"I was kind of a tomboy in high school—never in my life did I think I was going to be a makeup artist. I was into sports, and really into music...the hip-hop and R&B scene. I think De La Soul was one of the first shows I went to. My friend got me into painting and arts, and I don't know, but I went from being a tomboy to the girl who did everybody's makeup and hair for prom. That's how it all started. I assisted Mark Carrasquillo and James Kaliardos, and then I started doing some stuff on my own. Adam Selman was my first show, which was huge, but I love doing editorial. With the new generation of models and artists, it's more playful and spirited. There's a huge pullback from the overly retouched 'fashion' look. It's exciting to be a part of that.
The more experience, the more you play, the more you figure out what you like you start to develop a more specific hand. For me, skin is big. My mom really hooked it up—she was a cosmetologist, so skin was very important to her. I think I started cleansing and moisturizing in middle school. My favorite cleanser is Avène Cleanance Gel, it’s so good. Not too drying, and it calms my skin down. And then every so often I’ll use this Queen Helene Mint Julep Scrub. It’s super basic but amazing. And then right now I’m using this really light SK-II Cellumination brightener. It just brings blood back into your face and plumps it up, and makes you look nice and fresh.
But the Nelson's Pure and Clear Acne Gel is my favorite—last Fashion Week, I used it backstage at Adam Selman. I like it for spot checks on blemishes overnight, but I'll use it under makeup if [the skin] is really bad. I always tell people about it. Within an hour you can see the redness, swelling and inflammation come down, so it’s genius to use. In my work, I like the challenge of having to fix something and make skin look amazing.
I used to wear tons of makeup, growing up. The look was all about the '90s–really thin brows, dark lipstick, crazy braids. I would pair an Alaïa baby tee with baggy pants and a choker, and goth makeup. It eventually became, 'What character do I want to be today?' I love makeup and I love playing with it but on myself... I’m older now too, you know? I can actually feel like myself instead of a character now. I get out of the shower, pull my hair back, do a red lip and I’m good to go. I love an orange-red in the summer, when I'm tan, like YSL Rouge Pur Couture in Orange Imagine or Rouge Rock. Then I also like this Armani Lip Maestro in 401. It goes on super smooth–the texture is fantastic.
If I wear foundation, I'll use Armani Luminous Silk in 6.5, just under my eye. That and a little bit of Kevyn Aucoin's foundation in Sx11 on spots. If I'm going out for drinks, I won't wear it—it's just for events. I'm not getting photographed or anything, so I hardly wear it. Then maybe a little bit of highlighter. Benefit makes this body balm that's like a pressed cream, and I love adding a bit on the cheekbones. It's the best highlighter, just light with a pink undertone. I’ll use Tom Ford Titanium Smoke for when I do a smoky eye, which is not that often. I line the top with Shiseido Automatic Fine Eyeliner and blend it, with a little smoke on the outer corners. It's not glam—it's more slept-in.
For my hair, I usually just put a bit of coconut oil to fight frizz with some Bumble and bumble Tonic in. And then the Oribe oil when I need something lighter. Everything depends on my looks and how I'm feeling—I love the idea of a girl having a look and walking the shit out of it. Sexy can mean so many different things, but I like a girl who can wear no makeup, or wear a full look and look amazing. Or someone who’s bold and not scared to wear makeup, but doesn’t need to wear it to feel empowered or anything. They just throw it on because they feel like it. I'll put on my makeup, and then I'll throw on something like this—some Trademark flats and Levi's cut-offs. I love mixing high and low—some Vans or Chucks with a white tee and a Céline coat. That's my vibe. Something mixed up."
—as told to ITG
Emi Kaneko photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on June 1, 2016.