Throw Back Thursday: Bimpe Onakoya – Living Her Dreams

At the recently concluded Lagos Fashion and Design Week, Bimpe Onakoya led the Maybelline team (she is the Makeup Artistic Director of Maybelline Nigeria) to deliver some stunning makeup looks at the Maybelline Fashion Show.

For Aunty Bimpe, as she is fondly called by many of us, the journey to makeup superstardom did not happen overnight; it took about 14 years of painstaking and consistent hard work.

In an interview from our November 2014 edition, written by Ifeyinwa Ojekwe, Bimpe opened up about her life, her career and all things beauty!

Bimpe Onakoya is the most down-to-earth person I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing. She greets me with a smile and embraces me in a warm hug. I immediately feel relaxed to be speaking to this incredibly accomplished woman. Bimpe discovered her love for makeup while studying at the University of Lagos, (UNILAG). She remembers doing makeup for ‘Hall Week’, a week-long celebration involving fashion shows and beauty pageants. Bimpe quickly became the go-to girl for makeup around campus, which she did for free. “It never occurred to me to charge anyone back then” she says, “I just loved making other people beautiful and making them happy”.

Her flair did not go unnoticed and shortly after graduating she received a call from Bayo Hastrup to join his makeup team for the British American Tobacco St Morris Style Selection event in 2003. This was her first paid job as makeup artist and lead to a tonne of referrals that has kept her career going since then. Bimpe reminisces, “[Back then] the fire was burning. I was doing about 50 faces a day. I was literally earning peanuts but I didn’t care. When youre doing something that’s very close to your heart, thats also paying your bills, youre going through life just having fun.” As the years progressed she’s done makeup for countless fashion shows, celebrities, weddings, events – you name it. Though never formally-trained, Bimpe admits she learnt a lot of her artistry by “trial and error… Some days were sweet and some were sour. But with consistency, and learning from my mistakes I got a better”.

“When you put all your time, life and passion into a job it’s just a matter of time before it hits off.” And it most certainly did when Maybelline came to Nigeria. As their Makeup Artistic Director, Bimpe has become the public spokesperson for the brand. She travels around the country teaching master classes and training the next generation of makeup enthusiasts. Bimpe says her job as makeup teacher has brought on a surprisingly fulfilling extra! “I sort of became a motivational speaker. That really opened by eyes. Most of these people don’t know what they want, they just need someone to steer them in the right direction. It’s something I just discovered myself doing, but I really love it.”

Bimpe’s many years of experience has given her the authority to be consulted by L’Oreal and Maybelline and she often advises on product creation. So do we expect a Bimpe product line soon?  “I don’t see myself as that person that creates her own makeup line.  That sort of thing has to be done properly the right research has to be carried out. It has to be marketed well. And that was never my dream. I always wanted to align myself with an international brand. When Maybelline came to Nigeria, they found me and I give God the glory [for that]. Because now it’s like my dream came to life.” she enthuses.

Speaking of dreams, Bimpe says the biggest highlight of her career so far, was becoming the first African-based international make-up artist to work at New York fashion week! She describes her 11-day stint in the Big Apple as “surreal”. Her typical day in New York started with a 6.30am call time. Once she got to her location, Bimpe would get a sheet from the head makeup artist detailing the makeup look for the show and get straight to work. Once makeup, hair and dressing’s completed the models would be inspected from head-to-toe and any last minute touch-ups or changes made. Once the catwalk starts, Bimpe would be off to the next location. She did at least 3 shows every day for labels like DKNY and Lacoste. ”It was madness and I loved every moment of it.”

Though a makeup veteran here in Nigeria, Bimpe says she learnt a lot while she was in New York, working with people who had decades of experience under their belts! She admits to feeling overwhelmed on her first day. Straight off the plane, Bimpe was whisked away to her first fashion show and handed a makeup kit. When she opened it she was taken aback to see all the products in her kit were for Caucasian skin. This expert suddenly found herself second-guessing and cross checking all her choices. But once she got back to her hotel room that night, she went through every single product until she was familiar with everything and was armed and ready for the next 10 days.

So what’s next for the woman who’s living her dream? “I still have not worked on Oprah or Beyoncé!” she exclaims. “There are many more people I’d like to work with.”  Meanwhile, Bimpe is looking forward to working as head of makeup for the Lagos Fashion and Design Week. As official sponsor, Maybelline is giving an upcoming makeup artist the opportunity to win the chance of a lifetime to work alongside her for the day.

Being quite passionate about helping upcoming makeup artists Bimpe urges them to “Be focused. Pursue excellence and ignore success. The only thing that makes me happy is makeup. So when I’m not working, I’m on my iPad, researching different products, makeup artists – everything! That’s why I was able to go to New York and mingle with everyone. I need to constantly educate myself to stay on top of my game.”

I found it ironic that someone who’s clearly so passionate about makeup doesn’t wear much herself, but Bimpe explains that this is how she feels comfortable. “I have problematic skin so I allow my skin to breathe and only wear makeup on special occasions.”

There’s no doubt about it that Bimpe loves what she does, she hasn’t taken a holiday since she started her career. “It’s never crossed my mind [to take a break]. What will happen to my work if I take 2 weeks off?” she wonders.

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