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Sonia Roselli is a sought-after makeup artist who specializes in bridal beauty. With a studio based in Rogers Park—a neighborhood she adores—Roselli has a brand new beauty magazine, her own line of products, and a client list that has included Betty White, Linda Evangalista, and Lenny Kravitz.
But she wasn't always obsessed with makeup. Growing up in Alabama, "I was a little bit of a tomboy, always climbing trees in my dresses," Roselli says. Nonetheless, beauty was in her blood. "My grandmother was a girly-girl, and so was my mom." Little Sonia would get her hands dirty playing with her mom and grandmother's makeup ("I was always getting in trouble for that") and says that anyone who grows up the south has a natural predilection toward glosses and brushes. "When you grow up in Alabama, by five you're a professional makeup artist," she says. "Southern women love makeup and always have."
Roselli worked in beauty throughout her youth, but she got her degree in journalism. "I didn't really think I could do makeup for a living," she said. "Your parents expect you to do certain things. My mom worked for Boeing and designed a space station. She was very artistic, and very career-driven, and I did makeup just to pay my way through high school and college."
During college, Roselli was hired on as an account executive at Aveda, and traveled to Minneapolis to study under industry stalwarts such as Sonia Kashuk, Fatima Olive, and the Aveda founder himself, Horst Rechelbacher. "They were very driven," Roselli says. "Before I ever learned the art of makeup, I had to learn the art of business. They really taught me from the top: your business is just as important as your creativity. But it wasn't until I was interning at CNN—doing nothing fancy, just getting coffee— that I discovered: hey! they have makeup artists on set. I can do this!"
Photo: Kenny Naki
Enter an Italian boyfriend, who whisked Roselli away to Milan where she continued to dabble in makeup. When said Italian got a job in Chicago and urged Roselli to move there with him, she signed on happily. "I'm a little bit of a bohemian soul," she says. "And when I came to Chicago [in around 2000], I decided: You know what, I'm just going to give [the makeup business] a go full-time. And I did."
Roselli was working on the set of a major TV commercial when the creative director hired her come to a hotel room to do her wedding makeup. "This was when they didn't really have on-location makeup services. As a matter of fact, I think I was the first woman in Chicago to do it," Roselli says. "Then after I got done, I was like: 'Oh! This is a need that people have.' I had that business mind, and I was taught that you find a problem, solve that problem, and you build a business."
And then, exit the Italian boyfriend. "His ass was cheating," Roselli hoots. "So I sent his ass back, and I stayed!" As a freelance artist with $600 in her bank account, Roselli started apartment hunting around Chicago. "I took my friend Andie with me to look at an apartment in Rogers Park. And I told her: You have to pretend to be my boss, because they're not going to give me an apartment without a job," she says. "So, we went to look at this apartment and loved it, and [whispers] I wrote a bad check." Luckily, fate was on Roselli's side. "I wrote that check on a Thursday. The instant that happened, I started getting calls to do last-minute weddings. I made enough that weekend to get money in the bank before my check bounced. I never looked back, and my phone hasn't stopped ringing since then."
And just like that, a bridal business was born. "We always say that man plans and God laughs," Roselli says. But even as a big-name artist (who just launched an offshoot in San Francisco), Roselli keeps her studio in the neighborhood she has always adored. "I really don't want to tell you how much I love Rogers Park because then everyone will move here," she says. "You've got a whole mix of crazy people. I find that so refreshing because I don't like cookie-cutter stuff. I like individuality of people, and their stories, and different languages and ethnicities, and different skin tones. I just like people who are unique in their own way, and I think that's what I get from Rogers Park." Though more than one person has suggested she move her space to Michigan Avenue, Roselli is in the neighborhood to stay.
"It's really this little hidden gem that people kind of shit talk. As a business owner, I can't really rip somebody a new one. But when someone comes in, complaining that they had to drive that far north to my studio, and why are you in Rogers Park, it takes everything that I have to just bite my tongue."
Being exposed to clients of all races and ethnic types has helped Roselli sharpen and expand her skills. "As a makeup artist, I don't want to do white faces all the time," she says. "So when somebody comes in with ebony-black skin, I get all excited: 'ooh, let's see what we can do here.'"
But she admits that recently, many of her clients come in asking for a uniform kind of look. "In this day and age, everyone wants to look like Kim Kardashian, and I'm like: 'Girrl, you're Asian,'" Roselli laughs. "So in the last few years, it's definitely become a little more challenging. Not because [clients are] being difficult, but a lot of times women don't like what they see in the mirror. It just tears me apart when they sit in my chair and immediately start apologizing... I don't know if the whole social media thing has caused women to have these really insecure thoughts about themselves, but I really wish we would stop."
The contouring trend is another thing she'd like to see vanish. "If it takes you more than one minute to contour, you might be a drag queen," Roselli says. "Which is fine. [Wearing tons of makeup] is a trend. If you're one of those women like Kim Kardashian, who looks great with a ton of makeup on, well, then who am I to say? Go for it. But if you're a fair, Anne Hathaway kind of girl with beautiful skin and delicate features? Don't be piling that shit on, girl!"
Quickfire round! What's your personal beauty philosophy?
This is what I always tell people: a trend is something that you follow, and style is something that you have. So create your own style.
Which makeup products do you never leave home without?
Mascara, concealer, blush, and gloss.
Whose makeup would you most love to do?
Oh my God, Sophia Loren. I don't care—a young Sophia Loren, Sophia Loren now. Everything about her is amazing to me. Because she's not only incredibly sexy at her age, and she always has been, but you can just tell that she's down to earth. You can just see her dancing and looking beautiful, and maybe feeding you a plate of pasta. She's one of those beauty icons that is beautiful, but yet down to earth and real. I really wish that I had a new celebrity that I can name. The only one I can think of who comes close would maybe be Adele. I like celebrities to be who they are, and I feel like in [the current] world of manufactured celebrities, it's all a persona they're putting on. I'm a little older and I don't subscribe to those kinds of things. I know people do, and that's fine. But, Sophia Loren? She has to be the most gorgeous woman on the face of the planet.
What's your best beauty tip?
It's simple and it's free. It's called water.
I thought you were going to say say "sleep!"
Well, that too, but who the hell has time for that? It's even hard for me to drink water, but we are so dehydrated as a society. Water makes all of your internal organs function properly, and your skin is your largest organ. So if you take care of that, just naturally, you're going to be beautiful. [Skin is] your canvas for everything. If you can drink three liters of water a day, you're golden.
· Sonia Roselli [Official Site]