Welcome to Big Break, where some of the most influential figures in the beauty industry reflect on the beauty moments that made them - from the good, the bad, and everything in between. Here, makeup artist Erika La Pearl shares how went from supervisor at a law firm to Cardi B's right-hand glam.
At 9 years old, Erika La Pearl knew there was magic in makeup. She felt it from the moment she laid eyes on the stuff: "I remember I went through my mom's makeup bag and everything was just so pigmented and so pretty," she told POPSUGAR. "I started playing with the blue eyeshadow and shimmer. By the end I looked a mess, like a clown. But I loved it."
Still, despite the initial sparks, it would be years until she entered the professional world of makeup artistry. In fact, her initial career trajectory until age 23 looked a little more . . . lawyer-like (or, as she puts it, "unexpected").
"I always loved makeup but I was scared," she said. "When I was growing up, I was hiding - I never took any pictures of me wearing makeup. I came out as transgender when I was 18, so through my high school years I was technically a boy. And so fresh out of high school, I got a job working at a foreclosure law firm. I was there for years; I was the lead supervisor for this department called Dismissals, basically just scanning and merging files. I had an old friend who did makeup locally and I was so inspired watching her, but I was too comfortable. Then one day, [the firm] laid everyone off and they let me go. It felt like the push I needed."
I always loved makeup but I was scared. When I was growing up, I was hiding."
Armed with a newfound purpose and resolve, La Pearl enrolled in beauty school at the Academy of Glam in south Florida. That's where she learned how to work under pressure on photo shoots and movie sets, but back then, there was no Instagram or TikTok - getting your name out there meant passing out business cards and doing free gigs "just to show my work."
It was all hustle, and it didn't stop after beauty school. Once she completed the program, the makeup artist moved to Atlanta and, after countless networking events, practice shows, and promotion on Facebook, booked her first professional gig doing the makeup for America's Next Top Model alum Dominique Reighard. One project led to the next, until finally, her first big break: she booked a job on set of Love & Hip Hop Atlanta.
"That opened a lot of doors for me. That's when I got the opportunity to work on set of Housewives of Atlanta, and then the jobs kept coming. I worked on all of the Love & Hip Hop's - Atlanta, Hollywood, New York, Miami. I did all their intros; all the green screen looks. I worked on movie sets, like Being Mary Jane, and started traveling for jobs."
Image Source: Erika La Pearl
Pretty soon, La Pearl was flying all over the country, doing shows for singer Monica Brown and tours with other artists. "That's when I ran into Cardi," she said.
The year was 2016, before "Bodak Yellow" catapulted the rapper into fast superstardom. Cardi B was still on Love & Hip Hop New York and had an appearance at a hair trade show in Atlanta. Her publicist reached out and asked La Pearl to do the makeup at the booth - an offer she politely declined.
"I said, 'I'd rather do Cardi's makeup, and I'll do it for free.'" Done, they said. That night, she went over and glammed her up, to stellar reviews. She called her the next day, even made an Instagram post, and booked her for Fashion Week (which, as you might imagine, went quite well). "After that, [Cardi B's team was] like, 'Oh, we have music videos, red carpets, photo shoots, so many bookings we need you for. Are you in?'"
Needless to say, she was . . . and still is.