented today. Global brands are increasingly tapping their expertise as they look to engage with China’s local creative industry, simultaneously availing themselves of local knowledge of modern Chinese fashion’s sub-sectors, sub-cultures and cultural and historical context.

China’s in-demand makeup artists offer everything from high glamour and traditional Chinese beauty references to boundary-pushing experiments in modern-day beauty ideals, and are growing in number. The following seven names represent some of the most sought-after talents working in the country today.

Valentina Li is a frequent contributor to Vogue China and collaborates with local designer brands like Windowsen.

Valentina Li

She’s done everything from clean, glossy minimalism to jewelled-up manga eyes, but there’s no mistaking the work of Valentina Li, who was born in a small town in the south of China’s Guangxi province and is now based in Shanghai.

Not one to shy away from glitter or acid-bright hues, 31-year-old Li counts the likes of photographer Leslie Zhang and stylist Audrey Hu among her frequent collaborators. Besides editorial work on top models He Cong and Ju Xiaowen, she’s also a fixture at Shanghai Fashion Week, having created looks for homegrown names including Windowsen and Maya Li.

Li interrupted her university studies to take a crash course in makeup. Finding herself back in Shanghai in 2015, she struggled to develop her own style and reached out to makeup artist Erin Parsons. After three seasons assisting Parsons during fashion week, she now leads her own team in Shanghai and collaborates with designers like Windowsen’s Sensen Lii.

Working in the ultra-competitive Chinese market, Li often has to remind herself to take things slow.

“The whole education system trains us to be highly competitive runners, but sometimes we forget what we’re chasing,” said Li. “Sometimes, you need to stop in order to make true progress.”

Clive Xiong has created a distinctive style that has been tapped by buzzy local brands such as Shushu/Tong and Angel Chen.

Clive Xiong

China has long been known for its rigid beauty standards, but makeup artists like Xiong, who is known for looks including swooshes of face paint or ‘80s-era jewel-toned eyes, are trying to colour outside the lines.

“Beauty doesn’t have one standard, and you can only end up with new beauty by using different techniques,” he said. “You need to fail many times before you get it right.”

Born in Guangdong’s Foshan and now based in Shanghai, Xiong started out studying performance art but “ended up as a makeup artist by chance.” Dramatic and theatrical, his makeup on the likes of actresses Shu Pei and Du Juan has made it to the covers of publications including T Magazine China, Vogue China and Dazed China. Besides working with photographers like Leslie Zhang and Nick Yang, he’s created looks for buzzy brands such as Shushu/Tong and Angel Chen.

“I think that everyone in China’s fashion industry is extremely professional, and everyone has their own style,” said Xiong. “As long as you have your own creativity, you get to work with so many talented people to create something beautiful.”

Looks created by Freya Ni for a Dazed China spread.

Freya Ni

Raised by parents who were in the garment trade in Jiangsu Province, neighbouring Shanghai, Freya Ni always thought she would go into the fashion business in one way or another. That said, makeup was also an early passion, Ni says in high school she spent the equivalent of a month’s allowance on her first set of Benefit cosmetics and then learned how to use it by following tips from beauty bloggers online.

Fashion school at Tokyo’s famous Bunka Fashion College only cemented the link for Ni between fashion and makeup and by the time graduation rolled around, she had decided to pursue a career as a makeup artist, rather than a fashion designer.

It’s different from fashion design, the time of creating makeup is much more shorter and the satisfaction comes faster,” Ni said.

Today, the makeup artist, whose work has been featured in Vogue+, Elle China, Wonderland, Dazed China and many more publications, describes her style as “ethereal, futuristic, poetic” with looks inspired by fashion references, but also, she says, songs, books and documentaries.

“I think my work is more about expressing an emotional value or some unrealistic fantasy image,” Ni said.

Xin Miao's painterly style has been influenced by studies of traditional Chinese make-up from as far back as the Tang and Song Dynasties.

Xin Miao

For Xin, seeing his mother’s love of fashion and beauty inspired him to pursue work as a makeup artist at age 16. Just under two decades later, he’s a go-to for film stars Zhou Xun and Shu Qi, and has worked with Chanel as the brand’s local makeup artist since 2021.

Painterly and abstract at times, and classically pared-back at others, Xin started out his career with a westernised approach. Only later did he realise that many of the artists he followed were inspired by the East. In 2015, he began studying Chinese makeup culture from as far back as the Tang and Song dynasties, and Chinese techniques and aesthetics continue to permeate his work to this day.

Today, to adapt to local demand in China’s influencer and social media-fuelled economy, Xin has shifted his focus from fashion to celebrities and digital content and is working with a team of over 10 aspiring makeup artists. Especially in the wake of the pandemic, he realised that the masses wanted to see wearable beauty.

“I suddenly realised that my old dream became very niche,” he said.

Lu Wang is always seeking the "unexpected" in her work.

Lu Wang

The hallmarks of Lu Wang’s work are a sense of soft-focus, with lines sometimes blurred and often drawn in unexpected shapes and designs. It’s this sense of throwing things a little bit off-kilter that Lu says drives her most of all.

“My style is not too contrived. I love the imperfections in my work, the unexpected [result] from a certain stoke,” she said.

The 37-year-old Fujian-born freelancer, who spent much of her childhood in Australia before returning to Beijing to further her career, first stumbled upon the idea of makeup artist as a profession while watching a reality TV show. Today, her portfolio that includes work for the local editions of publications including Marie Claire, T Magazine , Harper’s Bazaar and Elle.

The industry as a whole in China, she said, has undergone a significant shift in recent years, and while Chinese culture and history remain touch points for the expression of beauty in the mainstream media and on social channels, “it’ definitely changing and becoming more diverse.” she said.

“There’s not just one beauty standard [anymore.]”

Dai Gang's style emphasises simple colours and shape, but that doesn't mean it doesn't also have a big impact.

Dai Gang

Simplicity is key for Dai Gang, who was born “at the foot of the beautiful Changbai mountains” in China’s northeast. He originally trained as a hairdresser and opened his own hair salon before discovering his preference for makeup artistry.

“I am a person who likes to express myself in a simple way,” he explained. “So my works tend to be presented in simple ideas or colours.”

The 41-year-old has been part of this new creative age of makeup artists in China since the very beginning. His work has appeared in Vogue China, Harper’s Bazaar and Elle China and in collaborations with brands such as Tom Ford Beauty, Estée Lauder and Shiseido. Even today, he says, the fashion industry in China is like “a seed that has just sprouted.”

“[China is] still in the imitation stage,” Dai said. “What we ultimately need is to make our own style through the efforts of generations of makeup artists.”

Clive Jing's work seeks to emphasise natural features and clean skin.

Clive Jing

Clive Jing’s work is focused natural features and clean skin, with statement accents added in, rather than splashes of pigmented colour or all-over embellishments.

In addition to his work with celebrities and influencers — recent editorials in local editions of Grazia, L’Officiel and T Magazine — Ningxia-born Jing has done runway work for brands like Reineren and Hai Studio during Shanghai’s show seasons, and describes his style as “simple, with attitude.”

Jing sees more opportunities for makeup artists in the Chinese market, thanks largely to the dominance of digital media. “If there’s demand there’s a market — everyone has so many platforms to show off their work, and the industry is constantly moving ahead, both in a global direction and in a way that’s distinctly Chinese.”



Collage by BoF. Photos from @Shein on Instagram

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Alibaba office building. Shutterstock.

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China Duty Free Group's Sanya Duty Free Complex in Hainan. CDF Group.

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