Part II: Nam Vo, Makeup Artist


But don't miss Part I! Read that before you read this.

“There are two reasons why I’m not promiscuous. One is because I have to run home every night and do my skincare regimen. Let me tell you something: I’ve only fallen asleep once in my life with makeup on, and that’s because it was the first time I had ever done an edible. My skin is my moneymaker—I get a facial every week. If you want something zen and relaxed, I love Tulura. It’s a very indie-boutique skincare brand, and she has a facial place in Tribeca. If I want to get down and dirty and unclog my pores, I like Rescue Spa. And then I just had a penis facial at Georgia Louise that was really good. Friday I’m getting the PRP blood facial. I’m off for three days, so it’s cool if I look like Freddy Krueger. And then I’ve had the baby Fraxel, Clear and Brilliant. I’m so lucky I don’t have to pay [for beauty] anymore.

People always ask me, ‘What’s your skincare routine?’ It’s actually very hard, because it’s my job to try things. What I’m using this week, versus what I’m using two weeks from now will change, but there are a couple things that are staples. One is the Natura Bisse Stabilizing Cleansing Mask. It’s the one product I’ve used for 10 years, and it’s like a facelift. I love Drunk Elephant Babyfacial—I like strong things. For me, it’s not even so much about the regimen. I’m a big masking, peeling, facial person. I think that’s what really gets in and stimulates the skin.

My day-to-day isn’t that interesting. I use Tulura oil cleanser, then I use P50, like everybody else and their mama. I use the pigment lightening one because I have a couple freckles. And then I either use the new Sunday Riley retinol, or SK-II, or sometimes I use a May Lindstrom serum. Occasionally, if I’m not dry, I’ll use Herbivore’s Blue Tansy. If I have to be low maintenance, I cleanse my skin with my oil cleanser, and then I put on an oil balm and call it a day. I love May Lindstrom, The Blue Cocoon. That’s really, really good.

I’m probably more of an oil person than I am a classic moisturizer person. Right now I use Amorepacific or Herbivore’s Lapis Oil. When I need a lot of hydration I might use Luna Oil. Usually just whatever’s there is what I’ll put on. Whether you use a jade roller, a gua sha, your fingers—any stimulation is good. It helps to stimulate collagen, it helps to tighten, it helps overall with blood flow, lymphatic drainage, all of that.

Maybe three times a week I’ll use a LED mask. I have the Dr. Dennis Gross one, I have the Celluma one, and then I also have LightStim. I have the NuFace, but my favorite one is actually the Face Gym tool—it’s so strong. You’re going to feel like you’re being electrocuted, but don’t be scared, it’s actually good. Contrary to popular belief, I’ve never had surgery or injected my face. But if you look at me when I talk, only my mouth moves. I have stone face—my forehead never moves. And I looked at J. Lo, and she moves the same way.

I always say, when you first pop your highlighter cherry, there are stages. If you’re a highlighter virgin, I would suggest Glossier Haloscope. After you like that and you want to go a little more bling-bling, I would do a Becca Champagne Pop. If you want to go even crazier, I would do Fenty or Kylie. Or, if you don’t want any shimmer at all, you might do a Gucci Westman or Nudestix Illuminati, where it just looks like moisture, and it’s wet. It depends what level of glow you want. Marc Jacobs is another one—have you tried the Dew Drops? That’s incredible. If I’m shooting an editorial, or I want to be super glowy, I’ll use that as a primer. You can use it as a primer, you can use it as a highlighter—it’s the gift that keeps giving. People often ask me to name my top three highlighters. It’s always changing. But you have to keep in mind, when you see me do highlight porn, it’s not the highlighter. It’s that the face is already wet and done, and then the highlight is what finishes it off. It’s the cherry on the cake. I don’t put highlighter on matte, fucked up skin.

Contour has a bad reputation, but if you look at even my most natural looks they’re all contoured, but blended and tastefully done. If I want to be extra glowy, I’ll massage oil into my skin and then I’ll use an illuminating primer. I love VDL, those are amazing. It’s a very popular Korean brand. And then this is Bobbi Brown. Primer isn’t important, unless you have bigger-pored skin, but I think of it like a glow-tion. I’ll either use that after the oil, or I’ll mix a drop of one of those illuminating primers in the moisturizer. When it comes to foundation, I love Yves Saint Laurent Touche Éclat, and Clé de Peau makes beautiful ones. Today I have on the Tom Ford Traceless Foundation Stick—I just like that it’s like butter, and it’s really easy to manipulate. I beat it into my skin, and it’s a nice, dewy finish. And then I use Ole Henriksen’s Banana Bright Eye Crème—you know everybody loves that.

There is not a face I touch in this universe that I don’t use Beautyblender on. I get a Beautyblender, I run it underneath the sink, and I let it grow until it’s just damp. Fingers can be really great tools, but the Beautyblender, being that it’s moist, it not only pushes in the makeup, but it leaves it with a little bit of a dewy finish. I’ll do foundation like burnt toast—lighter towards the center of my face and darker around the perimeter. Forehead, cheekbone and jaw I’ll usually do a bronzer. The one I’m wearing right now is Tom Ford. On top it’s a pearly color, but on the bottom it’s a coppery bronze. You just mix them together—that’s the secret with makeup, is that it has to look three dimensional. I could just do a flat brown, but if I mix colors and layer textures on textures, that’s how you’re going to get the illuminated dumpling look.

I’m really big on flushed cheeks. I like to do a cream, and then I’ll layer powders if I want it to look more like a hologram situation. Right now I have on Oribe Moonlit, which I created, and then on top of that I have on Nars’ Gaiety. It’s like a hot pink blush. To put it on: Smile, and put two fingers next to your nose. This roundness, this is the apple of your cheek—that’s where you put on your blush. Make a fishy face. That line from your ear to your mouth is the most hollow part of your face—that’s where you slice and contour. And then up here, right above your cheeks is where you put on highlighter. I did layered highlighter—Haloscope in Quartz, and then I went on top with Becca Prosecco Pop. I have a Dior highlighter palette, and I mixed all four colors of that and put that on top, too. These are expensive cheeks. Then I highlight the bridge of my nose, the corner of my eye, and then a little bit on the bow of my lip. For lipstick I’m wearing Fenty’s Up To No Good, and then I did Bite Vanilla Latte gloss on top.

Right now I have fake eyelashes on, but naturally I have little Asian twigs. The best eyelashes in the world are the cheap ones, Ardell. I use the individuals—if I want to look rounder, like a doll, I do longer on the center and shorter on the edges, and if I want to be more exotic and almond, then I do longer on the outside and shorter in the center. I’ll always do eyebrows—I use the Milk eyebrow pencil and Kush gel. And on my eyes, I’m wearing the new Bobbi Brown neutral palette. And then I did Stila glitter eyeshadow, just in the center. I never really use powder eyeshadow—I love it as a liquid. Have you seen the new Louboutin ones? They’re really fancy. And they don’t move—you could go to SoulCycle.

I’m a real hair whore—I love big, Oribe, glamorous hair. I have thick hair, so I’m not very picky about my shampoo and conditioner. I’m using whatever, Oribe. I love it, but you could give me something cheap and I wouldn’t notice the difference. When it comes to product, I obviously love Dry Texturizing Spray, because it makes your hair very big and it gives it texture. Other than that I don’t really do much. I go to Jon Reyman at Spoke and Weal to cut my hair, and then Christine, who is also the co-owner, colors it. It’s a lot of work. My hair is naturally straight with a tiny little bend. I’m actually not one of those girls who wants perfect, silky, healthy hair. I like a little grit. I think coloring it does that.

I used to never care about my nails, and then one day I went to Paintbox and they did the whole razzle-dazzle on me. I was like, ‘Wow, I work with my hands, they’re in every picture, I have to get my nails done.’ So now it’s another thing I do. If I’m in a video or in a shoot, then I usually like to do something graphic. If not, one of my favorite nail polishes that’s just a classic is Chanel Organdi. It’s like a nude, blush pink.

For body, I like Balmyard—I like the bottle. I also love Agent Nateur Holi Oil. After I’m tired of my face oil and I don’t want to waste it, I just put it all over my body. There are two things I don’t get for free in this world. One is Biologique. Number two is Frédéric Malle. The one I use is Un Rose—I’m not really a rose person, but there’s something really special about the scent. Viktor and Rolf’s Flowerbomb just came in the mail, and I really like that as well. And then I have so many candles—the Nars one, and the new Tom Ford one.

If you work hard, and you’re not a dick, things could happen for you in the city. If I hadn’t been so broke, and if I hadn’t worked in a strip club, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I thought I was a starlet in San Francisco, and then I came here and was like, ‘Oh, you’re shit.’ The week I moved to New York, I went to go see an agent, and she told me, ‘Everybody’s a makeup artist in this town, and your portfolio’s no different from anyone else’s.’ I think people really connect with authenticity. Everybody’s brand voice is different—if you’re an all-natural girl, talk about that. If you want to do over-the-top stripper makeup, talk about that. I always tell makeup artists that there are a trillion people to follow. Why should someone follow you? You have to have a voice of your own, or something that somebody can’t get anywhere else. My client Aimee Song told me that. There’s a lot of really talented makeup artists. You have to, one, do something that’s authentic to you, and two, do something that’s interesting. Unless you’re an egg, or Kim Kardashian talks about you all the time. [Laughs]”

—as told to ITG

Nam Vo photographed by Tom Newton in New York on January 17, 2019.

Want more Nam Vo? Follow how she transitioned from a strip club makeup gig to working on major brand campaigns, and then dive into her smoky eye tutorial here.