"I grew up in London, but lived in Ghana for a few years, which was a very formative experience for me. My parents missed home and wanted their children to have the same experience that they had. I think particularly as a woman of color, it was very grounding for me to be in that environment where everybody looked like me. I was able to aspire to be anything I wanted to be, without worrying about any sort of impediment to my success. In Ghana, education is everything so I really thought about my studies in a very serious way.
I was a young teenager when I went back to London, which is a very insecure time in anyone’s life, particularly for young girls. I was different, I had picked up a bit of an accent, and was a bit of a nerd. As far from being in a cool crowd as you can get. [Laughs] Going to university was a revelation for me. It was very freeing. I initially wanted to study chemical engineering, but I ended up switching to math. It’s so interesting that now there’s this push to girls into tech...at the time I remember thinking, what am I doing here? Out of my class of 150 people there were only 2, 3 girls. It didn’t feel like a very comfortable place for me to be in.
My initial plan was to go into finance—which would have made my parents very happy—but I just had a change of heart and I decided to take a year off. I think I’ve always tried to be creative and I was boxed into a science box. I interned at this fashion PR company, called Lynne Franks, and then they offered me a job. Its claim to fame is the founder Lynne was the inspiration for one of the main characters in Absolutely Fabulous... Do you know that TV show? It’s actually really funny. Then I moved out of fashion and into film marketing, which is where I spent most of my career for 15 years. Before I had any commitments in my life, I would just sit in movie theaters all weekend long and just watch movies. I found my calling in them. I was very lucky in respect that I got to work with such incredible filmmakers. I’ve worked on so many good movies—Lost in Translation, Brokeback Mountain, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind...
For a while, I was using my marketing background to consult for various non-profit companies—quite a few in the women’s space. That ended up segueing into the global branded company I founded, WIE, Women in Inspiration and Enterprise. It kind of happened by accident. I was at The Important Dinner for Women in 2010, which brought together all these powerful, impressive women—Queen Rania, Wendi Murdoch, Christy Turlington, Hillary, Oprah, you name it. We were all asked to make a pledge, to go off and do something with it. I was just so in awe of the success, intelligence and experience I was surrounded by and thought how incredible that women like me and behind me can have this sort of access in such a rarified environment. We started out with just one conference, and it has since grown into a network of women with a variety of different events designed to create those connections and learn from one another. I didn’t know I had a voice in making a difference in that space, and then the more I got to learn about other people, the more it inspired me to do that, too. Ultimately I just want to see parity in the workplace, more women in leadership positions, founding and growing major companies.
My philosophy is that beauty absolutely comes from within. I always look my best when I am looking after myself. For me it starts more with little rituals—diet, lemon water in the morning, pure cranberry juice—things that are constantly cleansing. I don’t drink coffee at all, I like to drink green tea. My skin is really in-between and when I am not looking out after myself, I can breakout. I just got a breakout today. This week I had a gazillion things going on, and I didn’t sleep much or eat well—it’s just that simple. I was like, 'Great, I have a photoshoot and a zit.' [Laughs]
I started using Ole Henriksen years ago because their headquarters was right by my apartment in LA. I used to go there for facials. In the morning, I use the On The Go Cleanser [ed note: discontinued] with a mitt and then once a week, I use the Clarisonic brush. I also use the Aesop Fabulous Face Cleanser because it smells really nice, and it’s not too harsh. I think I’m always looking for things that are not too drying or stripping for my skin. I gravitate towards clean beauty and I love Gwyneth and Goop. [Laughs] I love the philosophy, so that’s what I started to use and that worked well for me. I really like the Replenishing Night Cream, but I have run out. I also like using the Skinceuticals CE Ferulic Serum, which a facialist told me about. Sometimes at night I will use micellar water and wipe that off, because I can’t be bothered washing my face. I also like to use the No7 Total Renewal Micro-Dermabrasion Exfoliator once a week. That’s from my English days, its super grainy. I also like the Boots Botanicals Ionic Clay Mask which I use once a month.
In my fashion PR days, I experimented with makeup more, although I don’t know that I did it very well. [Laughs] Now, it’s about finding that confidence in yourself and knowing what you look like. It comes with age, it’s like when you know what suits you when you go to the store and pull out what’s best for you.
If I wear foundation, it’s always so hard to get the right shade so I mix two. I like the Make Up For Ever HD Foundation in #178 and the Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics Tinted Moisturizer in R5. A makeup artist first suggested that I mixed them and I was thrilled. I used to have a fear of photoshoots because makeup artists just never get it right on my skin. I mean unless you’ve got Pat McGrath, it’s not the right shade and you just have to kind of take your own.
My lashes aren't very long, so I am always looking for anything that enhances my eyelashes and eyes. I find that Maybelline brands are just really good. I use the Maybelline Falsies Push Up Angel Mascara. It’s not a brush, it’s a thin comb but it really coats the top and bottom lashes. I’ve run out but I really like the Bobbi Brown Long-Wear Gel Eyeliner that comes in a pot with a brush. I do the whole of the top and half of the bottom. And I love it. People are always talking about Ruby Woo, but it’s really the best lipstick ever invented. It’s not too bright, not too pink, it’s a deep, rich red. Sometimes I don’t wear any makeup during the day and then if I have a meeting or if I go out, I put mascara and lipstick on and that does me fine.
I cut my hair last year and it’s the best. Just so freeing. I was definitely someone who liked to hide behind their hair. I just felt I couldn’t pull off short hair, and my husband really thought that I could. He has fancier hairdresser than I do—so does my son—they both use Mika at Salon AKS. They were having their hair cut and my son was just like, 'Mommy get your hair cut, too,' and suddenly that was that. There’s still such a gap in the market and there really aren’t any great salons for black hair. I find the women from the Caribbean and Islands just get it, so I go to Harlem for a great, cheap blowdry or braids. I really like the Aveda Be Curly Shampoo and their Brilliant Conditioner. I also use the Organic Root Stimulator Hair Mayonnaise as a really good home treatment, it’s very enriching and puts moisture back in your hair. The Redken Glass Look Smoothing Complex is great when I am using a straightening iron and then I would use the Living Proof Frizz Nourishing Oil to protect it.
Having moved to Brooklyn three months ago, my routine has definitely changed. I have a 5 year old who’s very active—he wants to ride his bike, scooter, play basketball and run around obviously here he can do those things. The thing about LA or London is that you have a garden, and parks on every corner, it’s just different. But I love it here, I’m definitely a city girl. I’ve lived in cities my whole life, I crave that hustle and bustle.
Right now we’re very into oils. When my son was born in 2012, I did so much research into products for him that I could use as well. We use these cocoa butters from Everyday Shea, they’re very simple and great. There’s this brand called Daughter of the Land, and it’s an organic, fair trade oil that is great to use all over the face and body. They have three different ones with different grades of heaviness and I combine them all. I do like fragrances though. Over the years I’ve gone through four bottles of the Bvlgari. It’s really great and clean. I also love the Cartier So Pretty. I used to wear it all the time although I think it was discontinued, and I certainly haven’t seen it in America.
Once in awhile and I’ve been meaning to go back, I get facials with Mamie, she’s kind of the one. She’s great with black skin and there are a lot of people that go to her, she has very fancy clients. I try to go to her every few months for a deep clean facial, and I feel like it lasts a long time. I love, love saunas, Hammam, anything with steam. I used to go to a spa on Greenwich street in Tribeca—Aire Ancient Baths. I also used to be obsessed with Russian Turkish Baths. It wasn’t the most glamorous place, but I loved it.
I think that in general, the more I can incorporate my beauty and health routine into my day to day, the better it works for me. I don’t exercise that much, I’m very simple. I used to run and do yoga, but that had fallen by the wayside a little bit. I would rather not take a car or subway than go to gym, so I just walk everywhere and take the stairs. It's cheaper, and you can multitask. I am about to try—just because I’ve been hearing so much about her and following her on Instagram—Taryn Toomey’s The Class. It looks amazing. I’m about to give that a go, maybe I’ll do it by the time this comes out. [Laughs]"
—as told to ITG
Dee Poku photographed by Tom Newton in New York on June 2, 2017.