Beauty Field Trip: Inside NYC’s Newest Makeup Bar

It's like the makeup equivelent of a blow dry bar and I predict that soon they will be everywhere.
Publish date:
March 6, 2014
makeup, makeup artists, soho, Pucker

One of the funny things about being a beauty writer is that many people assume you’re a makeup whiz. Which is odd, because while I’ve interviewed and learned from countless makeup artists, it’s not as though I picked up their skills by osmosis.

Sure, some of the beauty writers I know are crazy-talented when it comes to applying their own makeup. But me? I clean up all right, but I’m just not all that when it comes to dramatic makeup. For anything beyond a simple smoky eye or little cat-eye, I am more comfortable in someone else’s expert hands.

This is why, when Baze asked if I’d be interested in checking out a new makeup studio in NYC, I scurried down there right away. The place is called Pucker, and the concept is pretty straightforward: It offers professional makeup application for $35 to $50. Initially, I thought that was on the pricey side, but then I remembered how much it costs to hire a makeup artist -- generally speaking, it’s in the hundreds of dollars (or more) for an hour-long session. So really, that’s reasonable.

Pucker is in Soho, just down the street from Opening Ceremony and next to Laicale hair salon -- so, if you wanted to, you could do a whole movie-makeover montage on the same block. The space is massive by New York standards, with high ceilings and a good deal of light. It all looked chic and expensive, but the vibe was easygoing and pretense-free. Oh, and there were Vosges chocolates on offer. It took everything in my power to not gobble up the whole tray.

The owners of Pucker are really fun. Makeup artist Julio Sandino used to work with François Nars, and he has tons of high-profile credits (Italian Vogue, Harper's Bazaar). He’s also one of those quick-to-smile, exuberant people who squash bad moods without trying.

Anyway, a while ago, he did co-owner Hiyam McKelvey’s makeup, and they hit it off. Then, they teamed up to make that kind of service easy and more accessible. Another plus about this service is that, unlike going to a makeup counter for application, there’s no sales pitch or makeup to buy.

After a bit of introductory talk, Sandino and McKelvey gave me a tour of the place. There are large makeup stations upstairs, and downstairs has everything you’d need to get ready for a night out: a shower, lockers to stash your stuff, and various hair products. (Nope, they don’t do blowouts. Makeup only.) Then they asked if I wanted my makeup done.

Of course.

So then I met Anthony, who’d be manning the makeup station. Pucker offers a menu of pre-designed looks, ranging from subdued to dramatic, but the artists will also take direction if you have something else in mind. I liked the idea of going with one of the looks, but I decided to let Anthony take the lead, since he was so sweet.

Initially, the plan was to take photos of the step-by-step process. But I was so blissed out by having someone rub brushes on my face, and Anthony was so busy doing his work, that we both forgot. But! I can tell you this: Anthony was thorough and careful as he applied primer and foundation. This wasn’t some two-minute slapdash application. Nope, he took his time, using a Beauty Blender sponge and brushes to even out my skin.

From there, we did the works: blush, eyeliner, eyeshadow, lipstick, brows, mascara, and a few individual lashes placed at the outer corners of my eyes. Pucker has its own in-house makeup, and Anthony proudly told me that it’s manufactured at the same place where Nars is made. I also asked if they have foundation to fit a wide variety of skin tones, and yep, they do.

Then it was time for the big reveal. Some context first, though. I usually don’t wear much makeup -- some concealer where I need it, mascara, and a little blush, typically. (Lately I’ve been on a no-mascara kick, which I say is all about that runway trend, but really it’s because I have been lazy.) So, when I looked at my face, my first reaction was whoa.

It was a good whoa, though, mixed with maybe 10 percent “That’s more foundation than I wear” whoa. Really, the foundation thing is my own doing; Anthony had asked me if I wanted full foundation, and I was feeling reckless, so we went for it, and he did a flawless job. If I were going to an event or having my picture taken, I would definitely go for full foundation again. But most of the time, I would probably just have my blemishes covered and leave the rest of my skin uncovered.

But the eye makeup, the fluttery lashes, and even my brows were totally spot-on -- the kind of clean but precise look that I can never fully master at home. The trick with that sort of style is that while it doesn’t necessarily look complicated upon first glance, it takes skill and time to get it right. Anthony totally got me, and I like how he made me look polished. My hair was in a blah ponytail, so we popped downstairs to do a few turns with the curling iron.

Transformation: complete. I felt like such a fancy lady after having my makeup done. Plus, I realized that when I was taking the train to Soho, I was acutely aware of my undereye circles and spots. When I took the train home, I felt -- this is going to sound corny, but oh well -- special and pampered. Later, I had Tom Jones’ “She’s A Lady” running through my head while I picked up my cat from the vet. Sometimes, it’s nice to look polished just because you can. Or rather, because someone else can do the work for you.

Full disclosure: This makeup application was comped, but I’d happily pay the $35 or $50 next time. I’m getting married in a few months, and even at twice the price, Pucker would be literally hundreds of dollars more affordable than the average bridal-makeup sesh. And it looks good!

Only a few makeup bars exist in NYC and there are a handful of them across the country, but I bet they won't be hard to find for long. This is about to become a THING. Be on the lookout for one in your hometown.

Update 3/7/14: A previous version of this post incorrectly listed makeup artist Anthony's name as Andrew.