From Hollywood to Brand Founder, How Makeup Artist Monika Blunder Has Conquered the Beauty Space
Welcome to Big Break, where some of the most influential figures in the beauty industry reflect on the beauty moments that made them — from the good to the bad, and everything in between. Here, celebrity makeup artist Monika Blunder shares her journey from growing up in a small town in Austria to working with some of the most famous women in Hollywood, becoming a YouTube sensation, and eventually, starting her own makeup line — all whilst being a mum of two.
Makeup artist Monika Blunder has been drawn to beautiful things since a young age, which is easy to do when you grew up in a small, picturesque town tucked away in the Austrian Alps like she did. Her father hunted mushrooms and made his own jam. Her family picked apples from the tree on their property and created their own botanical remedies from arnica and edelweiss. Not many people wore makeup, so it took a trip to the closest big city for Blunder to discover that working in cosmetics was her dream job. Or even a job for that matter.
"My older brother was working in Munich as a camera assistant for a big company producing American movies and when I was 14, 15, I would go visit him on set," Blunder told POPSUGAR. "I remember being so drawn to the makeup department and thinking, 'That's what I want to do. I want to learn to do makeup.'"
"In German actually, the word for passion is leidenschaft. Leiden means suffering and schaft means accomplishing something, so I believe that being passionate, you have to actually suffer a little bit."
What happened next sounds like something that only happens in films. Unable to afford the private makeup school in Frankfurt, 16-year-old Monika wrote a letter to the Austrian government. "I wish I still had the letter because I don't know what I wrote in it, but it was like 10 pages long. I think I told them that this is what I want to do, and there's no schooling in my area, and . . . well, they wrote back and offered to pay for half of my school."
The scholarship gave Blunder the help she needed, although "in hindsight, I didn't learn anything about makeup at the school," she laughed. "What it did teach me was how to be away from my small town and how to take care of myself. I worked in this little bakery to pay for my studio I rented, but a lot of the kids who went to that school, everything was paid for, they didn't have to work," she said. "And I think it gave me that passion; because not everything was handed to me as a kid, I was very determined to do well. In German actually, the word for passion is leidenschaft. Leiden means suffering and schaft means accomplishing something, so I believe that being passionate, you have to actually suffer a little bit."
After Frankfurt, Blunder moved to Munich, where she assisted a popular makeup artist for a year. "That's when I really learned a lot, like how to be on set, how to behave, the language, the products he used, all of those things." And whilst she was trying to figure out what to do next, Blunder received devastating news that would change the course of her life and her career. Her brother's wife passed away, leaving him and their small child in LA where he was now working as a director for a well-known film and music video production company called Propaganda Films. "He called me and I told him, 'You know what, I'm going to come to LA and help you for a couple of months and we'll figure this out.' So I went, not thinking that I was going to end up living here. I really thought that maybe I'd move back to Europe."
Image Source: Courtesy of Monika Blunder
It was whilst helping out her brother on the West Coast that Blunder received her "big break" into the industry. Her brother managed to get her a gig assisting makeup artist Paul Starr, who frequently worked on music videos for Propaganda. "I got in to work with Paul, which was amazing, but what I also want to say — and I tell this to my children all the time — is that it's great to get that first initial connection, but then it's up to you. You really have to prove yourself because you can be whoever you are, have the right connections, but if you're not good at what you do, then they're not going to want to work with you again."
Another important connection for Blunder was the model Rebecca Romijn, whom she met on a photoshoot for the now defunct women's clothing catalogue called Spiegel. Blunder ran into Romijn at a restaurant some time after the shoot and passed along her phone number. As luck would have it, Romijn had a GQ cover shoot with Dennis Rodman the next week and asked her to do her makeup. Blunder then spent the next decade doing makeup for big-name models and major fashion photographers like Herb Ritts, before transitioning to working with celebrities in the 2000s. Her first major client was Amanda Seyfried. "I met her at the very early stage. I met her right before Mamma Mia came out, and then I did all the Mamma Mia press with her. Then it just snowballed and I began getting the other clients." That list includes many stars she still works with today, including Megan Fox, Emilia Clarke, Gemma Chan, Molly Sims, Jessica Alba, and Jennifer Garner, to name a few.
"You really have to prove yourself because you can be whoever you are, have the right connections, but if you're not good at what you do, then they're not going to want to work with you again."
In 2014, with a strong roster of A-list celebrity clients under her belt, Blunder turned her attention to YouTube. She now has over 200,000 subscribers, but back then she was just like many of us — obsessed with watching makeup tutorials from people like Lisa Eldridge and the Pixiwoo girls Samantha and Nicola Chapman. But even though her husband urged her to start her own channel, Blunder wasn't convinced anyone would want to watch her. "I'm actually a shy person. I thought, 'I can't be in front of the camera. My English is not that great. People are going to make fun of me.'"
It wasn't until about a year later, when she saw a video of someone re-creating a makeup look that she had done for Megan Fox, that Blunder realised it was time to get in front of the camera. And her fears of being laughed at were immediately banished. In fact, she received an enthusiastic response that eventually inspired her to build her own brand. "I think that people really liked that I didn't make [the tutorials] too complicated. I was also really picky on what types of paid content I did because I never wanted to showcase products that I didn't believe in. And then I was like, 'You know, I'm doing these videos, maybe I should have my own products, because people really believe in the products I recommend.' And that's when the idea for Monika Blunder Beauty sparked."
The brand, which launched in the US in December 2020 and in the UK at Cult Beauty 7 months later, consists of two products so far — a foundation/concealer hybrid called Blunder Cover and a blending brush, with more to come this autumn — and is a true reflection of Blunder's life and work. Blunder Cover contains botanicals native to Austria and ingredients that reflect her and her parents' clean lifestyle. In the industry, Blunder is known for making her clients' skin look otherworldly, as if they're not wearing any foundation at all. "I just love doing makeup to make everyone look the best they can look and just make them look natural and beautiful and the best version of themselves," she said of her work. And the creamy, hydrating Blunder Cover formula allows you to do just that at home.
When asked what the proudest moment of her career has been so far, in addition to working with the likes of Emilia Clarke and Jennifer Lawrence and doing covers for Harper's Bazaar, Blunder admits that it's launching her product line. "I was just so proud of it, because I never did really well in school. I barely finished high school. And I have a brother who is a professor at a university, and my other brother is a director. They all went to university, they all studied, and my dad always asked, 'What's going to happen with you?' So just to show them all that I was still able to do something amazing, to go into business and learn so much again, that was a really proud moment for me."
Throughout her career, Blunder has never once looked back. Not when she wrote a letter to the Austrian government, or when she moved from Frankfurt to Munich, or packed up and flew across an ocean with no money and no job to help her brother in LA. But there did come a time where she began to question her career path: after becoming a mum. "When my kids were really little, my husband's first big job had him gone all the time, literally every week he was in New York. I was almost like a single mom, and it became so hard to work," she recalled. "A lot of makeup artists, they don't have a life. They really dedicate their life to their job. But for me it was really hard because my number one goal was to have kids and a family. That's just what I wanted. My job was great and I always wanted to work, but the struggle to make it all happen was always . . . as a mom, you always have those guilty feelings of being late and working too hard."
Over time, Blunder learned how to work it out, which came down to "making the right decisions on what I take on," she said. "It's been finding a balance, learning how to say no. Your agents are obviously going to tell you that you should take every job, because everyone is making money if you work. But it's a cool thing to be able to say no, because at the end of the day I want to be proud of what I've done, and proud of my kids, too."