Portrait of a Lady // TPP takes a breath of fresh air with LA based, celebrity make-up artist Monika Blunder
“I’m ready to meet you guys, where are you?” celebrity make-up artist Monika Blunder texts us as we devour the last bite of our Kaiserschmarrn (a traditional Austrian desert). It is safe to say that Monika, unlike any other artist we have worked with in the past, needs no reminding that we have an interview and photoshoot scheduled for this afternoon. In fact, she is the only woman to have made us appear late simply by being early. As we make our way through the grand lobby of the Stanglwirt hotel, an organic wellness oasis located just outside of Kitzbühel, accented with heavy wooden beams and intimate sitting areas, we instantly spot Monika across the room. She is a vision: dressed in all white and almost angelic looking, Monika exudes an unmissable youthful glow making it hard to believe that she just turned fifty. We let ourselves fall into the cozy armchairs and dive into conversation as if we’ve known each other for years. Monika is on summer vacation with her husband Jin-Woo Prensena, an incredibly talented and successful aerial photographer who was just featured in Architectural Digest, their beautiful daughter Valentina and son Gabriel. Before their stopover in Tirol, where Monika celebrated her birthday and is about to teach her first ever Austrian masterclass, they spent a week in Paris where Monika and her daughter would sit in cafés for hours on end, admiring the effortless beauty and unmissable confidence of the Parisian woman. Early tomorrow morning Monika and her family are off to Puglia (Italy), before hitting their final destination, Venice. We gather all this after ten minutes of speaking to Monika. Not because we asked but because that’s the kind of woman she is: outspoken, generous and positive.
Monika is a Los Angeles based, celebrity make-up artist who, through her inadmissible artistry, tenacity and perseverance, has achieved the unthinkable. Originally born and raised in Kufstein, a small town in Austria, Monika always knew she wanted to become a make-up artist. “I love where I am from and I love how I grew up, but I always knew that there was something bigger out there for me. I just knew it in my gut,” Monika tells us. In her teenage years, Monika would visit her brother in Munich who was working as a camera assistant for Arri at the time. She felt very attracted to the make-up department and, aged 16, knew that was what she wanted to pursue.
Coming from a very traditional, remote town the term ‘make-up artist’ wasn’t something people were exactly familiar with – let alone considered a profession. When Monika sought out a private make-up school in Frankfurt, more than 300 miles away, her parents thought she was crazy. “It took quite some convincing. I come from a very simple family and sending your kid to private school was out of my parents reach,” Monika explains. Unwilling to give up on her dream, she wrote a ten-page letter to the Austrian government explaining that no Austrian institution offered training in make-up artistry. “I don’t remember exactly what I said,” Monika says laughing, “but I wrote a lot of things. I wish I still had the letter.” A couple of months later, Monika received a letter back in which the Austrian government offered to pay for half of the tuition. “When I showed the letter to my dad, he said he would match the other half.”
That’s not to say that Monika’s path as a make-up artist was set in stone form thereon out. Far from it. Monika, unlike any of the other students, all of which came from wealthy homes, worked in a coffee shop whenever she wasn’t in school in order to pay for her housing. Monika confides in us that although Frankfurt was a great experience – it taught her to be on her own, away from home – it didn’t really teach her any make-up skills. “I’m mostly self-taught and learned most when assisting as a make-up artist later on.” When we ask her how she made the move across the pond, without much skill in speaking English let alone a University degree, Monika tells us that she just went for it. “I was so hungry and I didn’t take no for an answer.” Monika’s brother was also working in Los Angeles at the time, so the move felt somewhat natural. He introduced her to legendary make-up artist Paul Starr who Monika assisted. “That was my only big help,” Monika explains. She continued to work tirelessly, never said no to a job and perfected her craft. “Starting out as a make-up artist in the 90s meant that information wasn’t as easily accessible the way that it is today. Everything was sort of secretive. You had to know your technique and do your research. I did a lot of editorial work in order to get recognized as a make-up artist within the industry. Everything was just very special back then.”
As we talk to Monika about building and growing her own client list, she shares with us that one of the reasons she got so far so quickly is because she understood from day one that she works in a service-oriented business. Clients don’t solely book her for her skills but also for her etiquette. Having worked with actors for over a decade ourselves, a certain demeanor around talent is somewhat common knowledge for us. Monika clarifies that for many others it is not. “Everything from how fast you work to how clean your kit is will immensely affect whether you get booked again or not. In Hollywood where I work, people look at that!” Another key piece of advice Monika would share with younger make-up artists is knowing that “you are not going to be and shouldn’t be best friends with your clients—you work for them.” That’s not to say that she hasn’t grown a close bond with some of her A-listers over the years. Monika knows how to keep a professional distance, both physically (she will, for example, touch her client as little as possible when applying make-up) and emotionally, all whilst building a positive connection with them. “Being a make-up artist can sometimes feel very much like being a therapist,” she explains, “you have to learn to read your clients energy and feel them out.”
A small-town, self-taught make-up artist from Austria working her way to Los Angeles’ A-list. This is exactly the kind of dream that Hollywood was built on.
Today, Monika is signed with the biggest agency (The Wall Group) in Los Angeles and has acquired an impressive client list of her own – Gemma Chan, Jessica Alba, Jennifer Garner, Amanda Seyfried and Meghan Fox to name a few. Being crowned one of the best in her profession, Monika has also managed to maintain that elusive status, relevance, in an industry that is known for chasing the next best thing. How? The answer is simple: Monika is where she is today as a result of her dedication, perseverance and artistry. “When I look back at the courage I had, I’m like ‘oh my god how did I do this?’” Monika giggles. “I was just very, very determined. I think that’s what you have to be in order to be successful.”
Monika is the epitome of natural, European beauty and is known for creating looks that aren’t too made up and always reveal lots of healthy, glowing skin. “I have a very particular style that I get booked for and I am grateful that I stuck to it and didn’t switch around to something that I am not,” Monika explains. She encourages everyone starting out to really define their style early on. To Monika a woman who chooses not to cover her ‘imperfections’ with tons of make-up is just so much cooler: “she’s a confident, intelligent, badass woman who doesn’t need tons of make-up.” She also often tells her clients that men don’t like a lot of make-up: “I like to look good for my man and I do the make-up how he likes me, but usually men like very natural beauty.”
When we ask Monika about the biggest gamechanger since starting her career as a make-up artist, the answer is straightforward: Instagram and social media. “I don’t want to talk it down. I don’t want to say that Instagram is bad. It has so many beautiful, positive sides to it—like meeting you two, that would have probably never happened otherwise,” Monika smiles. As it turns out, Monika’s husband was the one who initially encouraged her to start her YouTube channel. “I remember the moment so clearly. We were driving to Palm Springs for our wedding anniversary and we had a lot of time to talk in the car.” Monika always felt that she was too shy and not really trained to be in front of the camera. “I was kind of against it in the beginning but then I realized that I am not as bad on camera as I thought I would be,” she confesses. Through her genuine and honest approach, Monika was able to grow her channel where woman (and men) can relate to her realness. “Although I have given away every single one of my tricks on my YouTube channel, it has really opened up another door for me.”
In the lead as one of the most wanted celebrity make-up artists of our time, Monika continues to beautify our world and the women in it. Although she may have given away all her tips and tricks, we (and Hollywood) can certainly agree that there is only one Monika Blunder. After all, she is the true portrait of a lady.
Q&A PART I
What time do you wake up?
During the week at 6:30
Weekends around 8 or 9 (love to sleep in if possible)
What's your morning beauty ritual?
I wake up and brush my teeth with my favorite electric tooth brush, I can’t live without this devise, Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Classic in pink. I also love to mist my face to wake up with Caudalie face mist.
Beauty product you can't leave the house without?
My Cle de Peau Lip Glorifier and my Byredo rose hand sanitizer
Newest makeup discovery / obsession?
New reformulated Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer, it is so beautiful, I am not sure if it is out yet but I think in August, it’s amazing!!!!!
Last person who texted you?
My daughter, asking for money, lol
I have an obsession with perfume and a little collection but my absolute favorite perfume is Portrait of a Lady by Frederic Malle
Q&A PART II
Most Austrian thing about you?
I actually really love to wear a Dirndl, not in the US but when I visit Austria I love it, I was celebrating my birthday there this summer and I rented dirndls for all my girlfriends who came from LA
Most LA thing about you?
I like to eat healthy and sometimes I talk about it too much, was refreshing to be in Europe this summer and being around people who don’t care so much!!!!!
Best gift you received?
My kids and my husband
Oh and my diamond necklace I got from my husband for my birthday this year from Anita Ko called the Hephurn necklace
Best gift you gave?
My two beautiful kids to my husband
Last book you read?
Educated by Tara Westover, it’s incredible! I am in a book club with 12 women that we have been in for the last 7 years. I started this book club when my kids were still young and it is the same group of women from our elementary school. It is so special, we meet up once a month and we host in our homes with dinner and wine.
Early bird or night owl?
During the week early bird
On the weekend night owl
If you could bring back one beauty trend, what would it be?
Soft natural make up, not the biggest fan of the Instagram makeup trends
Q&A PART III
Tea or coffee?
Favorite city to visit?
That is a hard question but I love Paris, Rome and Venice
Most attractive quality in someone?
Humor and a person who can listen and cares….
If you wouldn't be a makeup artist you would be?
Chef or Interior design
Window or aisle?
Last time you laughed so hard you cried?
I don’t remember exactly what it was about but it was with my daughter, we laughed so hard that we both almost cried, it felt so good!!!!!
You're invited to an impromptu dinner party. What are your hair and makeup vibes?
My hair pulled back in a bun and red lipstick with super natural make up
Q&A PART IV
Name of your favorite lipstick shade?
Cle de Peau in shade Legend
Best advice you've been given?
In order to get, you have to give
Question you get asked the most?
What is the best mascara
Woman who's make-up you'd like to do (someone you haven't worked with yet)?