Scandinavians succeed with international makeup school in Thailand


A ‘Scandinavian Makeup Studio’, based in Bangkok, Thailand, initially prompts some questions. Is it catering to the need for Scandinavian makeup products in Asia? Is it a studio by and for Scandinavians? Even when someone knows that it’s in fact a school that trains makeup artists, she/he may wonder if it’s only training Scandinavian style or for Scandinavian people.

It turns out that the “only” Scandinavian thing about it is that the founders are from two of the Nordic countries, and that this is reflected in the school’s quality and management.

A more direct Scandinavian connection has just started for the school (set up in 2013) though; namely to take in students from Denmark.
With one of the partners based mainly in Denmark Scandinavian Makeup Studio is spreading its wings, aiming at tapping into that market.

“We are getting our first Danish students before Christmas,” says Norwegian Hilde Johansen who started the school together with the owners and investors Eva Bartels Thomsen and her Danish husband.

Hilde-Johansen-Makeup-StudioStudents flying in
So far most students at the school fly in to do their course and then fly back home, and the school management believes they can attract some fellow countrymen to do likewise.

“We’ll be starting the course in Denmark and then they’ll be transferred to Bangkok to continue their training. People these days love to travel, to be in a new place, and study more abroad, so I believe in the concept.”

“Our students are flying in from all over Asia, and also Africa and Europe!
At first we thought we needed to focus on the market here in Thailand to get students. But we are getting queries from Burma, Nepal, Buthan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, France, England and Vietnam; from more than 25 different countries in total,” explains Hilde who came to Thailand eight years ago to study fashion.

“I believe in Bangkok, it’s a metropolis – it’s so international here, you have people from all over the world. And you have so much production going on here when it comes to movies or magazines or commercials. People fly in from Pakistan and India and do the productions here. That’s why we believed in the school,” she continues.

Being professional makeup artists Eva and Hilde’s plan is to raise the level of makeup artistry in Asia. They founded this school based on this ambition and went ahead achieving it by combining internationally recognized training methods with the creativity, inspiration and international perspective of professional makeup artists and guest teachers.

Sharing a dream
The reason for setting up in Thailand is a coincidence; Hilde and Eva met in Bangkok, when Eva had arrived with her husband who had accepted a job offer here. It turned out they shared the same dream about a makeup school.

“Eva is a very well-educated makeup artist back home and very knowledgeable about cosmetics. She’s been working with makeup in different companies since she was fifteen.”

Eva had kept on saying: “We should open up a school.” But Hilde had been reasonably sceptic, given how much people say but do not follow through on.

But one day Eva and her husband had suddenly signed a rental contract for the location, and that was the starting point for the adventure.

Since then Eva has had to return to Denmark so Hilde is running the daily operations in Bangkok, while Eva remotely takes care of all the administration, and travels here every third month. The bonus effect from this solution is that they can now target also Danes in a strategic way.

What students get from attending courses will however remain having its very international dimension – with a variety of skin types as a very valuable add-on.

“It’s a huge benefit for the students because it’s an international school where each class include dark skin types or very fair, and you get to practice on all these different skin tones. When I went to makeup school back in Norway everyone had fair skin like myself. The first time I did make up for an Asian or African person I was terrified because I had never done it, and never trained.”

Scandinavian Makeup Studio also opens up its students to focus on creativity and experimenting.

“We try to be different at this makeup school. Fundamental beauty is taught in the beginning of the course but we think it’s really important for the students to be outgoing, so we focus a lot on fantasy and creativity makeup.”

This also Hilde`s specialty and that she is known for here in Asia. The last six days of the course is only about fantasy techniques finding inspiration, creating your own concept.

“To be creative as a makeup artist, you need to think a bit outside the box, outside your comfort zone. And that’s where my job comes in – to guide and push you,” Hilde says. “You won’t believe all the creative outcomes we get from students who have never believed in themselves or thought that they never would be capable to create these things. That’s what’s makes my job the best job in the world”

Scandinavians, in comparison, is more restricted.
“There’s no big market for that back in Scandinavia; we’re traditional. Here, on the other hand, they love the colours and are creative. Here you can break rules and experiment.”


Colours fly…
Less restricted and more daring is also the very reason why Hilde came over to Asia, and to the Kalawin International Fashion Institute in Bangkok.

When Hilde studied at college in Norway, Mr. Nils-Christian Ihlen Hansen, a guest teacher holding a short training had told her: ‘You are in the wrong part of the world; you have to go to Asia! This is where you will find the source of your inspiration and grow!’

“When he saw my mood board full of just colours, glitter and crystals–a sheer explosion of everything–he told me that I was in the wrong part of the world. He was definitely right: I’m so glad I followed what he said and came here.”

She studied for three years at Kalawin and graduated in high fashion. Before that she graduated as a makeup artist in Oslo.

“When I came to Thailand I never thought I would do any makeup–I was so focused on fashion and sewing–until some of my classmates asked to rent my dresses for photo shoots. One day they had no makeup artists and then told that I could do it and started helping with their photo shoots for the collection for my classmates. That’s how the ball started rolling.”

“I got more portfolio work and people here were open-minded when it came to creativity. The photographers are really creative and they let you as makeup artist to do what you want do. I could go for what is really me, which is really extreme style of makeup based on a concept that you create. So that’s what I love about it. Also after teaming up four years ago with the famous photographer Manuel Librodo, who shares the same passions as me, it`s been a fun ride.”

Aside this creative side the school teaches the fundamentals; including product knowledge (Asia being a mecca for fake products this is essential) and what to avoid when working professionally.

“What we require is that you take a fundamental course first; two weeks of training for new beginners. After that you can sign up for any kind of course. We have different courses like makeup for fashion and photography, stage & show, hair, bridal, special effects, airbrush, fantasy and many more.”

Most students choose the full course, which is twelve weeks where they get to learn all the subjects. These are pretty intense twelve weeks!”
Students finish each subject with a practical exam – where their work is evaluated and professional photographs are taken for the students’ portfolios.

“The school balances 30% theory with 70% practical studies as we believe that extensive practice produces the best artists.”

The teachers consist in an international group of very experienced professional makeup artists who are still working in the industry on photo shoots, commercials and workshops to stay in touch with the newest trends and inspiration.

“Business has grown over expectation and all these emails from overseas are really lifting us!”

And the Thais are also increasingly joining the school. In the latest course 5 out of 12 students were Thai.

And soon students from Denmark will get to have the same wow experience that Hilde has had over here in Asia.


Makeup artist photos published with kind permission by Scandinavian Makeup Studio

About Joakim Persson

Freelance business and lifestyle photojournalist

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