"I’ve been working in fashion since I moved from Toronto to New York for college. As long as I’ve been here, I’ve never felt like I have to live in a fashion bubble. I consider myself a storyteller more than a stylist. I tell stories through pictures, through my Elle column [A to Zee], through social media, and through my TV shows [All On The Line and Revealing, both on the Sundance Channel]—I love sharing. For me, reality television is about being able to talk, show, and generate ideas in a new way. It makes fashion democratic, which I’m happy about. I like pulling back the curtain and saying, ‘Hey, this is how it works, people. This is the glamorous part, this is not the glamorous part, and this is how we do things.’ I don’t need it to be so sanctimonious.
We just did an episode of Revealing all about beauty—how the perception of beauty has changed, and how men are held to a new standard as purveyors of beauty. They get botox and plastic surgery, they’re expected to stay as trim as they were when they got married. Even my own perception of beauty has changed, but I think it’s just part of getting older. I’m 45 now—that’s pretty middle-aged. I look in the mirror and think, ‘Oh my god,’ because I don’t feel old at 45, and I don’t really care, but I do have lines on my face and whatever.
I’m only beginning to take care of my skin. For most of my life, I was lucky if I even washed my face, and my theory was that maybe you have bad skin, you might have a zit, but that’s life, and it will go away. I just started going to a dermatologist when I got to Elle, because Robbie Myers recommended one to me, and I got my first facial last year. Even when I was 35, I thought it was fancy to go to a dermatologist. I still thought it sounded high-maintenance, but I started going to Dr. Dennis Gross, and he’s awesome. I realized that it’s just like going to a general practitioner. Now I wash my face with Fresh Soy Face Cleanser—it’s my jam because it’s so gentle. I don’t use anything fragranced out of fear of getting a breakout. And I don’t use a moisturizer, because my skin’s so oily. At night, I use Dr. Dennis Gross Extra Strength Alpha Beta Peel Formula, which I’m obsessed with. His products are amazing. I also had a Hydra-Pure Vitamin C Brightening Serum that I loved from him, but I’m all out. I need to get more! When I travel somewhere hot and sunny, I use Dr. Dennis Gross Powerful Sun Protection Towelettes on my face, but I was always the kid who sat outside with olive oil on my skin. When people talk about putting on SPF 70, I’m like, ‘Just stay home.’ [Laughs] I’m not going to St. Barths to wear SPF 70. On my body, I want Hawaiian Tropic. It feels like vacation, and smells like coconut, and that’s all I am about. I want something that’s $6 and smells like a my idea of Polynesia. [Laughs]
Like I said, my skin is very oily. I’m always looking for something matte to control it. Someone gave me Clarins Mat Express Instant Shine Control Gel, and it works, but it’s very temporary. I use Clean & Clear Oil Absorbing Sheets—I learned that from a makeup artist, because the Clean & Clear sheets are plastic and really mattify and other ones are paper. I hold people with insider information like that captive. [Laughs] Being shiny doesn’t actually bother me very much, but when I’m on TV, they’re always telling me to cover it up with powder. That was another thing I resisted—wearing makeup for TV, because I thought it was so vain. The film crew was just like, ‘Dude, we’re trying to make this look as good as possible.’ And they were right. I saw a playback one day and thought, ‘I look like I have an oil slick on my forehead.’ As soon as I could let go that it wasn’t about fashion, or about me being high-maintenance, I was on board. Do I love wearing makeup? No. Do I wear it outside of TV? No. But, when I’m filming All on the Line and we have 14-hour days, I powder.
I've learned how to apply makeup progressively from makeup artists on photo shoots. And now I can just crank it out, and I’m not shy about it either. I’ll put it on at the gym, right in the locker room, and you know what? I notice other guys putting it on, too—and I doubt they’re going to film anything. [Laughs] I use MAC Studio Finish Concealer in NW35 to cover blemishes and a birthmark on my face that the camera guys tell me just reads as dirt on TV. [Laughs] And my makeup artist friend in L.A., Jeannia Robinette, told me to use La Mer The Treatment Fluid Foundation on my T-zone. And then I seal that with MAC Dark Mineralize Skinfinish powder. I carry that with me all the time—the powder and the La Mer The Foundation Brush. Whenever they yell, ‘You’re shiny again!’ I can just pull them out of my pocket and powder myself. We joke that I start the day as Joe Zee and end the day as RuPaul. [Laughs]
So the makeup is new, but I haven’t changed most of my personal care products for decades. I shave in the morning with a drugstore razor and Edge Shave Gel, which I’ve been using since I was in high school. I use the Sonicare toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste. And I don’t wear deodorant. I got a major rash from it when I was a teenager, and was told I was allergic, so I haven’t worn it since. My doctor told me that I don’t actually need to wear it—it's just a marketing thing. I’ve been washing my hair with Aveda Shampure Shampoo and Conditioner since I was in college. I’m just a creature of habit.”
—as told to ITG
Joe Zee photographed by Emily Weiss in New York on November 13, 2013. Read Part 2 of Joe's interview (The Professional) here.