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Actors watch their work for the first time in a cinema crowded with people. They then hit the press trail, appearing before thousands of adoring supporters. Musicians play in stadiums and concert halls for legions of bright-eyed fans, all shouting and screaming their name. For makeup artist, beauty influencer and YouTuber Nikkie de Jager, the mass following exists, that’s for sure, but its realness is imperceptible.

“When I’m filming and looking down the lens, I’m not looking directly at millions of people. I have an indication of whom I’m speaking too, of course. But I’ve never seen it as such. I just talk to a camera.”

De Jager is a new kind of celebrity. One with 12 million YouTube subscribers across her channel, NikkieTutorials, to be precise – that’s about half of the Australian population, give or take. With a dedicated audience of this stature and content that’s shifted an industry, it’s difficult then to comprehend the isolating reality of what she does. There’s no physical audience or large team behind the scenes. Instead, the 25-year-old films her incredible makeup tutorials in a studio alone, with nothing but her camera and a stockpile of beauty products for company.

Pretty crazy, given the influence of all she creates.

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On the day of our shoot, de Jager had just hosted a Marc Jacobs X Sephora master class the night prior to an audience of 400 beauty enthusiasts. A drop in the ocean, considering her mammoth social following, but the tangibility of it all was uncharted waters. “I thought to myself, ‘oh my god, 400 real people’ – it really made me nervous.”

It is exactly this sense of hyper-reality that makes social media such a polarising place. People can be whom they want and show what they want, veiled by platforms and profiles and filters. Right now, authenticity is the secret social sauce, and it’s something that de Jager has in spades.

The proof is in this interview, where I’m meeting de Jager for the very first time. Funnily enough, it was also my first official day as GRAZIA’s beauty editor. I did all the right things – lots of research, a fully charged iPhone, and a list of questions should any awkward silences ensue (which thankfully, they didn’t). We sat down while she was having her thick blonde tape-in’s coiffed and lacquered in preparation for the last look. With statuesque height, a face so perfect it looked Photoshopped and a Chanel bag studded with hundreds of tiny pearls on her arm, it’s easy to place de Jager light years away; a supernova in the beauty universe. This woman is 25 and literally has more followers on Instagram than the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. But sipping on Red Bull, in fluffy slides, a makeup-stained robe, waxing lyrical about her love for eyebrow pencil? About as real as it gets. The uneasy journalist in me powers off, and I decide then and there we should be friends.

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De Jager is soft and considered when it comes to speaking about her upbringing, as if she fusses over every word before she talks. A self-titled “typical Dutch girl”, she grew up in Amsterdam in a wholesome family, who are still at the core of everything she does. Her very first makeup tutorial (inspired by dream girl Lauren Conrad in The Hills, no less) was even filmed on her mum’s digital camera, stacked neatly atop a pile of IKEA boxes. The tutorial itself – a surprisingly good lesson on some green eye shadow she bought at the local drugstore – is still live on her channel. I for one, think it’s a phenomenal first attempt. But de Jager? “It’s horrible! Did you even look at my eyebrows?”

It’s this evolution that has seen fans follow de Jager from the beginning. She doesn’t feel the need to archive, rebrand or ‘delete later’. And while her tutorials and artistry and quite literally mind-blowing, glimpses of her truest self peppered throughout are what keep it addictive. She’s real, and her followers – myself included – are clearly drinking to Koolaid.

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Her channel has come a long way since those humble beginnings. For one, de Jager is now a formally trained artist – not a hard case to make given her stellar talent. Her content is funny and endearing, embellished with personal anecdotes and just enough exaggeration to fit that animated YouTuber hallmark. Her followers, or Glow Babies as she calls them, have steadily accumulated since day dot, but there’s one specific upload on her channel that triggered a shift and permeated the industry.

It was called The Power of Makeup, and the ripple effect it had was transformative. Uploaded in 2015, the viewer count currently stands at 40 million, and is de Jager’s most-watched video to date. The four-minute clip starts with her bare-faced, before she delves into her thoughts on the shame associated with her crazy, face-altering makeup transformations, and how frankly, she’s a little over it. “I feel like lately, girls are almost ashamed to say they love makeup. Nowadays, we say you use makeup because you want to look good for boys, you do it because you’re insecure, or you do it because you don’t love yourself,” she explains, right down the barrel of the camera.

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Since it went viral, it’s been an agent for change in beauty, challenging the outdated idea that makeup – specifically full glam, to use de Jager’s words – is something to be embarrassed about; that makeup is a mask, rather than a means of expression. That we shouldn’t conceal ourselves with glitter and pigment and strip lashes because it means we’re fake or solely trying to impress others. Turns out, it’s not. It’s an art form worth celebrating. And for some, as is the case with de Jager, it’s a superpower.

The resounding gratitude from the Internet was enough to lock in a second Power of Makeup installment, this time with contour queen-cum-beauty-entrepreneur, Kim Kardashian in the chair. The reality star is another advocate for the empowering effects of makeup. It’s her face, her life, and if razor sharp contour make her feel good, then you can bet she’s going to do it. Together, they painted a pretty incredible picture.

What the video, and more specifically de Jager stood for really hit home. It was for something bigger than her – that makeup wasn’t insincere, and it wasn’t shameful to alter your face. It was armour for self-confidence. A form of self-expression. A tool of empowerment. Beauty has since come leaps and bounds in terms of what it is and who it’s for, and it’s transformative narratives like this one that are at the helm. It’s big, and it’s changing the way industries operate. Not bad for a girl, her makeup, and her camera.

De Jager is pretty nonchalant when I probe her about the scale of it all, convincing me that her feet are firmly planted on the ground (her lashes, on the other hand, are sky high). So firmly in fact the she has no plans to move from her Dutch home to Los Angeles in search of even bigger things – though bigger is hard to imagine. She’s taking it as it comes, happy to ride the wave of social media and her recent engagement to her boyfriend of one year, Dylan. When I ask her what she thinks her career will look like in the next few years, she’s unsure: “That’s the thing with YouTube. You just never know. I think more and more of who I am will come into it. But that’s hard to imagine given I’m pretty vulnerable already, and only keep certain sacred things to myself,” she explains, before adding, “I’m still surprised every day by what people engage with.

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Of course, in the spirit of giving the people what they want (and indulging my own selfish interests), I quizzed de Jager on her own makeup loves. How does the girl with every product ever made choose only five favourites? With an unresolved confidence, apparently: Marc Jacobs Youthquake Moisturiser, Accomplice Concealer, a baby-pink hued High Liner, Dew Drops highlighter, and the Enamored Lip Lacquer in Cream and Sugar. I make a mental note to try all of the above.

We slowly wrap so de Jager can go on to the final look – one that will take her about three hours from start to finish. She picks up a brush and starts painting, and I can’t help but ask where her ideas come from: “To be honest, I make things up as I go. I have a rough idea for sure, but I don’t practice or map it out.” Floored given the detail in her work, I ask her where the creativity actually comes from. “Gaming channels on YouTube. It’s a different world, and it lights me up.” I almost think she’s kidding, but she assures me the contrary. I let her settle in to the makeup chair, and spend the cab ride home watching these gaming videos for the first time. She’s right – it’s a vivid, kaleidoscopic feast for the eyes and so easy to get lost in. Maybe I’ll try it next time I have writers block? The influence of de Jager is certainly huge, and apparently, not lost on me.

Creative Direction: Dané Stojanovic Photography: Troyt Coburn Fashion Direction: Aileen Marr Hair: Anthony Nader Talent & Makeup Artist: Nikkie De Jager / Nikkietutorials, Global Artistry Advisor, Marc Jacobs BeautyFashion Assistants: Mercedes Rigby & Patrick Zaczkiewicz Interview & Words: Emily Algar

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE OCTOBER 2019 EDITION OF GRAZIA AUSTRALIA.

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