Makeup Artist

Mimi Choi is a wildly talented and distinguished make-up artist best known for her intricate and surreal make-up illusions that have garnered praise and recognition worldwide. She is the talent behind Ezra Miller’s jaw-dropping 7-Eyed look for the 2019 Met Gala that took the internet by storm. Her artwork can be found all over the media: in magazines, music videos, televisions show, and beyond. She has also had numerous partnerships with major brands such as Make Up For Ever and MAC. With a whopping 1.9 million followers on Instagram (@mimles), I am eager to see where Mimi’s mind-boggling creative talents take her next as she continues to thrive and make noise in pop culture.

Where are you from? What was life like growing up?

I was born in Macau and spent most of my childhood there.  Like most Chinese upbringings, my life was very academically oriented and I spent most of my days studying even at an early age.  I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve high standings at school and I found it difficult to be the well-rounded person I hoped to be.  It was because of this that my family decided to immigrate to Vancouver, Canada when I was 10 years old. Since moving to North America, I’ve noticed a greater emphasis on athletics and the arts and it was here that I discovered my passion for makeup.

Can you tell us a little more about your ethnic background?

Both of my parents are Chinese and were raised in Macau: a Portuguese colony near Hong Kong.  As a result, I speak fluent Cantonese and I try to visit my family in Macau every couple of years.

What are your favorite things to do when you’re not working?

When I’m not working, I like to go for walks with my husband and try new food with my family.  There is a big Asian population in Vancouver so it is very easy for me to find good food.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment was probably the first time I was invited to present on the main stage at IMATS (International Make-Up Artists Trade Show) which is the largest professional makeup show in the world.  I remember admiring the presenters when I attended my first IMATS years earlier and setting that as a goal for myself.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I started my career as a makeup artist relatively late in life – at the age of 28.  I was a Montessori preschool instructor for a few years after university and while I love children, I felt that my creative and expressive side was being suppressed.  It was with the support of my family that I made the decision to enroll at Blanche Macdonald which is a beauty and makeup school here in Vancouver. On the first day of class, I was by far the oldest student as most were fresh out of high school but I was determined to work as hard as I could.

Who do you look up to? Why?

I really enjoy the work of Mike Marino.  He is an incredible special effects and prosthetic artist who creates the most hyper-realistic work I have ever seen.  Although I don’t use prosthetics in my work, I have huge respect for his amazing attention to detail and patience.

What inspired you to be a makeup artist?

When I was a preschool teacher, I would spend my evenings painting intricate details on my nails as a way to unwind.  When my mother noticed me doing this, she asked me whether I would be happy living the rest of my working life as a preschool instructor.  When I gave her my response, she recommended that I pursue my passion in makeup and within a few days, I had enrolled at Blanche Macdonald.

How did you start out doing your hyperreal optical illusion makeup creations?

I attempted a cracked-face illusion for my first Halloween as a makeup student.  I was inspired by a look I had seen online and decided to recreate it with a black and white liner.  When I posted the result on Instagram, I received a lot of positive responses and the image went viral.  This motivated me to continue exploring the genre and my portfolio has evolved into what it is today.

What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?

I would say that my biggest hurdles come from within.  My looks can take up to 10 hours to complete, which is about the limit of my patience.  I feel that if I can work longer, I can achieve more impressive results. This is something that I work on everyday and improve on incrementally.

Do you tap into your own imagination or do you draw inspiration from different sources when developing a concept?

I suffer from sleep paralysis which is a condition in which my mind is conscious but my body is unresponsive right before awakening.  During these experiences, I often see visions which have inspired a lot of my more iconic looks. I also draw inspiration from my travels as I like to explore street art and visit museums when I am in different cities.  Finally, I like to view surreal digital art and it is often challenging to recreate these looks on my face.

Is there a clear vision before you begin, or do you change direction naturally as your work progresses?

I usually have an idea of what I want to achieve before I start, but I almost always have to adjust as I go to take into account the shape and angles of my face.  Often times, my vision changes as the look evolves which I am fine with as I am a spontaneous person.

Your impeccable artwork on Ezra Miller for the Met Gala garnered massive praise and attention. How did it feel to have your creation presented at such a prestigious event?

It was a real honour to be asked to work on Ezra and it was a lot of fun spending the day with him and his team.  It was a really long process but it was so rewarding to see Ezra reveal the final look on the red carpet. I’m proud to have been part of the experience and I am excited to see that there is a place in pop culture and fashion for my type of makeup.

How did you and Ezra Miller come up with the concept?

About a week before the gala, I connected with Ezra and we discussed the theme of the event and what he wanted to achieve with his look.  I had an idea of what I wanted to do, and fortunately for us, we were on the same wavelength as Ezra referenced a look I did the previous year – the kaleidoscope eyes.  The look represents the fact that we often hide beneath and portray an image of ourselves to the world but in reality, everyone has depth and many layers. The reveal of the multiple eyes from behind the mask was Ezra’s ultimate unveiling of his alter egos.

Your artwork seems to elicit strong reactions and emotions from people. Is your intent to communicate a story or feeling through these powerful visuals?

The looks that I create have meaning and stories that are special to me.  However, I hope that the emotions that my audience feels from viewing my work reminds them of their own unique experiences and stories.  I believe that this is what art has the power to achieve.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?

I always encourage my students to step out of their comfort zones and attempt something new.  They should allow their fears to motivate them instead of being a hindrance. I also tell my students to compare themselves to their own work instead of following other makeup artists.  This is the truest and most honest measure of improvement.

You’ve really transformed your passion into a remarkable career: leading master classes, collaborating with major makeup brands, and gaining over a whopping 1 million followers. Did you believe any of this was ever possible?

When I started my makeup career, my goal was never to achieve a large following nor did I expect to get the type of jobs that I have.  I painted because it was fun and therapeutic to me and I would be doing this regardless of social media. However, I am grateful for my followers and feel so fortunate to have the platform that I have.  It has allowed me to connect with so many people around the world and collaborate on some amazing projects

If you created a vision board for yourself 5-10 years into the future, what would it look like? 

I hope to continue to combine my passions of makeup, teaching, and travelling to teach in different cities around the world.  I would also love to continue collaborating with and learning from different artists on interesting campaigns. Beyond that, anything else would be a bonus!

If you could go back in time and give your younger-self advice, what would you tell her?

I think I would encourage my younger self to be more fearless and to take bigger risks.  All of the positive and negative experiences I’ve gone through have made me the artist and person that I am today.

Any projects or exciting plans coming up in the future?

I do have a few projects that I am working on at the moment and I hope to reveal them soon!  In the meantime, I will continue travelling to teach classes and collaborating with other artists on campaigns.

Follow Mimi Choi on Instagram: @mimles