Naomi Smalls


"My very first time seeing a drag queen actually was RuPaul. It was the Viva La Glam campaign for MAC. I didn’t understand what drag was at the time—I just thought it was a woman and some larger than life personality. After high school, I started cosmetology school, and I’ve always had a love for fashion, so it kind of made sense with drag. I just loved the art of it. I never thought I would be on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I was on Season 8, but I started watching it on Season 2. Right when I turned 18, I wanted to try and do it. I was a baby! But that was when I could go out to the clubs and see the other queens and get a feel for it. I probably sound like a broken record because I always say this, but being on Drag Race was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I met some of my best friends in the entire world there. It’s given me a platform to do what I love as a career.

I hadn’t seen my style of drag queen before me, and now, I see it all the time. [Laughs] When I first started, I was using drugstore makeup and my mom’s makeup, and she’s Caucasian so it did not look good on me! I didn’t really understand how to center my features—I was just putting makeup on my face. I am very thankful for Youtube tutorials and Instagram. That’s how all the drag babies start now—through YouTube—which I didn’t have back in the ‘90s. Back then if I was getting into drag, I would have to take the whole day off work. I was walking out the door after seven hours. But I was also 18 and stressing, there was competition. I’m in a groove now—I like to take three hours to get ready.

I’m a firm believer in skincare, mostly because I don’t really have the best skin, so I’m trying to maintain what I do have. I use the Philosophy Purity Foaming Wash or Glossier’s Milky Jelly—I’ve been absolutely hooked on that cleanser. I scrub with Ocean Salt from Lush because it’s really aggressive. I have to shave every day for drag, so I shave with Prince from Lush. Then I use the Glossier Supers. I’m obsessed with Super Bounce, that’s my favorite. After that I go in with Josie Maran Argan Infinity Intensive Creamy Oil. It helps my makeup glide on and I also have really dry skin, so the argan oil helps soak in and all that jazz. Kim [Chi] and I went to Korea and I stocked up on a bunch of sheet masks there. I also use the Don’t Look At Me Mask from Lush or the Boscia Luminizing Black Mask.

Queens all do their own hair and makeup. Anytime we have a challenge, we have to make an outfit. Drag is fucking expensive, period. I don’t even want to know what I spend on beauty in a month! I grew up on MAC, so I know the colors really well and it kind of just works for me. I like their concealers and foundation because they’re thick and go on like a layer that covers all your blemishes and imperfections. When it comes to foundation, most drag queens use Kryolan TV Paintstick or MAC Pro-Coverage—those are the ones that really give you that look. The popular one for body is MAC Face and Body Foundation. My powder is the Coty Airspun Powder, that’s another drag staple. I mix it with the Ben Nye Buff Luxury Powder and I like to bake underneath my eyes and underneath my cheeks. I have really deep-set bags under my eyes so it helps seep in and cook it with the foundation. For highlighting, I use MAC Full Coverage Foundation again. NC35 is my foundation shade and NC20 is my concealer.

My staple for drag makeup is my Ben Nye Lumiere Grande Color Palette because it has all the bright colors—it’s really hard to find those primary colors. These are really pigmented and they go on smooth and buttery. Also, NYX Cosmetics has a glitter adhesive that I swear by. With glitter stuff, I use pointed tweezers and apply them separately. For lashes I like to use theater drag lashes. I use #302 The Creme Shop Lashes on top of Vegas Nay Grand Glamour Lashes—I stack those. Then Ardell Natural Lash for the bottom.

The liner I’ve been using since I was probably in high school is Maybelline Ultra-Liner. I like it because it stays black and it’s easy to put on, and also easy to remove. Then I love the Modern Renaissance Palette from Anastasia Beverly Hills. For a smoky look, I’ll do cream eyeshadows, but I feel like I have more control with powder. Same with contour—no creams, just powder. My favorite bronzer or contour palette is the Original Anastasia one in Tan to Deep, my favorite blush is Strawberry from Ben Nye, and my favorite highlight is Jeffree Star’s King Tut. Also, the Glow Palettes from Anastasia.

Urban Decay has a white liquid liner, I think it’s called Bump. MAC has Pure White too that I’ll do on my waterline to make my eyes bigger. If I do a smoky eye, I don’t do that look. This is just the standard Naomi face.

In my day to day, I legit wear all Glossier, but for my girl makeup, the one thing I really still use is Boy Brow. I use Anastasia’s Chocolate Dipbrow, and I have the teeniest forehead ever, so I just use my natural brows, extend out and kind of cheat it. I just keep going until I touch my sideburns. [Laughs] Then MAC Concealer with this really precise concealer brush from Sephora that I’ve had since I was in seventh grade. If I lost it, I’d be fucked. I wouldn’t even know how to do drag.

With lips, it just depends. Right now, I create my shape with MAC Cork Liner and then I go in with 26 Pretty Auburn in Sephora’s new liquid lipsticks, which I’m obsessed with—and they’re super cheap. Then I do Dominatrix from Jeffree Star and contour with that. Then, I use Gen G in Leo from Glossier to fill in the nude part, and then I'm Nude from Jeffree Star on top of it.

There’s huge plastic sugery business in the drag community. For me, it’s to look better as a boy—then I can do whatever with makeup to look better as a girl. After Drag Race, you can watch whose lips get bigger—that’s the first thing everyone gets. People get body modifications like silicone…it’s not for me. I like to keep Davis [Heppenstall] and Naomi very separate. I get Juvederm, but I haven’t gone in a year and a half—I’m going next month. I go to Judy, who works at Biomed Spa in Beverly Hills.

I use Wigs and Grace (@wigsandgrace). I don’t even want to know how many wigs I have in my closet. I keep them all. And then when they’re done I send it back and get it restyled. For nails, I order them in bulk on Amazon. I’ll paint them myself and I use Crazy Glue to put them on—that’s what I was doing right before this interview. [Laughs] I like Essie, it goes on really nice and smooth. Sand Tropez is probably my favorite shade of all time. I also like Mint Candy Apple and Ballet Slippers.

I can get out of drag faster than any of my friends. Probably in five minutes. Sleep in drag—absolutely not. It's so much makeup, there is definitely a time limit for keeping it on. I use duct tape to take off a lot of the stones and glitter. Then I go in with my makeup wipes—I like the Neutrogena ones. At night I was my face with the same Philosophy Purity cleanser. If my skin is really going through it, I’ll use the Peter Thomas Roth Glycolic Acid Moisturizer. If it’s just a regular day, I’ll use the Murad Perfect Moisturizer.

There’s a huge drag scene in Chicago, almost too huge. There’re so many queens. My favorite club is Smart Bar, on Sundays. It’s a party called Queen. They have different house DJs and it’s in a basement—queens are just rolling out looks. I also really like to go see drag at Berlin Nightclub, hosted by Tranikka [Rex]. They have a show every Saturday. Even if you don’t like fashion, you just like watching the performances because people are really passionate about what they do. It’s nice to see people do what they love.

Definitely not everyone is friendly. I’ve definitely had my spats with people. I mean, we’re men in wigs with our dicks taped between our ass and in heels, and we’re going to get cranky sometimes. At the end of the day, I can say I’m great friends with all the people from my season [on Drag Race]. I like seeing the progress of it and looking back. This my fourth year. Looking back at the first year, I’m like, 'Who the fuck is that?' It’s great."

—as told to ITG

Photographed by Tom Newton on Friday, September 8, 2017.