#onedaywith Monica Karsai

Monica Karsai

The Beauty in Berlin

A Spanish-speaking couple poses for selfies, cackling, Asian girls take pictures with duckfaces and a couple of teens with hoodies and drooping shoulders interpret the iconic mural with Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker. Early in the morning, the usual colorful mix of tourists arrives at the East Side Gallery. The area along the colorful strip of land is undergoing even greater change than what is typical in Berlin today. The last anarchic remnants defy office buildings, skyscrapers and multifunctional arenas. I head for a tower-like, white house to meet Monica Karsai, my interview partner today. Monica works as a make-up artist and a few weeks ago, she prepared our CEO, Johannes Teyssen, for a video.

I make it past the ill-tempered doorman, use a futuristic elevator and arrive in Monica's apartment, which shines with a breathtaking view of the river Spree. No wonder Monica likes to start the day on the balcony, often with a coffee and a fashion magazine on her lap. Although she lives with her boyfriend, she usually eats breakfast alone, as he leaves the house at seven o'clock.

"Reading magazines for breakfast? It’s an old habit of mine,”, so begins our conversation, while the morning sun warms the back of my neck.

"It’s mainly educational. Instagram is at the forefront of fashion and makeup and is my main source, but there are a few print magazines to read to keep up with the trends, "explains Monica.

Make-up table
Home interior

Today, we’re doing a photo shoot with a live model, who will get make-up by Monica. Since we still have some time, Monica tells me about her career and why she ended up professionally beautifying people. Born in Hungary, she came as a small child with her parents to Eberswalde, where she grew up and went to school. Even as a teenager, she put makeup on her friends before they went out, also doing their hair. After graduation she completed an apprenticeship as an optometrist. To this day, this has remained her bread and butter job. Monica runs a small eye care center, three to four days a week. But her heart's desire was to do something with fashion and make-up. She started a bit later and at 30, she graduated from the Creative Beauty Company and with the help of a scholarship, she trained as a hair and make-up artist.

"So you make a living from eyeballs, but with a passion for make-up?"

"Exactly. You feel a bit safer because the industry is not easy. You can never plan long in advance, sometimes you have find a way to bridge between jobs. "

"And how do you get orders? Mostly from word of mouth? "

"Exactly, sometimes I’m recommended by someone or hired back by a customer that I've already worked for. But mostly I'm acquiring new customers from Instagram. "

"Who are your typical customers?"

"Typical commerical customers are sports companies such as Nike, McFit and I do some fashion shoots and work for magazines. In addition, I also do a lot of makeup for the red carpet, for moderators and actors at receptions and events."

Monica's eyes light up when she talks about her jobs. Her clear goal for the near future: to work full-time as a make-up artist. This is, as of yet, still not possible due to the fluctuating nature of the business. Today, however, she’s fully booked and shortly after we finish our coffee, the doorbell rings. 

Normally, Monica drives her make-up case to the customers. But today, with the model Lotte Weissbach, a photo shoot will take place along the neighboring East Side Gallery, as the fashion label would like to have corresponding photos with motifs from Berlin. The famous art-filled strip of wall forms part of this series and therefore the preparation for the shoot will take place in Monica's nearby apartment.

Shortly after, Lotte sits facing the Spree in the brightly lit living room next to Monica and is getting her makeup for the photo shoot. Since this is a brand with a young, urban target group, the makeup should also be suitable for the day, looking young and unobtrusive. Various brushes and color palettes are spread out on the large table and Monica goes to work routinely while I continue to question her.

"What’s the difference between putting make-up on a professional model and on a man like our boss, Mr. Teyssen?"

"With Mr. Teyssen or other managers that I’ve worked with, it’s much faster. Nevertheless, every new face presents a challenge. Lotte here should look like she has makeup on, but for a manager, everything should look rather natural. For example, the hair must be perfect, but it shouldn’t look styled, not even a little. "

Monica and model

Meanwhile, the photographer arrives including assistants and equipment. After a brief discussion, we leave the apartment for the photo shoot at the East Side Gallery. The mood at the shoot is friendly, as the model and the photographer already know each other. Lotte follows the photographer’s wishes in a routine and friendly manner. Often the pictures just need one take. Nevertheless, the shoot lasts longer than I had imagined – challenges like the changing light, the rising and falling wind, and the many tourists - who produce the desired flair – but often prevent the perfect, authentic-looking image. Monica reapplies the model’s makeup over and over or puts a strand of hair at an angle over her cheek. “Yes, smile! You're doing great! Stay that way. Turn your head slightly towards me, now, perfect, super nice!” We change the locations several times and although almost four hours have passed, Lotte always stays calm, friendly and relaxed. Finally, the photographer gives a thumbs up and shouts: "It's a wrap!"

Girl on fotoshoot
Girl laughing

As the sun sinks behind the television tower at the end of the day, Monica and I set off to a nearby Japanese restaurant. As I scan the menu, Monica's thumb flits over her Instagram channel. As always, she has created an Instastory today.

"Instagram is the most important thing for my job. I want to know what the competition or recent customers are doing. What are the current looks? And of course, I want to show potential customers what I can do”, explains Monica as she flips through some accounts. The food is served, Monica puts her cell phone aside.

Monica Karsai
Washing make-up brush
Home interior

Photos: Felix Müller

"You already know our company and know how important sustainability is for us. How important is this for you, both professionally and personally - does it matter?", I ask her.

"Definitely. It’s a big issue in our home, to avoid garbage and especially plastic. We’re very careful! And we save energy wherever possible. For example, the lights are only on when we’re in the room."

"What about cosmetics?"

"There’s also a trend here towards sustainability. The market now offers a lot of natural cosmetics, which aren't tested on animals. There are many new cosmetic companies in this field whose products aren’t really more expensive, either. If I have two similar products to choose from, I take the natural one."

After a splendidly spiced Teriyaki, we leave the restaurant at dusk and stroll through Friedrichshain, back towards the Spree. In her apartment, Monica washes her makeup brushes off, as the last act of her day, and arranges her utensils for tomorrow. There's another job for the red carpet. She tells me the celebrity's name, and I make a plan to sit in front of the television tomorrow to inspect the mascara and lipstick of the well-known lady.

Monica leaves the apartment to go jogging on the Spree. I sit down by the river, watch the passing boats in the moonlight, and breathe in the city.

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