"I grew up in Brooklyn and now I’m a student most of the time—I’m studying African American Literature at Columbia. Outside of school I’m always acting or auditioning—I guess that’s the same thing [Laughs]. Getting into acting was a complicated process...I learned slowly that I wanted to engage in [acting] projects that are exciting to me in an interdisciplinary way—whether they have some kind of connection to the history of black theater or black visual arts, women’s or gender studies, or just current society. I landed my first film role earlier this year, before that it was always theater. But I’m trying—I’ve been auditioning all summer.
My personal style changes a lot. For the evening my move is usually to be comfortable, and to wear one weird or colorful thing. Most of my clothes are from thrift stores—I find that the cheaper the clothing, the more I’ll wear it. Like when I buy something expensive, I start to worry about it—is this the right time to wear it? Am I going to get it dirty and need dry cleaning? Tokio 7 is good for thrifting, but the thrifting stores in Los Angeles are better overall than the ones in New York—New York stores are more expensive. A lot of my favorite pieces are things I borrow from friends. Or my mother. [Laughs] My mom has incredible shoes, but she wears a bigger shoe size than I do, so I am waiting to grow into them… hopefully. [Laughs] In the meantime I’ve been wearing Teva platforms all summer—they’re so comfortable. I recently wore them under a gown to a really fancy event, so I could move and dance more freely.
My friends are foodies, so that’s fun for me. I’ll make dinner with them a lot, and I explore different restaurants with them, too. My favorite restaurant in Fort Greene is Roman’s. My go-to in Soho is La Esquina—I get tacos there a lot. And then I love Miss Lily’s—their oxtail stew, and sometimes they have ackee and saltfish, which is one of my favorite meals in the world. A lot of the time I spend out in the evening is for some kind of art event, like a gallery opening. Because both my parents are artists, most of the time I’ll go out with them, but also a lot of my friends are involved with art. I went clubbing once in high school, [laughs] but I don’t really like clubbing at all. I mean I would love it if New York was today what it was in the '80s. Or '90s. Or '70s. I would love to go to a disco party—that’s actually my dream. But there aren’t many of those anymore. I like to dance, but it’s hard to find good music to dance to. If a friend has a party or something we usually try to turn it into a dance party—I guess that’s my favorite kind of party.
I put more makeup on at night than in the morning because 1—[My makeup] needs time to settle and I don’t have a lot of time in the morning and 2—Because it’s super bright outside in the morning and I can see the makeup on my face, which I don’t like. I have more fun in the evening because I’m convinced it’s harder for people to see. Usually I just use mascara, sometimes undereye concealer, blush—like Cloud Paint or some other kind of cream blush. I’m wearing Cloud Paint in Dawn now. I used to use this Benefit cheek and lip tint, but I stopped because Cloud Paint is a bit thicker and easier to put on. Once in a while I’ll wear lipstick—a dark red or Generation G in Leo. A makeup artist once told me that her favorite mascara was this Le Volume de Chanel Waterproof Mascara so I got it, but I think it’s really clumpy. Sometimes I’ll just use this clear mascara from Great Lash, especially in the summer because mascara usually sweats off my face. I also use it on my eyebrows, to brush them out and hold them in place—and then Boy Brow in Brown to fill them in. Benefit Roller Lash and Lash Slick are good summer mascaras because they don’t run off. And Lash Slick is also easy to take off—it’s really good.
Something I used to use is Hourglass Vanish Foundation as concealer—I would put it under my eyes and around my nose because my nose gets super red in the winter. But I stopped because I couldn’t get the shade to match me just right. What I really like is this Sephora green eyeliner—and also color in general. I wore purple eyeshadow for a year straight—it's Milk, their cream shadow in Rave. I would just dab it on my fingertips and put it all over my eyelid—it was a lot. I used to do a lot of eyeliner—a wing every morning—so I keep eyeliner around in case I want to start doing that again.
If I’m going out, I put on more mascara, more blush, and I might choose a fun eyeshadow—probably Pat McGrath Gold. I’m usually getting ready with one of my best friends, Daisy. We’ll try on different oils, different face washes, and do face masks, just for the hell of it. I don’t know if it’s making our skin worse or better, but it’s fun! [Laughs]. Most of the time is probably spent playing with eyeshadow—she’ll put on eyeshadow for me, and then I’ll probably wipe it off and put on a different one and then wipe that one off, and then we end up somewhere, usually matching. I’m more self-conscious when it comes to makeup. If I’m trying out a crazy eyeshadow, I’ll have Daisy tell me that it’s not actually crazy, and that it’s fun and I should do it. As silly as that sounds, it helps.
My skin has never given me a hard time, so I’ve always had the flexibility to try out different things, but lately I’ve been trying to be more careful about ingredients. I wash my face with Aesop Cream Cleanser, and then I’ll spray on either rose water alone, or rose water with some shea butter or jojoba oil tapped on top. I spray rose water on my face throughout the day when it’s gross outside [Laughs]. Sometimes I use the Mario Badescu one, other times I’ll use that pink one from Whole Foods. When it comes to masks, I use Aztec Secret Indian Healing Clay, and then once in a while I’ll use this Dead Sea Mud Mask with bentonite clay. Both are fun. The Indian Healing Clay feels stronger, and then I feel like I’m doing something more for my skin. That one I’ll do before or after I travel on a plane, because I always get pimples then. As for serums—I don’t use them, and I think that a lot of undereye creams make my eyes more puffy. It’s weird.
I love body wash—I don’t know why but I think about it a lot. I use the Aesop Geranium Body Cleanser pretty much every day because I’m obsessed with the smell. And then I use the Body Balm afterwards—the geranium one. I’m running out of it so now I’m using this orange rind grapefruit Body Balm instead. There’s this Giovanni Chocolate Body Scrub that sometimes I’ll use all over my body—mostly when I’m already sticky and dirty. It just makes me feel better when I get out of the shower. As for perfumes, mine is Le Labo Jasmin. I love it. Sometimes I’ll spray it in front of me and walk through—I don’t know if that’s what you’re supposed to do, but it feels fun. And then other times I just put it on my wrists and rub it on my neck.
Edris at Edris Hair Salon in Manhattan is who I always go to for my hair. Most people have a really hard time figuring out how to treat my hair, but she’s been cutting mine since I was eight years old and knows exactly how it works. I’ve learned a lot from her. My hair is really high maintenance, so a lot times when I want to wear it out, I can’t. I try to plan in advance. If I know which days I want to wear it out, I’ll wash it two days before that, because it takes a really long time to dry. If my hair’s not out, it’s usually in two or four braids, and then I’ll probably have a bandana on my head—some kind of funny one. I find them all over the place. Some I’ve gotten from friends, or my mother, or Amazon—it’s a mix. Right now I’ve been using a lot of Shea Moisture products—their Black Castor Oil Shampoo, their Detangler, and I'm also using their Leave-In Conditioner. I trust the ingredients that they put in them. Detangling my hair takes so much time, and oftentimes the conditioners that detangle the fastest and best are actually bad for my hair in the long run—they straighten out my curls. So, it’s this weird balance between wanting to save time and also wanting to protect my hair’s health. If I’m not feeling patient, I’ll use a conditioner that works really fast but also damages my hair, but... I think the braids help a lot. My hair’s in braids more often than it’s out, so probably like five days out of the week. My hair is always in braids when I sleep—with my bandana, of course.
I take calcium and magnesium pills before I go to bed to help me sleep. Sometimes if I’m really jet-lagged or having a lot of trouble sleeping, or if I just want to get a really deep sleep, then I take these pills called Kavinace Ultra PM Pills—but I can only buy them online, so I run out all the time. They work like magic. And then I also take vitamin B12. I’ve been taking evening primrose oil lately because I’ve heard it’s good for your skin. My skin’s been okay so I think it’s working, but I also don’t really know. Sometimes I’ll try probiotics for a couple of months, if I feel like my digestive system is really messed up. But that is something I’ll just do for like two months and then stop.
When I’m traveling, I drop exercising completely. But don’t get me wrong, I love to exercise and I feel a lot better when I do it. I’ll go through maybe like a three-week period of doing it consistently and then I’ll stop for three weeks and then start again. Usually I do a bit of cardio and then a bit of weights. I have a fast metabolism, so I also have to be really careful about eating and allowing my system to digest food and use it to exercise. If I’m not careful I’ll end up fainting or get really irritable. There’s some balance I’m trying to access."
—as told to ITG
Zora Casebere photographed by Tom Newton in New York on July 11, 2018.