I’m so excited to be featuring Melissa Formica, my friend and a brilliantly talented hair and makeup artist. Melissa did my makeup for my wedding and I was so elated with how it turned out (photo below!) Her work has been featured in a variety of publications including Brides, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and Glamour. Melissa’s clientele ranges from celebrities and models to the everyday woman — inluding me! 🙂
As part of my Friends to Learn From series, I talked with Melissa about all things business and entrepreneurship.
How did you become interested in beauty?
“Turning the pages of Allure, Vogue, and W Mag! I poured myself over the beauty features each month… transfixed on how color, texture, and shape could transform a face to reflect the fashion or mood. I surrounded myself in art since I was a little girl. Always a camera in hand, drawing, or painting for pure enjoyment (coincidently the subject usually being the face.) From paper to skin, I was excited to explore a new medium — and eventually a career!”
What was your educational journey like? Who have been your mentors along your journey?
“I decided to enroll in the Makeup Designory back in 2008 after studying Visual Arts in college. At the time, it was the only accredited makeup school in the country. They have a location in Soho and LA. I wanted to get out of my small town and take a stab at NYC. Looking back, it was best decision I ever made!
I loved my instructors who were working professionals in the union and respected in the industry. It was an intensive program but you walked away with a portfolio and more importantly a business education. That is where most beauty schools miss the mark. I also worked with Make Up For Ever for seven years and owe a lot of my technique and skill to Dany Sanz. As HMU’s we embrace constant change in industry trends so the educational journey continues throughout your career.”
What do you do for fun?
“You can never find me in just one place — my friends will tell you I am a bit of a wandering soul. You might catch me meeting friends at a cozy wine bar before checking out an art exhibit or running off to see a live band. I’m a plant momma and love nature. My best friend and I get together each month and try out a new nature trail with her little girl. This year I am saying yes to new experiences. I recently went to a 4 hour sound bath and let me tell you, it was nothing short of transcendental.”
How do you manage your work / life balance? Any tips for prioritizing schedule?
“Okay, I am going to be real here, this is something that I am working on. It is very easy to get sucked in to the work flow without a breath — especially in the midst of wedding season. After surviving 2019 and 2020, my business doubled in the last two years. I could not have done it without building my team of wildly talented and professional artists.
A better work-life balance starts when you plan it out in advance. For example, when you’re approaching your own busy season, ask yourself, what is going to keep me from feeling burnt out? Whether it’s carving out time to book that yoga class, spa day, or weekend trip to the mountains, commit and stick to it. Do you have an assistant or intern who can help with the backend of things? Don’t be afraid to ask for help and allow yourself to have full days of rest and disconnect. Sometimes as entrepreneurs, we have guilt with sitting idle. Remember you need to recharge and honor yourself to keep creating.”
Tell us about your business and the different elements of it from fashion/editorial to bridal and beyond.
“A piece of teacher’s advice that I didn’t listen to was to specialize in one thing when building your hair and makeup business. Why limit the avenues where you can grow your business? As lucrative as it is, I didn’t want to be known as only a bridal HMU. I want to show my clients strong versatility. I thrive on new challenges — it keeps my job fresh. You can feel confident when you hire me for a red carpet appearance at the Tony’s, in the studio before a guest appearance on GMA, or a photoshoot for Vogue. All of which I cater to with my current clientele.”
How do you recruit other artists for your team?
“I look for artists who also have backgrounds in print, fashion, or TV with a similar aesthetic to mine. That’s not all. I watch how they handle themselves on set and when they’re working with clients one on one. How are they making the client feel? Did they leave them with a memorable and positive experience? Maybe they gave them a few beauty secrets and took their expectations to the next level. That is who I want on my team!
There can be many unexpected moments that arise when you’re working a wedding or on set so it’s really important that my team and I keep a calm and fun environment. I love that with a glance, we know when to step in for each other. No one gets left behind. We problem solve before the client bats a lash. It’s that positive energy and seamless experience that keeps our clients coming back and referring us again and again.”
What is your secret to success in challenging opportunities?
“The more prepared you are for a challenging new client or shoot, the better. Do your research, ask as many questions as you need, and be confident in what you are bringing to the table. Remember, if they approached you, they already see the talent in you. Now it is your job to show them you have what it takes and then some. Also, it’s important put your ego aside and let your professionalism and work do the talking. I like to be ready to fulfill my clients expectations before they even ask. I’ve already anticipated ahead of time what their possible needs would be that day.
For example, through my prep, I’ve discovered my client has had a not-so-savory experience with a previous artist. After going over her inspiration for today’s look, I am calmly talking her through each step as I apply her makeup so she is feeling listened to. I show her the color palette I’m using and explain why I’m using it. The same goes for hair. Once we’re finished, she’ll look into the mirror and see everything we talked about. I’ll leave her with a little touch up kit to ensure the entire look stays perfectly intact. She now has a little memento from our session together.”
What has been your greatest surprise about entrepreneurship?
“After 15 years I still love it! I can’t tell you how rewarding it feels to have built a business from scratch and think about all the beautiful and mind blowing experiences I have had over the years. I’m traveling the world now for my clients who have shown me such kindness and loyalty. Catherine being a perfect example of someone I was lucky enough to have walk into my life as a client and friend. I have such gratitude towards her and the all the other creatives that I work with.
You are going to face many hiccups as you grow your business. We all go through it and in a way, I feel as though we do so we can pass the lessons learned to each other. It has been so refreshing to witness the outpouring of support when you ask for it.
A paramount piece of advice I will leave you with is to find your inner circle of trusted, like-minded entrepreneurs to connect, grow, vent, laugh, and keep your sanity with. This is how we build stronger businesses and wins together.”