Korean make-up artist to the stars Jung Saem Mool has been sharing her beauty wisdom through her eponymous make-up line and academy for years. She sits down with Zaneta Cheng to explain her unique approach to beauty and why love of self is at the core of her philosophy
When Jung Saem Mool was a young make-up artist starting out, her fine-artist mother gave her some advice. Referring to pieces of classical artwork, she would tell Jung that true masters do not easily divulge the methods used to create a final image.
The brushstrokes, techniques and colours would be used with such finesse that they would leave an audience musing over how the piece was created. Jung has taken this with her throughout her career, making up the faces of almost every Korean celebrity A-lister (count Song Hye-kyo, Lee Hyo-ri and Jun Ji-hyun as just the tip of the tip of the iceberg), and integrated it into the foundations of her hugely successful eponymous make-up brand.
Not in the least because Jung, who was unable to pursue her dream of going to fine-arts school when she was younger, having to go straight into the workforce in order to support her family, took a career break at her peak in 2006 to attend the Academy of Art University in California. Jung found clarity in classical training and adapted the theories into her own artistry.
“Make-up was one of the many part-time jobs I did while growing up. It’s the closest I managed to get to the fine arts, without painting actual canvases for a living because make-up involves using a brush and pigment. I was painting on faces instead of canvases so I knew almost immediately it was something I wanted to carry on with,” she shares.
“When I finally had the chance to pursue a fine-arts degree in San Francisco, it cleared up a lot of what I was doing with make-up because it gave a sense of clarity and logic. We studied anatomy, musculature and colour theory. What I did with faces before I got my degree was mostly based off learned experience. But once I had the foundations of classical art training, I was able to, for example, adapt the principles of warm and cool tones to colour theories of human skin colour, natural lines and bone structure to create very personalised looks.”
Jung is famous for her scrapbooks, which she began creating very early on in her career as she was learning about make-up. To this day, the make-up artist, make-up brand and academy founder thinks up her new products on a sketchpad, where she draws and pastes relevant shapes, shades and colours. And it’s through this scrapbook that I can understand just how deeply Jung continues to integrate theories of light and dark as well as colour theory even in her newest set of eyeshadow palettes that are soon to be launched.
“Before studying fine art, I had done many make-up looks on people, on celebrities, and I could understand that everyone was different and required a different set of colours and approach. But it was only after I went off to study that I understood there are different values in an orange shade.
There are nuances to even one pigment. Orange can range from dark to light and within those it can edge toward yellow or brown,” Jung says. “With that knowledge, I would see other people anew and figure out their natural colours, and off of that decide what colour suits them and what make-up works best for them.”
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Among the many superpowers Jung is celebrated for is her ability to create flawless base make-up. “All babies are born perfect,” she explains. This is, perhaps, where Jung has proved herself a master, in line with her mother’s pearl of wisdom. Nobody is quite able to figure out how she does it.
“Everyone is born beautiful, adorable and with perfect skin. What I do is not transformation. I don’t turn one person into a completely different person. My philosophy is to find the best version of yourself.
“I look at a face and try to recreate the best version of it by highlighting or toning down elements to bring out what it’s had since the moment of birth. The base make- up or even colour make-up that we’ve been talking about, I apply it to achieve the effect of skin that we all have when we are born. I think about the tones and textures of the skin and adjust the colours of the make-up to get it to that perfect day one baby skin.”
This is the ethos that belies her eponymous brand. While Jung solves the practicalities of finding products that offer the shade ranges that only she, the master, can create, incorporating all the elements of tone, texture and colour that she has studied and practised, Jung Saem Mool the brand and the artist stand for a different way of looking at oneself.
“Whenever people look at themselves in the mirror, I found that they compare their looks to other people – maybe it’s a celebrity, maybe it’s their friend, maybe it’s a beauty standard. Very rarely do people truly take a look at their faces in the mirror,” Jung explains.
“Instead of looking and thinking my eyes aren’t as big as other people’s, we need to look at our faces for what they are rather than comparing. It’s only then that you can bring out your strengths and tone down your flaws. Make what’s already beautiful on your face centre stage and find ways to make your flaws less important.”
Jung is a model for her own philosophy, which she says is basically self-love. Understanding that she was built shorter, had bad eyesight but was unable to wear contacts, and couldn’t really find a lip colour that matched with her, Jung carved her signature look from what others might consider flaws.
Her hair is in a perennial ponytail to lift her stature and enhance her air of professionalism. Her thick-rimmed glasses are a remedy for her inability to wear contact lenses and her striking red lips are a response to the lack of suitable lip shades.
Having done make-up for so many celebrities, Jung says, “they’ve all been pretty and all of them have told me about their flaws as soon as they sit in my chair, so it’s a universal complex. So many people forget to see what they have in themselves.”
So perhaps it’s a good thing that Jung’s plans for expansion are back on track. The world needs a dose of Jung magic, which, in summary, seems to be to look at yourself, learn your face and understand your potential for beauty. The make-up will help you get there.