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Nellie Muganda, World Beautymaker
Beauty Out-Of Africa

By Janis Hashe
Salon City Managing Editor


It's a very long journey, in all senses, from Tanzania in East Africa, to hip Fillmore Street in San Francisco. Yet makeup artist Nellie Muganda has made that journey, all the while keeping the deep spiritual foundation given her by her father, Kaneja Muganda, a pastor in the Mennonite church. After attending Mennonite schools in Tanzania, Nellie came to the U.S. to attend college, eventually graduating from the University of Nebraska with a business degree.

After spending a year in Lincoln, NE at a beauty school, she returned to UN for her master's degree - and also began booking models for jobs at a modeling agency. Realizing, with her business smarts, that if she could send the models out "camera ready" she would have an edge, Nellie began styling the models. Soon people were asking, "Who did your hair and makeup?"

With a San Francisco client's encouragement, Nellie made a leap of faith, moved to San Francisco - and never looked back, becoming a nationally sought-after stylist. Besides working with Dan Rather, Charles Barkley, Joe Montana and Paul McCartney, she styled a series of covers for Jazziz magazine, which featured Dave Brubeck, B.B. King, and Dizzy Gillespie. The makeup for legendary trumpeter Gillespie turned out to be for the last photograph of him before his death.

She's done hair, make-up, and often the wardrobe for models and celebrities appearing in fashion spreads, magazine and album covers, catalogues, and TV commercials. But in 1998, after 20 years, Nellie decided to stay in San Francisco full-time and open a cosmetics salon. Her long experience as a makeup artist told her that she could create a niche for herself as a cosmetics consultant, hand-picking products from many lines and using them in a custom approach to her clients.

She chose “Neja” as the name of her salon, the nick-name her mother gave to her father. “My father was in many ways a healer,” Nellie says. “And I believe my store offers a kind of healing to my clients. If I can help them find what they need to feel beautiful and elegant, then I am giving something back, which is what I want to do," she explains. The highly successful salon now boasts a staff of six.

Above all, Nellie believes in skincare, and spends her first consultation with a client talking about improving their skin. “I ask them how they are taking care of their skin, what are they eating, how much coffee do they drink,” she says. “Makeup should be an accessory to great skin.” She notes the vital importance of early and consistent skin care. “By eating right, avoiding sodas and liquor, protecting yourself from the sun, and using simple, quality products, you can avoid many of the signs of aging,” she says.

Many of Nellie’s clients are businesswomen, who have very little time to spend doing their makeup each day. The “Minimalist Face,” she explains, was developed for women who have “10 minutes each morning to look elegant and glowing.” She designs a makeup routine individually for each client. “Eyebrow grooming is key,” she says. “If they are perfectly groomed, they are the key to the face.” She analyses whether the client needs foundation and concealer. “Less is more” is her philosophy. “A common mistake is using too much makeup,” she reveals. She then adds cream blush, eyeliner, mascara and lip gloss. And in many cases, that’s it.

However, she also teaches the right use of tools, including brushes and sponges. “A lot of clients do not realize that the tools are the key to a flawless look,” she says. Once they have mastered them, a quick but perfect makeup is much easier. “These women are in boardrooms with men. They need to look feminine but strong,” she says.

Nellie believes that many American women are after a quick skincare fix through Botox and plastic surgery. “In Europe and Africa, you often see older women with beautiful skin,” she says. “We become more elegant with age. If you take care of your skin, you will not need plastic surgery.”

Neja Cosmetics, 1850 Fillmore Street, San Francisco, CA. www.nejacosmetics.com.