WSSU alumna: Makeup artist behind VP Harris’ Vogue cover look
Marquia James, a 2006 Winston-Salem State University graduate - earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology, became a part of history when she added her makeup artistry to Vice President Kamala Harris’ Vogue cover look last month.
After moving to Washington D.C. post-graduation, James landed a job with MAC Cosmetics and eventually became a manager and cosmetics trainer. This position started her on an unimaginable journey.
“Reflecting … on the past 14 years of my career, Lord, what a beautiful journey,” says James in an Instagram post. “... I moved to Maryland right after college in 2006 with a social work degree but I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do. All I knew is that I had a passion for helping people, especially women.”
James says that makeup began as a hobby because being a makeup artist wasn’t a popular career choice at the time. Now after more than a decade in the industry, she is no stranger to creating signature makeup looks for brides, celebrities and high-profile public figures. The Charlotte native’s work has been featured in wedding and lifestyle publications such as Style Me Pretty, Washingtonian Bride and Groom, and Essence. James has also traveled nationally and abroad to lend her artistry to events, editorial shoots, and television productions.
Here, James gives an inside look at her evolution as a makeup artist, her memories of WSSU and what’s in store for 2021.
How did it feel to be the makeup artist for VP Harris' Vogue cover?
Working on the Vogue cover with VP Harris was such an amazing opportunity and honor. For my entire career, I’ve had the vision of working with powerful women of color. This moment was literally my vision coming to life and I feel so blessed to be a part of such a historical moment. Not only for her being the first Black, South Asian, and woman to be vice president of the U.S., but also a historic moment for historically Black colleges. Not only was this very personal to me, but I was also happy to serve on such an iconic set like Vogue.
You have created makeup artistry for celebrities, TV personalities, brides, and more. How do you decide the best makeup look for various occasions and clients?
My goal is always to ensure that my client feels and looks like the best version of themselves. I never want to change how they naturally look, but more so bring out their best features. I believe that makeup should always be an enhancement of your natural beauty. To produce the best makeup look, I ask a few questions: What are you wearing for your occasion? How do you want to feel after your makeup is done? What facial feature would you like to focus on? From there, we create the best glam for the occasion.
You graduated from Winston-Salem State with a degree in sociology. How has your education helped you in the beauty industry?
My degree has helped me tremendously. It taught me so much about human interaction and how to be more well-rounded when working with people with different views than my own. As a makeup artist, I am not only providing luxury services, but I am also there to be an outlet to most clients and a confidant they can trust. On the other hand, sociology is all about the study of social life, social change, and the social consequences of human behavior. The beautification process, specifically the application of makeup, is deeply ingrained in American culture. With my younger clients, I see the way culture, social media for example, has such a huge influence on how they perceive beauty and what it means to be beautiful. I always remind them that being beautiful does not mean packing on pounds of makeup. Being beautiful is what exudes from your heart. Makeup should only enhance the beauty that God has given you.
What is your fondest memory as a WSSU student?
Some of my fondest memories at WSSU were meeting up with my friends at the basketball games and chanting all the cheers along with the cheerleaders from the bleachers. The springtime was also the best because everyone would hang outside by the Thompson center and just gather in between classes. This was always the meetup spot to check-in with friends to talk about life. It was always so nice to be surrounded by people who looked like me and had similar goals. So, I would say, my fondest memories at WSSU have always been the people and the relationships. I have always felt like my fellow Rams have always and will always be family. There is a reason why we always call each other “RAMily”. No matter how long I've been away from WSSU, when I return for homecomings, it feels like home.
Who inspired you most at WSSU?
My core group of friends at WSSU - my crew. They were my support group and we always pushed each other to be our best selves. It's always been important to me to have good people around me that tell me when I'm doing something wrong and lift me up when I'm discouraged. We inspired each other and learned so many lessons together. They really helped me to grow and helped shaped me during my college years. I was so grateful to have them then and to have them now.
What advice would you give WSSU students who are hoping to pursue a career in the beauty industry post-graduation?
Continue to follow your passion and dreams and most importantly be purpose driven. The beauty industry is extremely rewarding but does have its challenges. There were many times when I wanted to give up and quit. Finding my purpose helped to drive my career as a beauty artist. My purpose is to always serve and show love to all my clients.
How has your makeup artistry evolved since your days at MAC Cosmetics? How do you keep your skills fresh?
It's funny because I look back on my artistry from my MAC days about 15 years ago and I can totally see the growth. My application is much more detailed, and my techniques have changed. I have also expanded the brands of cosmetics that I use these days. I use everything from the high-end brands to the drug store brands. I love being around other artists to learn from them as I continue building on my skills. You never stop learning, especially because the makeup industry is constantly evolving. There are always new products and makeup trends, so you must keep your skills fresh. I like to have makeup dates with colleagues to play catch up on what's new in the industry and to play in new products on the market. It's always so fun and makes me fall in love with makeup all over again.
Wearing a mask in public has taken some of the glam away from wearing makeup every day. What is your go-to masked up makeup look?
Oh, this is easy - False Lashes! I love a good wispy lash to make the eyes pop. Now that we are masked up, people can only see your eyes, so I think it's important to enhance them. There are so many different styles of lashes nowadays. Natural, wispy, dramatic, and even magnetic. Since the pandemic, I have had virtual training sessions to teach women how to apply their own lashes like a pro.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to continue building my brand, growing my online content, and potentially create courses and provide coaching for makeup artists looking for direction in the industry. In my 15 years of experience, I didn't have much direction on how to grow my business and brand, so I pretty much had to figure things out through trial and error. It's important to me to pass along the wisdom that I've gained over the years to help other artists in their journey. Overall, I am looking forward to what God has planned for me and will continue to walk in His obedience.
Find out more about Marquia James on Instagram @glam_qui or check her out on her website, GlamQui Makeup Artistry.