By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The eyelash guru takes a seat above his client Cynthia’s head. “See that little spot there? We’re working together to grow that back,” he says, gently nudging a single fake eyelash with a tweezer and glue into a gap between the hairs. Cynthia broke them curling her lashes. “Education is key in terms of applying these,” he continues. “I’ve been doing this for seven years, so I know.”
The guru, whose name is Ja’Maal Buster, dispenses all manner of lash wisdom. But occasionally he is stumped — he is only human. “I’m not sure what these ones are made of,” he says, peering at the small tray. “They come directly from overseas. They may be lab-grown hair. I’m sure they’re not other people’s lashes.” Then, with a dismayed expression, “I can’t see them pulling other people’s eyelashes out.”
Cynthia rises from the chair, her lashes newly full and radiant. “And I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Buster adds, blinking. “I only have one contact in today.”
When I ask whether he sees bad lashes while he’s walking around, he gasps, “Honey, every day!” He sees too much lash, too much glue. “If the first thing you see is big fuzzy caterpillars on their eyes, that’s bad.”
Buster has a personality that alternates between gregarious and demure. His adjective of choice when describing his personality is “amazing,” and for a long time, he thought he would be an actor or a singer or a TV-show host. “I knew I would be working in the public eye, but I didn’t know I would be working on the public’s eyes.”
He was assistant manager of the Dolce&Gabbana store in his hometown of Dallas, doing eyelashes on the side. Inevitably the lashes started taking over. He got fired. The next day, Good Morning Texas invited him on the show. On air, he gave out his cell-phone number. When people began calling him at a rate of 80 calls per minute, the Sprint PCS operator called to check on what was happening.
“Are you okay, sir?” she asked. “What’s happening? Hey, wait, are you that lash guy? I wrote down your number, too! Can I get in for an appointment today?”
Who else wants fake eyelashes? People you wouldn’t expect, including guys going through chemotherapy, whose hair has fallen out. And people you would. One of Buster’s wealthier clients spent $500,000 on her wedding, of which $20,000 was allotted for lashes. The bride had a champagne-and-lashes party in a hotel suite.
“Can you come to Cabo?” asked one desperate society girl. “My lash fell out.” When he was there, Buster did her girlfriends’ lashes, too. People go to extreme lengths to orchestrate the perfect face. A client from Paris flies out to Los Angeles three times a year to see Buster. She gets lashes made out of mink fur.
In a few days, he will be on Martha Stewart’s show. He met her at a party.
“And what do you do?” Martha asked.
“I do lashes,” Buster said.
“Oh?” Martha said. “What do you do to them?”
What he does — and this is where the real artistry comes in — is figure out how fake eyelashes can complement the shape of a woman’s eye and, in turn, enhance the shape of her face.
“Half the women sit in my chair and they think they know what they want,” Buster says. “It’s like, okay, say you’re a doctor. Do you really want big, distracting lashes? Or maybe you’re a Playboy bunny asking for natural lashes when everything about you” — he cups his hands to his chest like he’s holding two cantaloupes — “is unnatural.”
“They’re both important,” Buster concedes. “Any feature on your face is important. They complement each other amazingly.” But he knows that lashes are in the ascendancy at the moment. The late ’90s were mostly about the pursuit of eyebrow perfection. So much so that any hair beneath them was perhaps being neglected. It’s time for lashes to take the spotlight.
In the realm of fantasy eyelashes you can have, there are feathers and lace and diamonds. Hairs that crisscross like tiny fencing swords. Big wiry Mr. Snuffleupagus lashes. Slanted lashes that veer off to the side like windshield wipers. Blue lashes. Lashes with crystals clinging to them. Eyelashes encrusted with sequins. Lashes that are black on top, and orange underneath when you look up. Lashes that unfurl like falcon wings. Butterfly eyelashes. Lashes made of black fabric that make it look like moths landed on your eyelids. And so on.