“My entire life I’ve been a make-up artist. It’s very pure for me—since I used to be a child, I’ve all the time been obsessive about glamour and actresses. I’m a visible particular person and I used to be by no means good in school. I can’t rely, I can’t spell, I don’t know instructions. Literally, my thoughts rejects numbers and letters, and I’m dyslexic, however visually I can keep in mind what you wore. Ten years from now I’d keep in mind you wore a fantastic sweater once I met you.
I’m Vietnamese, and I used to be born in San Jose, California. I keep in mind being within the eighth grade when MAC Cosmetics began to occur. I had by no means seen something prefer it—they’d skilled colours, and there have been like 20 skilled make-up brushes. I used to be all the time watching the MAC ladies on the mall—that was in all probability the primary time I ever noticed true artistry. When I completed highschool, I simply form of pretended to my mother and father that I used to be nonetheless in class. They’d ask what I used to be as much as and I’d be like, ‘I’m in group faculty proper now, don’t ask questions.’ Growing up in a Vietnamese household, I understood that nobody desires you to be an artist. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, pharmacist, and in case you’re not that sensible, possibly an actual property agent. But for me, I labored at Shiseido and I freelanced.
I stayed in San Jose till I used to be 27, after which I used to be like, ‘What am I doing?’ I wanted to take a threat. I saved $13,000 from working on the MAC counter, working on the Nars counter, and doing brides—however I inform folks it was $35, like Madonna—and I got here to New York. I informed my mother and father I used to be a make-up artist proper earlier than I moved. Everyone thought that I used to be going to come back crawling again in six months, and I form of did. I might run out of cash and go dwelling, and mooch for 2 weeks earlier than coming again—however you understand what? Some issues dramatically shift.
I began out as a stripper make-up artist. I want I had photos—it was so stylish. When I moved to New York in 2009 the economic system was collapsing. I used to be at a Helmut Lang style week social gathering and I met this cute homosexual boy there, and I used to be freaking out as a result of nobody was hiring anyone. And he goes, ‘Honey, I make six figures a year at Penthouse.’ And I used to be like, ‘Penthouse? The magazine?’ And he was like, ‘No honey, it’s a strip membership, and so they’re searching for hair and make-up folks.’ Have you ever been to a strip joint? It’s onerous! I discovered lots about males and human conduct—I might are available in at 5PM, after which I would depart at 4AM. It actually tousled my sleep schedule. It was killing my soul, and it wasn’t work I used to be happy with. They’re very choosy. You must needless to say unique dancers, particularly the highest ladies, are celebrities in their very own proper. They’ve received fan golf equipment, they’re flown non-public all around the globe, they put on Valentino and Gucci. With movie star comes calls for, you understand? I all the time thought they’d be into glitter, however there’s no glitter. Glitter will get on the husbands, and the wives will discover. I feel it made me a stronger make-up artist, as a result of I discovered easy methods to work beneath completely different lightings, I discovered easy methods to work with celebrities, and I discovered easy methods to work to make make-up long-lasting.
This is how I pivoted: Elle Vietnam was popping out, and final minute they requested me to submit a magnificence photograph with sizzling pink lipstick. I received maintain of my pal, a Vietnamese mannequin, submitted my work, and from there I began freelancing by the journal. I did inventive course, I did fashions. I might see myself in my older years being a inventive director as a result of I like to take a look at hair, I like to take a look at lighting, I like to take a look at images, and styling. Anyway, Elle Vietnam was a significant pivot level for me. As a youngster I might look by the rosters of this acclaimed company known as Jed Root—there was Charlotte Tilbury, Pat McGrath, Gucci Westman. They had everyone who was any individual. And then after Elle Vietnam, I received on that roster!
Glow Jobs [Ed. note: a really good natural highlight look] are my favourite—my final title is Vo, it rhymes with glow, so I simply went with it. [Laughs] J. Lo’s in all probability certainly one of my first icons—she’s the unique glow particular person. We by no means noticed make-up like that. Remember her very first video, If You Had My Love? What’s loopy is that you simply take a look at that video as we speak, and the make-up nonetheless seems good. It was Oribe and Kevyn Aucoin and Scott Barnes. Whether it’s a star or fashions or actual folks, I simply love skin-focused work. Asian girls are already obsessive about their pores and skin, and my mother had actually unhealthy melasma. When I used to be a child she would all the time say, ‘Stay out of the sun, you better wear your serum.’ That concern of getting melasma or wanting like a raisin stayed with me. I’ve been carrying eye cream since I used to be 12 years outdated. I might spend my allowance on scrunchies and make-up on the mall.
Probably nearly two years in the past, I did a spotlight video with Bobbi Brown. All it was was one swipe, and it went viral. And then I lastly received it—it’s oddly satisfying, it’s nearly like sorcery, you see precisely what the product does, and it makes you need to purchase it. People don’t take a look at an enormous world make-up marketing campaign shot by Steven Klein and use that as a reference for a way they need their make-up to look. My strongest-performing work—and I’ve shot campaigns for large, massive manufacturers—is when folks join with my non-professional pictures. Especially in terms of make-up. It’s not the Vogue cowl, it’s not the worldwide magnificence marketing campaign, it’s the mannequin sitting in her chair, shot with an iPhone.
It’s attention-grabbing as a result of I’m not an 18-year-old YouTuber who’s doing unicorn seems—I’m an actual make-up artist, and I on occasion slap it on myself. I really suppose that social media is horrible—it kills the soul. But it’s additionally a fantastic advertising platform. When I’m casting fashions, do I take a look at their portfolio? Nope! I am going straight to Instagram and I can see that two days in the past she regarded bloated, however then per week in the past her pores and skin regarded actually clear. Social media is difficult. I’m a full-time working make-up artist, after which I’ve to interrupt out the digicam generally. But I additionally suppose it’s actually enjoyable—I might actually go ‘[Instagram] live’ proper now and begin speaking and connecting with folks. It goes each methods, and it comes with a worth. Do I’ve a boyfriend now? No. Do I’ve a closet filled with make-up and a few Gucci wallpaper? Yes. I additionally really feel unhealthy, as a result of it nearly looks like expertise isn’t sufficient. In this point in time, it’s a must to have a social presence. You may very well be a superb make-up artist, however a model in all probability gained’t signal a take care of you in case you’re not well-spoken, in case you don’t have a social media presence, in case you can’t go on digicam and discuss in regards to the product. It’s actually tough.
Sometimes I feel I would like to maneuver to LA, as a result of the lighting in New York isn’t that nice. I’ve been on this trade a very long time, and this 12 months is the primary the place I’ve began rejecting model offers. They had been nice cash, however for me, I do numerous tales and I don’t submit on the [Instagram] grid that a lot. I’m very aware of what I do submit on my grid. Most make-up artists do celebrities, after which they get model offers, however I’m form of the other. I’ve so many model offers, after which I form of twinkle with celebrities. I simply don’t need manufacturers coming in and diluting every part, after which I might additionally must cough up numerous branded pictures. This is the primary time in my whole profession I really turned down some cash—and I’m glad that I did. I’m grateful for Instagram, don’t get me mistaken, however I additionally need to consider that if tomorrow Instagram received canceled, I’d nonetheless be capable of make a residing. I hope.”
—as informed to ITG
Nam Vo photographed by Tom Newton in New York on January 17, 2019.