Jeffree Star has four Pomeranians named Diva, Diamond, Daddy, and Delicious. One dog is a handful. Four is chaos. While he was getting his makeup done for this photo shoot in May, Star gave his publicist some advice: “Unless you have a Nathan, don’t get a dog.”
That’s Nathan Schwandt, 24, Star’s live-in boyfriend, who was a pet-shop employee in Michigan when he slid into Star’s Instagram DMs in 2015. Until earlier this year, Schwandt worked at Star’s warehouse but has since transitioned into taking care of the dogs and managing his own social-media stardom.
Star, 31, is too busy to deal with the drudgery of keeping pets. He is the CEO of his three-year-old makeup brand, Jeffree Star Cosmetics, and runs a popular YouTube channel, where he posts beauty product reviews and makeup tutorials. “He needs his beauty sleep,” Schwandt told me.
So the dogs have the run of Star’s multimillion-dollar villa in Calabasas. When I visited, I watched Daddy drag someone’s briefs from the laundry room into the foyer. They were perpetually interrupting my interview with Star. “Go! You’re all in my grill,” he said, throwing a dog toy. He implored Schwandt to settle them. “I need them to go. I can’t think.”
Star took drags of weed from a pipe shaped like an ice-cream cone as he reflected on his controversial public image. (He doesn’t drink or smoke cigarettes but gets baked all the time: “I love marijuana,” he said. “I just love the feeling of it.”) In the last two years, Star has made headlines for his social-media spats with Too Faced Cosmetics, Makeup by Shayla, a customer who found hair in her highlighter, Kylie Jenner, and, famously, Kat Von D. (To recap, “Kat put out her video that basically said she created my brand for me, or my life, I guess, I don’t really remember the whole gist of it?”)
Star admitted in May that his image needed an adjustment: “I can’t just say everything that I feel because, at the end of the day, I am a product.” Star is now focused on growing up — both for the sake of his personal brand and the 100-plus people he employs. “I would rather just be successful and have money than be famous,” he said, surrounded by an entourage that included his publicist, his friend and makeup artist Nicole Faulkner, Schwandt, and the beauty YouTuber Manny MUA. “I know that’s crazy coming from me, of all people, but I think it’s just old age. Not old age — it’s just wisdom and life experiences.”
But controversy is what many of his fans and the media are drawn to. Star’s unfiltered comments are unusual in the internet beauty world, where influencers fear upsetting brands (the ones handing out lucrative sponsored content deals and invitations to high-end, all-expenses-paid influencer trips). “Me being nice or positive is not what people want to hear, which sucks,” Star said. “It’s sad that great moments aren’t really appreciated but the drama is in focus.”
There’s also the issue of several clips that surfaced online last year of Star, at 19, making racist comments. He apologized on Twitter and, in June, posted a YouTube video denouncing racism. But he has struggled to distance himself from the clips and critics seem unwilling to absolve him of those sins.
The issue surfaced again in August, when Star took Kim Kardashian West to task for swatching her contour powder poorly. Her fans slammed Star. She told them to let it go and was attacked for defending someone with a documented history of racism. She apologized the following day. “The whole internet turned into a bloodbath,” Star described in a video. He added, “You can’t tell me I’m racist, bitch, because I’m not.”
Star has been at the internet name-calling game since eighth grade, when he was known as Jeffrey Steininger and was living with his grandparents in Huntington Beach, California. He discovered and built a following on the now-defunct website, FaceTheJury.com, where users rated other people’s faces from 1 to 10. “So shallow, so awful, and I was the no. 1 user,” said Star, whose username was CUNT.
Star started wearing makeup in high school. His look was “very goth and crazy,” with spiky hair and “eyebrows up to Jesus.” In 12th grade, he dyed his hair pink. He was open about being attracted to men.
Star joined MySpace when it launched in 2003 and took his Face the Jury following with him. To make money, Star freelanced as a makeup artist at a MAC Cosmetics store. He met Kelly Osbourne in 2006 while clubbing in Los Angeles and she asked him to do her makeup. “I had never been on an international flight before. I’d known her for two days and they were like, ‘Hey, you’re doing her makeup for the Brit Awards. Do you have a passport?’” Star recalled. When he went to the Osbourne house, he felt “like a homeless loser” because he drove a ’91 Nissan Sentra. “I parked way down the street so they wouldn’t see.”
He started recording some of his own “funny garage band music” in 2007 and shared it on MySpace, where it racked up 100 million plays. He quit MAC to pursue music and tour, and made his first album, Beauty Killer, in 2009.
Fans were drawn to his provocative and unapologetic image. “Jeffree is a hero to those who choose to live outside the box,” said Kevin Lyman, founder of Warped Tour, where Star performed and still sells merchandise.
In 2010, Star signed with Akon’s label, Konvict Muzik. Akon billed Star as the next Lady Gaga but Star’s second album never got released. It’s unclear why, though Star said, “It was almost like they were dimming my light and they weren’t letting me be me.” The partnership dissolved by 2013 and Star quit music. (Representatives for Akon did not respond to requests for comment.) He started playing around with the makeup in his apartment: “For the first time in years, I was actually having fun.” He decided to start his own makeup brand by investing his life savings (he won’t say how much) in a line of liquid lipstick.
“It was either this was gonna work out for me or I was gonna have to go back to the mall … and work at MAC again,” Star said. “It was probably the most scared I’ve been in my entire life.”
He enlisted the help of his then-friend, celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D, who has her own makeup line at Sephora. Von D and Star acknowledge that she played a part in the early stages of Jeffree Star Cosmetics in 2013 but disagree over how significant her contributions were. Von D alleged that Star never would have gotten a meeting with his makeup lab — the same one that makes the products bearing her name — without her endorsement. Star maintains that Von D only gave him the lab’s name and he got the meeting himself.
Judy Zegarelli, the creative director and founder of Cosmetic Group USA, which makes Star’s and Von D’s products, confirmed Star’s version of events. Though she wouldn’t name names, she said, “Jeffree got a lot of people jealous. If you were selling your product in a store and you were selling five a day, and this guy comes along and he’s sold out of 10,000 pieces before the truck could get back [to the lab], you have to go, ‘Mm, wish I hadn’t told him about Judy and Cosmetic Group.'” Von D did not respond to requests for comment.
Jeffree Star Cosmetics launched in fall 2014 with a social-media teaser. “It was a picture of me in a pink coffin. ‘Makeup that you’ll die for.’ And then it was just a countdown until Black Friday,” Star said.
The gamble — Star’s savings, he says, in exchange for 30,000 units of $18 liquid lipstick — paid off. A few minutes after his e-commerce shop went live, every lipstick sold out. He reinvested the money he earned into three more shades and new marketing materials. Star’s rapid growth surprised even Zegarelli, a 30-year beauty industry veteran. “He is an enormous success story around here,” she said. “No matter what he decides to do, he gets right to it and makes it fun.”
Star started posting makeup tutorials to YouTube in late 2015. After less than a year, Star’s feuds became routine; he amassed 400 million views in 18 months and 5 million soon after that. (By comparison, beauty vlogger Michelle Phan, who has almost 9 million subscribers, has been on YouTube for a decade.) There was a big fuss in April 2016, when he complained on Twitter and Snapchat about the frayed applicator wands in Kylie Cosmetics’ new lip glosses. Jenner subsequently shipped replacement wands.
“People want to make up stories,” Star said. “‘You’re attacking her because you want to sell more.’ I’m like, no, I got a shitty product and I threw it away on Snapchat. I didn’t know CNN was gonna call me the next day!”
Star said he and Jenner are now friendly. He ran into her on Rodeo Drive after the drama over the wands. “She was very professional. She was in pajamas and had no makeup on,” he said. “I said, ‘Look, I’m just doing my job. I’m a little severe and that’s how I get my point across.'” (Jenner did not respond to requests for comment.)
While Kardashian West was talking about Star on Snapchat, he was en route to Bora Bora to celebrate Schwandt’s birthday. Star released a statement through his publicist — specifically addressing the racism — but declined to be interviewed by any media outlets.
“I am not into feeding into that garbage,” he said in his video about the incident. He displayed resentment toward the media. “If you want to write a story about me to get clicks and make ad revenue and make money off of me, I can’t stop you,” he said in the video. “But my following and the millions of people out there watching are not stupid.”
Whatever the next drama that finds him, Star has a business to run. “I’m obsessed with work,” Star told me in May. He claimed in the past year, his company’s e-commerce sales have increased 700 percent, though he would not offer specifics. On Sept. 9, he’s doing a second launch of his first in-house collaboration, a cosmetics bundle with Manny MUA, and hopes to expand his product line in 2018.
He acknowledged that his success — or “fame, whatever you want to call it. I hate that word.” — has its drawbacks. Star “can’t always be as free” as he would like with what he says. The hectic schedule can stress Star and Schwandt’s relationship (it can all feel like “a lot to deal with sometimes,” Schwandt said).
Star is also more wary. “As a Scorpio, I already don’t trust,” he said. “Sometimes I like to joke about Drake and Rihanna and those type of people. That level. They must trust literally no one.” He described constantly getting approached by fans, sometimes when he’s not in the mood. “You can be at a restaurant with your family with a piece of chicken in your mouth and someone’s like, ”Scuse me, sorry to bother you,'” he said. “People make you feel like you’re a bad person because I don’t want to get up as I’m eating food to take a selfie.”
But Star is trying to change for the better. On June 4, he announced a collaboration with Jouer, 100 percent of the profits from which would go to the Los Angeles LGBT Center. He and Schwandt also just bought a house in Michigan, where Schwandt’s parents will live. After 12 years, Star dyed his signature pink hair a platinum blonde in June. “I know it sounds so dumb, but when you’ve had pink hair for 12 years and take that away, you’re looked at in a different light,” he said. He called it his “more adult, mature look.”