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We Wanna Be Friends With High Fashion Makeup Artist Victor Cembellin

The fashion industry’s best makeup artist isn’t in LA or NY. He’s right here in San Francisco. Victor Cembellin is an internationally renowned M∙A∙C Cosmetics Senior Artist—and a devoted Bay Area resident. 

“I’ve definitely been offered to move to LA or New York so ‘you can blow up bigger’ but, oh my God, San Francisco is home,” explains Cembellin, who grew up in Pleasanton and has lived in the Bay Area ever since. Fortunately, M∙A∙C is happy to oblige, jetting the in-demand makeup artist around the globe so he can lend his talent to everything from editorial shoots in LA to fashion week in London. 

Cembellin found his calling for makeup artistry in the '90s, inspired by the era’s Chameleon-like style icons, such as Madonna and Linda Evangelista. “I fell in love with makeup because of the transformational properties of it, the way one can redefine one's identity,” says Cembellin.

In the decades since, he’s built a reputation for his technical precision and bold, high-fashion looks—which he describes as “pushed” because they go beyond commercially pretty to editorial. “It has to be perfect while still being big,” he explains.

His editorial work has graced the cover of 7x7 and appeared on the glossy pages of Elle and Harper's Bazaar, and he's assisted with runway makeup for designers from Alberta Ferretti to Zac Posen. Hollywood A-listers, such as Natalie Portman and Amy Adams, flock to Cembellin -- his Instagram account is a fun peek at his celebrity clients around the world.

We caught up with Cembellin in San Francisco this summer as he geared up to work back to back fashion weeks in Paris and Milan this September. 

1. What neighborhood do you currently call home? Would you ever move or are you happy in your hood? 

I live in the Oakland foothills, close to the Oakland Zoo. What’s great about my little house is that I can see the Golden Gate Bridge, the bay, and the airports.

2. What's your hands-down, absolute favorite thing to eat in SF? 

Depends on what part of the city I’m in and what activity. Absinthe was amazing last time I was there with my mom before the opera. I love Slanted Door in the Ferry Building, and I even love just Sunday brunch at Brenda’s [French Soul Food] with some champagne! 

3. What's your perfect night on the town? 

I grew up doing musical theater, so I’m obsessed with seeing the amazing shows that come through San Francisco. I’ve been seeing the opera more often. It’s incredible because you can turn it into a whole date night. If I’m with my brother and his friends, then I’ll go to a Giants game. 

4. When you need a low-key afternoon, where do you go for down time? 

I like exploring with my dog, a super friendly pound puppy named Pinto Bean. I take him everywhere with me. We like to go to Baker Beach or Ocean Beach. He’s a hit at Dolores Park!

5. What's your favorite place to go on a day trip from the city? 

Having Calistoga and Napa so close is awesome. I recently went to Calistoga and went floating in the mineral baths and that was incredible. Then we continued on afterwards to Napa and did the whole wine thing.

6. Quick-fire round:

Burrito or Burger: Burrito

Presidio or Golden Gate Park: Golden Gate Park

BiRite or Mitchell's: Mitchell’s

Bike or MUNI: Neither, car. (I live in Oakland!) If I had to choose, MUNI. 

Fort Mason or Dolores Park: Dolores Park

The Independent or the Fillmore: The Fillmore

Baker Beach or Ocean Beach: Depends on the time of year, but usually Baker Beach 

7. Three words that describe your life in SF? 

Eclectic, nostalgic, and experiential.