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Brand to Know: The Art-Inspired Makeup Brand Started by One of Korea’s Top Face Painters

By Renée Batchelor

Jung Saem Mool

It was the exacting standards of her mother, a fine arts graduate, that first got Korean makeup artist Jung Saem Mool rethinking her whole artistic philosophy. Although she had been doing makeup for some time — she started in the industry in 1991 — and experimented with a lot of looks on herself, it took a comment from her mother to challenge her notions of artistry. “I was in my twenties and did so many coloured makeup looks on myself and one day, my mother said “That is not good makeup. If you’re a real master, people should not even know what you’re wearing on your face.” This shocked the young Jung, who then questioned her own skills and philosophy on how makeup should look on a person, and the purpose it should serve.

“I was very shocked and I began to question what true mastery of makeup was — and I wanted to be a master of makeup. People shouldn’t be able to tell what you’re wearing, but rather should see you first,” says Jung. We’re sitting in the second floor of her makeup atelier in the Gangnam area of Seoul, an upmarket area that plays host to many top Korean and international brands. While the first floor offers her eponymous brand’s makeup and skincare, in the vein of many Korean boutiques, there is more of an experiential vibe in the store. The second floor hosts art exhibits — currently on display are abstract works by Korean artist Ji Keun Wook — while the ground floor has a small coffee stand as well as ample beanbag seats for tired husbands and boyfriends to rest in.

Jung Saem MoolBehind the eponymous makeup line is Jung Saem Mool, renowned Korean celebrity makeup artist.
Behind the eponymous makeup line is Jung Saem Mool, renowned Korean celebrity makeup artist.

Miss Jung is not just a pioneer in her field, akin perhaps to British makeup artist Pat McGrath, she is also responsible for the birth of transparent makeup. She created the much-lauded nude makeup look on actress Jun Ji-Hyun for the hit movie “My Sassy Girl” in 2001. Today makeup professionals from far and wide (think Singapore and the US) flock to her makeup school, the Jung Saem Mool Art and Academy, to learn this philosophy and technique, simply because there is a demand from their clients back home. Throughout our interview, Jung is wholly engaged, enthusiastically showing products from the brand she created in 2015 and how they work, as well as asking me if she can try makeup on me. She delights in showing me how corrector and concealer when used together can virtually erase my dark circles and asking me to sample my favourite shade of her new Lip-Pression matte lipstick that gives that cool, blurred lip effect. It’s not difficult to get sucked in by her passion for her craft and for the beautiful, well thought-out makeup products.

Standouts from her range included the Essential Star-cealer Foundation, which she demonstrates is one of the key products to achieving her signature transparent makeup look. After going back to study fine arts in San Francisco — as part of a mid-career hiatus — Jung wanted to find a way to way to bring more precision and focus to her makeup practice. “When I do makeup classes, I used so many illogical sentences and I didn’t like using those kind of instructions. I studied fine art to focus on logical theory, so that students could learn faster and understand faster. A lot of makeup terms come in adjectives, so I wanted to find out if there are principles that I could share with my students,” she says.

Jung Saem MoolThe Essential Star-cealer Foundation, S$60.
The Essential Star-cealer Foundation, S$60.

From there she developed a seven-point philosophy dubbed “Key 7”. Among some of the seven points she has distilled is the idea of “Thick & Thin”. Jung explains that each person has differing areas of thickness on the skin on their faces. The skin on the cheeks, for example is thicker, as compared to the skin on the nose, the forehead and around the eyes. Therefore, foundation in these “thinner” areas should be applied more thickly and vice versa in order to create a more balanced and three-dimensional face. It all seems very artsy, or perhaps science-y, as Jung has literally worked it down to seven points. She explains further that the secret of long-lasting makeup is in using and layering different textures (“Wet & Dry”) and how even something as seemingly simple as eyeliner needs to follow the principle of “Lost & Found” — eyeliner should follow the eye contours and be thinner in the centre and thicker at the inner and outer edges. But how does one translate these theories to actual makeup?

Short of enrolling in her academy, one way is to try the Jung Saem Mool brand which transposes her ideas into practical products. The aforementioned Star-cealer Foundation contains two textures of the same coloured base product: a thicker, cream concealer and a more fluid liquid foundation that can be pumped out via a tiny hole dispenser. The best part? The two formulas can be mixed and custom-blended in the middle in a “palette” that has been designed to mimic the texture of skin, before being applied on the face. “Rather than putting makeup as though it is a flat surface, you balance out the foundation application on the face so that it looks more dimensional. This will create a more contoured face,” she explains.

In keeping with her philosophy of empowerment, Jung refuses to subscribe to the cultural belief in her country that being fairer is more beautiful. “All women are born with a very unique skin colour, texture and beautiful differences. I really wanted to change the concept that fairer skin is beautiful. Finding the right foundation for your own skin is very important,” says Jung. While the brand currently has six shades of the Star-cealer, I am still pleasantly surprised to find the Medium-Deep shade fits my medium-tone skin as Korean makeup brands are not particularly known for their shade inclusiveness. Still those with darker complexions will likely have to wait for possible shade extensions in the future. 

Jung Saem MoolThe Essential Skin-Nuder Cushion (left), price on request, and the Essential Mool Cream, S$78.
The Essential Skin-Nuder Cushion (left), price on request, and the Essential Mool Cream, S$78.

Another key product from the brand is the Essential Mool Cream which takes its name from Jung herself and is not your usual run-of-the-mill moisturiser. “It’s very unique and we’re the only brand that has this. It’s a little bit water-like when you apply it, but when it hits the skin and responds to your body temperature it turns into a cream. Apply this before your makeup — just a small amount will do — and it will leave the skin flawless as it goes very well with foundation,” she says. For the Singapore client, Jung recommends her eyeshadows to bring out the unique eye shapes of multi-ethnic women that reside here, as well as the Essential Skin-Nuder Cushion and her three-in-one Refining Color-bony Brow which contains a powder, pencil, blender and spoolie brush. “So many Singapore women have beautiful eye shapes and double eyelids, so a bit of shiny shadow, eyebrow product and cushion foundation will be sufficient,” she says. And with her assured manner, deft face-painting skills and curated vision, you can’t help but agree. 

Jung Saem Mool retails at Escentials #03-02 Paragon and online at the Escentials store.