From Celeb Makeup Artist to Brand Founder, Monika Blunder 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 small town in Austria to Hollywood and eventually, starting her own makeup line.
Makeup artist Monika Blunder has been drawn to beautiful things since a young age, which is easy when you grow 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 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.
"My older brother was working in Munich as a camera assistant for a big company producing American movies and when I was 14 — 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.'"
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," she said.
The scholarship gave Blunder the help she needed, although "in hindsight, I didn't learn anything about makeup at the school," she said. "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 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."
"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." But whilst she was trying to figure out what to do next, Blunder received devastating news. Her brother's wife passed away, leaving him with their small child in LA where he was now working as a director for 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,' she said. "So I went, not thinking that I was going to end up living here."
While helping her brother on the West Coast, he managed to get her a gig assisting makeup artist Paul Starr, who frequently worked on music videos for Propaganda. "I tell this to my children all the time: it's great to get that first initial connection, but then it's up to you," said Blunder. "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."
Later, Blunder met model Rebecca Romijn at a photoshoot for the now-defunct women's clothing catalog called Spiegel and she 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," said Blunder. "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. 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. 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.'" Now, she has over 200,000 subscribers.
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 realized it was time to get in front of the camera and she received such an enthusiastic response, it eventually inspired her to build her own brand. "I think that people really liked that I didn't make [the tutorials] too complicated," she said. "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.' That's when the idea for Monika Blunder Beauty sparked."
The brand, which launched in the U.S. in December 2020, consists of two products so far — a foundation/concealer hybrid called Blunder Cover and a blending brush, with more to come this fall — 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. "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.
Through all the celebrity clients and events, Blunder's proudest moment has been launching her product line. "I am just so proud of it because I never did really well in school — I barely finished high school," she said. "I have a brother who is a professor at a university, and my other brother is a director — they all went to college, 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 but there did come a time where she began to question her career path: after becoming a mom. "When my kids were really little, my husband's first big job had him gone all the time — every week he was in New York," Blunder said. "I was almost like a single mom, and it became so hard to work. A lot of makeup artists 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."
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."