With a portfolio filled with A-list celebrity clients, Nthato Mashishi is the go-to make-up artist. Having had a passion for beauty since he was young, he has gone on to create countless iconic red carpet looks and worked with some of the biggest publications.
What’s his secret to success? Hard work, dedication, and perseverance. Started his career at Alexandra Technical College where he studied cosmetology. However, he didn’t finish it, but started working as an apprentice at a local salon for about eight months, and then enrolled in Black Like Me Cosmetics for an artistry make-up course. I don’t just sit in one place, he explains, ” I need to be ahead of my time because I do not follow trends, I create trends.”
You have had a successful journey in the beauty industry and worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. How did it all begin, and what would you consider your career highlight?
I was born in Soweto, but I grew up in Alexandria. As a kid, I did performing and visual arts in our community. I would attend those classes but I was more drawn to the art of beauty or beauty in the art if that makes sense. To me, it was more than just putting colours and drawings but more of the art of beauty. I remember watching Princess Diana and Prince Charles’ wedding on TV. I was fascinated by her beauty, her make-up, and her clothes. I was so glued to the screen, I couldn’t move my face, and that solidified what I would want to do with my life, so that was my “aha” moment.
After school my parents wanted me to go the academic route and I had to convince them that I am more on the art side, but you know our parents are old school. They didn’t believe that being a florist, soccer player, TV presenter, actor, make-up artist, stylist, and a fashion designer is a career.
I then went and did my degree in Human Resources after high school. After that, I went to my dad and I gave him my degree and I said: “Now I have to go and follow my path”. I enrolled in Black Like Me Cosmetics and studied make-up artistry. While studying, I was discovered by Yizo Yizo Productions. At the time Yizo Yizo was the biggest production in South Africa, and to be discovered by them was a big deal for me.
I later joined an agency that represented make-up artists formerly known as Professional Bookings and now called Shine Creative. To be honest, it was hard for me to be signed by them because of the colour of my skin. Back then, it was taboo for black people to be signed with such agencies. When I started my career, there were not a lot of us. My goal then was to occupy such spaces and open doors for those coming after me.
I have worked with the best of the best in the industry and learned a lot from them. I have always aspired to work for True Love magazine, and having had an opportunity to work with the publication was a dream come true. Top billing has also played a pivotal role in my career and it’s been an honor working with them for the last 15 years. I have traveled the world and seen all the best things that life has to offer.
You studied make-up artistry in Black Like Me Cosmetics and worked for major productions such as Top billing and Yizo Yizo. What lessons from your training have proven the most valuable?
With all the institutions I have worked for and been associated with, I have learned to be professional, disciplined, and open to new ways of doing things because our industry is constantly changing. I have also learned to be a businessman. I don’t sit in one place, so I have learned to be ahead of my time because I do not follow trends, I create them.
The make-up industry is highly competitive. Simply being good at make-up may get you jobs, but that’s not enough. What other qualities do you need to have to be a successful make-up artist?
It’s important to have leadership skills in our industry. There’s nothing wrong with being a follower but for me, I always get the drive from creating and bringing new trends. I remember in South Africa the term glam squad was very unknown, so I brought that to the forefront and I became that leader. We started seeing a lot of celebrities working with a glam team that handles everything from hair, make-up, styling, and everything).
If you could advise aspiring make-up artists. What did you discover about the industry that you would want others to know about?
Talent is not enough. You have to be ahead of the times and never stop learning. This doesn’t mean that you have to go to school, you can learn from industry players, trailblazers, and your counterparts because what we do in Africa is different from what our counterparts do in America or Europe. Even in Africa, how people do make-up in Nigeria and South Africa are two different worlds. It’s for you to learn and find the niche within the learning and again, try not to be a follower, do what you are tasked with all the time, and conduct yourself as a business. Another thing is that you need to be like an onion and have so many layers. With me, I don’t only do make-up, I do art direction, styling, judging, TV, and a whole lot more. You have to be multifaceted, have layers to yourself, and not just be a one-trick pony because there is so much more that one can do.
Any make-up tips for my readers. What is good or bad make-up?
Invest in your make-up. I know that make-up doesn’t come cheap, it’s expensive but it’s a good investment. When you invest in your make-up, you’re going to have a beautiful face. For instance, somebody would say “I wouldn’t buy a Dior foundation, I would rather buy a foundation from somewhere in Chinatown”, the sad part is that you don’t know what is in that product that you buy in the streets of Chinatown. Sometimes the ingredients are not exactly what the bottle says is in there but you know that if you buy from Revlon or Dior or Black Up, you know that when you go to the store you are investing in your skin.
The other thing is that less is more. We see a lot of people that like plastering and they think that it’s an in thing, for me it is not. I always look at people like J-lo, she always has that glow. She is known for that glow and she is one of those people whose make-up I love all the time. She can put a little more but you can still see the skin breathe through the make-up.
What would you be doing if you were not in the beauty industry?
I think I would have been in the medical field, maybe pharmacy. I am fascinated with medicine and I am always curious to try out different home remedies and I advise people what to take when they are not feeling well. Psychology is something I would also go for because I’m a good listener and I give the best advice.
Current and upcoming future projects.
This is exclusive to you. I’m just going to give It to you. I recently art-directed a movie. It’s a South African film that is coming out soon, and it’s going to blow your mind. The movie was shot last year and features Tumisho Masha, Thuli Thabethe, and Amanda du Pont. It was such an eye-opener for me because I do art direction in fashion, not movies. So, I am branching into movies as an art director and I’ve found a little bit of love for movies right now and I hope that people enjoy it and I know that the world is going to enjoy what they see. I have other projects in the pipeline but I can’t share as yet because of non-disclosure agreements but think along the lines of products and merchandise.
I would also like to go into teaching because I want to impart the knowledge and wisdom that I have gained in the industry to the up-and-coming youngsters that want to make a career out of this. I am very passionate about teaching. I am not the type of person that would want to hoard information. It would be incredible for me if I were to go into teaching. Maybe I could go to different institutions and give a master’s class. I am still working hard on it with my team and I also want to go into making TV as well because I realised that I am good with TV and TV loves me, whether it be reality or whatever, you never know, as long as the money is there I will do it.