For Blanche Macdonald Makeup graduate Sharon Rai, every day is a labour of love. The lavish ado of marriage was once youth’s sweetest daydream; now, that daydream has grown into the swoon-inducing reality of her workaday, as Canada’s premier bridal Makeup and Hair Artist.
“I have been mesmerized with brides since I was a little girl,” Sharon enthuses. “To me they were as close as I could get to a princess. Now, I am honoured to be able to work with them, and to be included in the most special day of their lives. It’s been nine years since I worked on my first wedding and each one still has the same excitement for me – I still get those butterflies in my stomach!”
The feelings are mutual. Brides are infatuated with the beauty mastery of Victoria-based Sharon Rai Hair & Makeup Artistry, which whorls through everything from blush-kissed natural, to the full-blown opulence of South Asian tradition. And this year, the wedding industry was ready to make their adoration for Sharon’s finesse known.
“It was an amazing feeling to hear my name as the winner of Best Makeup Artist! Especially being mentioned in such an esteemed group. Even more amazing was hearing the excitement in the voice of the host when she read my name again for the Best Hairstylist in Canada award,” says Sharon, her smile beaming with the emotional vestige of her DOUBLE nationwide-win at the prestigious 2014 Canadian Wedding Industry Awards. “It was pretty cool!
“I’ve worked very hard this past year. 2014 brought new challenges, new opportunities, and I was able to find the balance of being a mother and being a business woman. That’s what made this such a great accomplishment: having a baby, being able spend time with her, and still working up to being one of the best artists in Canada. It was huge.”
Sharon is nothing short of a multi tasking marvel. Between being BC’s most sought-after Bridal Hair and Makeup Artist, traveling to accept awards – an outstanding ten this year alone – as well as forging and heading Victoria’s first alliance of esteemed wedding businesses, Women of Weddings (WoW), this woman-wonder still (somehow) found the time to throw a lavish first-year fete for her petite treasure Naiva.
But busy is just the way she likes it.
“My parents are entrepreneurs, and I started working when I was nine years old. I loved it!”
As she grew older, Sharon found that this same enterprising spirit was blooming within her. Having always had a love for makeup, but not yet knowing how to make a career out of it, she enrolled in business school in Vancouver. She flourished in the fast pace, but she couldn’t shake her artistic intuitions.
“I had this creative passion but I didn’t know how to release it. I had met my husband – then boyfriend – and I was telling him about my passion for beauty. And he said, ‘Well, you should go for it!’ I didn’t know where to start. I started research into many Makeup schools, but I recognized Blanche Macdonald as the one that would best prepare me for the career I envisioned. At that time I was working in business, and the schedule of the program really fit with my lifestyle. I contacted the school – after that first phone call I knew that it was exactly what I needed to do.
“What I loved about Blanche Macdonald was that the teachers were all living, breathing, and working in the industry. This was the most exciting thing for me because I was a sponge in school. I was the keener, always sitting in the front, all about learning. I was always asking questions, picking their brains, and not only did they have answers, but they could all relate to the industry at that moment.”
Sharon’s openness to the teachings of her instructors, and the ‘real-world, real-time’ experience that they could impart meant that she was one step ahead of other emerging artists upon leaving the creative cocoon of Canada’s Top Makeup School. And having the Blanche Macdonald Centre seal on her resume only fortified her foothold in the industry.
“I had instant credibility. The challenge that I find most artists face is in just convincing people to believe in them as artists. I had a head start because I was a Blanche Macdonald graduate. From there I only had to focus on working hard and proving myself to be the best.”
Proving herself after school meant maintaining the will to continue learning – and a lot of hard work.
“I volunteered with Make Up For Ever, Nars, Bobbi Brown, Laura Mercier, Shiseido, Clarins and Stila; at Holt Renfrew, The Bay, Sears and Shoppers Drug Mart. And worked retail at MAC. I also did a lot of assisting with Makeup Artists, Photographers, Hairstylists and Stylists for fashion shows and photo shoots, which were all trade-for-print!
“I would get paid nothing and still I would stay the entire day at shoots making sure the hair and makeup was perfect. And I did that again and again so that I could build my name. I wanted the practice – I would do anything to improve my skills. I kept working with dedication and a commitment to my passion. Now I’m making a career out of it, and loving every single day.”
Practice makes a tenured artist, and Sharon’s indomitable will for mastering her craft led her to be accepted onto MAC Cosmetics’ illustrious Impact Team – also known as the ‘best of the best of BC’ – placing her in a leadership role educating and training her fellow artists, as well as teaching consumers about product and makeup styles.
Yet even this grand and alluring position could not keep Sharon away from her first beauty love. The beckons of bridal were too sweet to bear, and Sharon Rai Hair & Makeup Artistry was born.
“We like to think of ourselves as the Bride’s Backup Bridal Party because we do everything! Our top priority is to make sure that our brides can enjoy their day in a relaxed, stress-free environment while we take care of every beauty detail. Though, there have been times when the bride has fainted, and we’ve been the ones running to grab her water and take care of it all,” says Sharon. “I always tell our brides that they have an everlasting touch-up. They don’t even have to worry about looking in the mirror. The photographer is always seeing the big picture; that everyone is standing correctly, that the composure is right. We are the real life Photoshop; we’re zooming in to check for flyaways, un-fluffed dress skirts...anything at all out of place.
“When they book with me they have me from ‘I will’ to ‘I do,’ and I am their pampering, makeup, hair and styling service for any event leading up to, and including the wedding day. I really like to make that connection with them. Most brides become great friends of mine afterwards because they are welcoming me in to such a special day in their lives.”
Sharon and her team specialize in both Western and South Asian weddings. For her South Asian brides, it’s not only about the beauty experience, but about the care, attention and honour placed on the rich traditional intricacies of a culture-centric wedding.
“Born into a Sikh family, I can truly relate and understand. In addition to training my team for hair and makeup, I teach them what I learned growing up, and through my more recent experiences with South Asian weddings, such as detailed dressing techniques and beauty rituals. I’m not only fostering my team to be the best in beauty, but to appreciate what matters to each of our brides specifically. It’s about connecting with each of them as individuals to learn about their personal cultural and family traditions.”
Many of the artists in Sharon’s ever-expanding, and carefully curated team are scouted from the classrooms that first knocked Sharon off her feet and set her on her own path to success. She knows that the graduates of Blanche Macdonald are “at that standard” – that they’re ready to be tossed into the variable and demanding world of weddings.
“Living in Victoria, you never know when you might get a warm day in January, or a rainy day in July. You can never know for sure what’s going to happen, but we make sure that no matter what, they are looking and feeling their best.”
This is no easy task. When you’re working with an environment buffeted by high emotions and rife with unpredictable moments, there are simply too many eventualities to be prepared for. In her seventh year since she founded her company, Sharon has more than a few of these contingencies-turned-realities under her belt, including one particularly sweltering exotic destination wedding in the Dominican Republic.
“I had never worked with that sort of heat before. The bride had booked me for the days leading up to the wedding, and so each day I would practice makeup on myself to see what would work; what would withhold that heat. By the time the wedding came around, everyone was sweating bullets and she looked AMAZING! She didn’t break a sweat. She looked radiant in all of her shots.
“Now I can say with confidence that my makeup will last through anything – though any surge of emotion or weather. It’s one thing to see the before and after, but as an artist, being able to see it live through different happenings and moments allows you to become stronger in your craft. You can constantly be striving to improve your skills.”
The brides of the West Coast certainly need no more convincing when it comes to Sharon Rai – her passion is contagious, her portfolio brimming over in glowing faces and heartfelt testimonials. Having now been titled the Best of the Best in Canada for Bridal Hair and Makeup, you may be surprised to hear that learning is still high on her list of priorities. Then again, it’s learning that’s brought her to the thrilling pinnacle she currently holds.
“I still educate myself and hold education high: as a master artist, as a business owner, as a leader and as a mother. It’s always good to keep learning, to inspire others. My advice for any aspiring artist is to work hard, set goals for yourself, practice, listen, learn as much as you can, and you will master your skill.