“I’ve always liked art—you know, drawing, painting in school, making stuff. So pursuing a degree in fine art seemed totally reasonable. But to do that I had to move from Taiwan, where I spent the first 20 years of my life, to New York. Of course, after I enrolled in the School of Visual Arts, I realized that it wasn’t for me. I looked into different departments at school to find an alternative—looked into photography; the equipment was too expensive. Looked into computer art; it seemed complicated. Looked into illustration; I was a bad illustrator. Graphic design was really the only thing that was left. I started interning while I was in school, and my first internship was at this studio called Eric Baker Design. After that, I interned at Pentagram, which is where I’m at right now. I interned there for a little over a year, and I wanted to work there, but there weren’t any openings at the time. So, my first full-time job was at Sony Music. I designed album covers, back when there were still CDs. I wasn’t really satisfied by that work so I left pretty quickly, maybe after six months, and I landed a job at another design studio, Base Design. All my experience after that was in graphic design studios. I didn’t really think about going back [to Pentagram], until I did.
Being a partner [at Pentagram] actually encompasses many different roles, from the executive creative director to the account manager, to the cheerleader to the ultimate business decision-maker. I like opportunities that really need design to solve the problem. That can go from something that’s as complex as a big exhibition that involves typography, spatial design, and visitor experience—to something that’s as simple as say, a book design. I think the most difficult thing as a designer, for me at least, is to help people see what I see. Behind that capacity to see is actually really complicated—it has a lot to do with a person’s visual literacy, for example, or cultural background.
In the last 10 years, the corporate world has been really interested in getting to know design—which is really great. However, I think the design world’s response to that is to create very formulaic, if not shallow and overly simplistic formulas or processes—that’s called ‘design thinking,’ the claim to be able to solve all problems through design. The business world has embraced that really thoroughly, but there haven't been any interesting examples that use that methodology where we can actually say, ‘Oh yeah, there’s real value in that.’ The new technology that has come out in the last 10 years, all these tech, app-based businesses, will be the things that define our era. But then the design of it will not be remembered as much.
Beauty is actually a really big, underestimated part of design. We tend to think that beauty is just skin-deep, but beauty oftentimes is actually from within. In that aspect, beauty and design definitely are related. I change skincare products quite frequently, or I like to have multiple choices per category, and I just switch things according to my mood. I use Josh Rosebrook's Complete Moisture Cleanse a lot. It’s all organic and very gentle, but I also feel that it cleanses pretty thoroughly. You know how sometimes your skin can get really squeaky after washing? This one doesn’t do that. After, I use Chantecaille Rosewater as a toner. It just tightens my pores, and freshens my senses. I alternate it with this Tata Harper essence, but I use the rosewater a lot more. After that, I use Sturm’s Super Anti-Aging Serum. It’s so good—deeply hydrating, and it is anti-wrinkle, of course. Then, I use Venn—[Pentagram] actually named and designed the [brand] identity. It’s a US-based Korean brand, and it’s all organic. They have one of the best moisturizers I have ever used. When I travel, I always take it with me. Sometimes I use the Augustinus Bader Rich Cream, which is really, really rich. It’s expensive, too, which is why I don’t use it every day. But if there’s one thing that I really wouldn’t go without, it’s the Venn.
The Drunk Elephant Babyfacial is amazing—I maybe do that once a week. I also do the May Lindstrom Problem Solver. It cleanses very nicely. I do masks once a week, sometimes once every two weeks. For moisturizing, I use the Concentrated Revitalizing Lifting Mask from Venn. There’s this face mask from Barbara Sturm that I use every once in a while, and one from Eve Lom that’s a cleansing mask. I like this Evan Healy Green Tea Clay, and their French Rose Clay, too. And another one, Poppy Austin’s Rhassoul Clay, is good.
I have to show you how I travel—I get a lot of samples when I’m making purchases, right? So I bring those. And then sheet masks, of course. When I travel, I pack whatever is flat—that’s critical. The Chantecaille eye masks are amazing—literally erases lines and it reduces puffiness dramatically. And I started using these Wander Beauty Rose Gold eye masks.
I do facials whenever I can—about once every six weeks, but because my travel is really intense I tend to skip appointments. I go to Ling Skincare in Union Square. It’s like an old school skincare place, and it makes my skin glow. I go there to do microdermabrasion, so each time it really cleanses the skin and exfoliates.
Because I have pretty bad dark circles, I rely a lot on concealers. The Nars Soft Matte in Custard has really nice coverage. Bobbi Brown has a good one too, the liquid in Honey. For the rest of my face, I wear a mix of Charlotte Tilbury Wonder Glow and Armani Maestro in 5.25. Or, I use Hourglass Immaculate in Warm Ember. So I mix those, and then add a drop of Dr. Hauschka's Translucent Bronzer. The Charlotte Tilbury serves as a light base, the foundation gives a little coverage, and the bronzer gives me a little color. It’s very difficult to find a color that works perfectly with your skin—it doesn’t matter what these brands claim. By doing this, I’m able to get a color that actually blends right into my skin.
For highlighter, I use this Shimmer Brick from Bobbi Brown, but if I want something that’s a little bit more pronounced, I go with the Chantecaille Liquid Lumiere in Sheen. Blush is where I change it up. I use Pretty Fresh from Charlotte Tilbury, or No. 22 from Chanel, which is a peachy stick, or Party from Tarte. My brows are more complicated. I actually draw the base with a mix of Hourglass’ Arch in Soft Brunette and Dark Brunette, to get the right color. And then I use Glossier’s Boy Brow on top.
Occasionally I’ll do a smoky eye—occasionally. It gives your face a little presence. This eye color is actually good, Hematite, from Chantecaille. As far as eyeliners go, Chanel has a really good one, Stylo Yeux Waterproof in Black. I put it on top, and then I’ll usually do shadow on the bottom. I have also been doing this purple Liquid Pencil Longwear Eyeliner from Lancôme. When I use this, I don’t have to use any other eye makeup. For a more natural look, I use Lily Lolo’s Natural Eye Pencil in Brown. Mascara is so hard—it’s hard finding one that’s not going to smudge after eight hours—but this one from Lily Lolo is the best I’ve ever tried. It’s an organic makeup brand. And Shiseido’s Controlled Chaos is really good, too. But before mascara, I curl my lashes lightly with a curler from Utowa.
My lipstick choices tend to be very simple. I like Chantecaille Lip Veil in Protea, or the color I’m wearing right now, which is Chantecaille’s Sunrise. I think they make the best lipsticks. Really good coverage, but still very moisturizing, and stays on for a long time. And sometimes I just use a gloss, the Chantecaille pink gloss.
I don’t have time to take care of my hair. I use some Oribe and Drybar products, and I recently started using this brand called Playa. I blowdry it super quick—literally just to dry it, not to style it, and I put it in a ponytail. Playa’s Dry Shampoo is really nice because it’s colorless, and it gives hair good volume. And Drybar’s 3-in-1 hairspray is pretty nice. It moisturizes, gives texture, and also is a dry shampoo.
Just recently I got into powder gel nails. You know how the classic nail process is wet, with layers and layers of nail polish? This process is dry. The [nail technician] applies a thin layer of some liquid, and then they dip your nails into powder, so the powder is actually the pigment. They repeat that process several times, and then it’s done. I like my nails to be short, and in a classic red, or some sort of nude—I get very self-aware when my nails are not done!
BODY + FRAGRANCE
Every once in a while I exfoliate with One Love’s Vitamin C Body Polish—it’s really, really good. And, as you can tell, I’m pretty experimental with fragrance. I don’t like things that are too flowery—that’s sort of the baseline for everything. Recently I’ve become obsessed with this perfume that I picked up in Dubai. The brand’s called Hind Al Oud, and the perfume I use is Patchouli. That’s what I mostly wear these days, but I was also wearing one from Krigler, Lovely Patchouli. According to them, it was Jackie Onassis’s favorite. It’s sweeter and lighter than the Hind Al Oud one. I also love Elevator Music from Byredo. It’s very clean, very vague. And this one is from when I was in Merida, Mexico—Coqui Coqui Rosas Frescas. It’s really rosy.”
—as told to ITG
Natasha Jen photographed by Tom Newton in New York on April 29, 2019.