The Journal News

We talked to three local reinventors who started new careers in their own fields — and this time, they’re in charge.

Kiam Barrese, Mount Vernon

Old job: Makeup artist for companies including MAC and Lancome

New job: Founder of a makeup line called Backstage Cosmetix, she also owns Backstage Beauty & Cosmetix, a hair salon in Mount Vernon

The journey: Back when she was a choreographer and dancer for hip-hop artist Slick Rick, Kiam Barrese never imagined she’d end up in the beauty industry. But in 2002, after getting her cosmetology license and working as a hairstylist, Barrese began selling MAC at Macy’s in Yonkers. In late 2007, she moved to Lancome at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Nine months later, she was told her job was over.

There had been cutbacks store wide, so the news didn’t come as a shock. Still, Barrese, a single mother of three, was surprised by her reaction.

“It was the weirdest thing,” she says. “I felt this freedom of almost hitting the reset button, like ‘Now it begins.’ Barrese, who’d been a product specialist for MAC, already knew the ins and outs of makeup formulation. She’d also been making inroads into the movie, music and fashion worlds, working as a freelance makeup artist for celebrities including Taraji P. Henson, Erykah Badu, rapper T.I. and the pop group Danity Kane.

In 2009, Barrese launched her own line of makeup with six shades of lipstick, eight eye shadows and a dozen varieties of lip gloss.

With a nod to her career as a performer, she called the company Backstage Cosmetix. Immediately, she began using the products on her celebrity clients — and selling them locally from a box at the hair salon where she was working part-time in Mount Vernon. Word spread quickly.

“People like exclusivity,” she says. “There’s something special about pulling out that lipstick in the bathroom that you don’t think anybody else has, and getting a comment like, ‘What’s that?’ That’s how the buzz starts.”

Family thought she was spreading herself too thin when she decided to open her own beauty salon in 2010. But these days, Barrese is busy styling hair, selling her expanded line of makeup — which includes powder, foundation, blush and false lashes — preparing to return to New York Fashion Week as a cosmetics sponsor, and producing her first show, GlamFest.

Barrese says she’s always been a visionary, and that quitting is never an option. “I started my business on blind faith, believing that I’d acquired enough knowledge and experience in my field to conquer my dreams and be successful,” she says.

Learn more: For tickets to GlamFest, a show combining hair, makeup, fashion and music (Sept. 30) — and for information on Backstage Cosmetix and Backstage Beauty & Cosmetix Salon — go to

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