"I’m originally from a small town called Rock Tavern in upstate New York, but I got discovered in a mall in Connecticut. I was shopping with my mom, and someone asked me if I wanted to participate in a modeling competition. It turned out to be a legitimate thing—there were agents from real agencies there, and I signed with one in New York shortly after that.
I did my first shoot with Glamour when I was 16, and Maybelline saw that and called me in for a casting, which was totally unheard of. Usually girls work years to get a beauty contract—it’s the gold standard, the best thing ever, and I was so young. Up until then I was planning on going to college just like all of my friends, but because things picked up so quickly I made the decision to pursue modeling full time. The way most models start is that they do shows right away. Ten years ago, shows were very different. Beauty was a lot less pressure—I didn’t feel like I had to be on every runway and to fit into a sample size. It was a luxury, in a way. It also got me comfortable with ‘shoulders-up’ work, which comes in handy when I’m filming myself. But there was this idea that doing beauty stuff was less cool, because it’s more commercial. It took a little time for the fashion side of my career to pick up, but luckily I was able to do a lot of that too.
It used to be cool for models to be mysterious about what they were really like, but eventually I felt so two-dimensional. At the end of the day I was just a regular 25-year-old girl interested in makeup and skincare. I knew I wasn’t the only one who felt confused by skincare and how it’s supposed to work, so I started using YouTube and Instagram to collect people’s questions about it. Skincare is such a double-edged sword. We all have more access than ever to experts and information on the internet, but those experts contradict each other all the time.
When I filmed a skincare video in my bathroom with Harper’s Bazaar, I got so many comments from people telling me that I was using the wrong products, I wasn’t using them in the right order, I was combining products that I wasn’t supposed to… This is all what inspired Covey. I partnered with my dermatologist, Dr. Julie Russak, to create the line because skincare doesn’t need to be complicated, and my dermatologist is someone I definitely trust for expertise. When I was doing a gazillion steps and doing all the things that I thought I was supposed to be doing, my skin didn’t look its best. It was dry, irritated, red... The trend has been ‘more is more,’ but I don’t know if that’s really the best for anyone.
It used to be cool for models to be mysterious about what they were really like, but eventually I felt so two-dimensional.
I wanted a cleanser that didn’t strip my skin or make it feel dry, but it also needed to take off all of my makeup after a shoot. When we were formulating Covey’s cleanser, I would film myself washing my face with each lab sample to see if it took everything off. If it didn’t, we went straight back to the drawing board. The one we ended up with takes off all of my makeup and leaves my skin feeling hydrated but fresh. Then, I use our Vitamin C serum. Before Covey was even a thing, my business partner and I both asked Dr. Russak what we need in our skincare routines. She said vitamin C serum, because it protects from free radicals, helps produce collagen, and brightens dark spots. I went on a rampage trying every single Vitamin C serum on the planet, and they were either too sticky or too harsh. And L-ascorbic acid made my face smell like ham—it drove me insane. For Covey’s we used THD ascorbate instead, which is a better penetrator than L-ascorbic and has no smell. We also have vitamin E and grapeseed extract in there, which gives it a milky consistency. It’s so different from other vitamin C serums and never leaves me with irritation.
Then I use our moisturizer, which is the perfect balance of water-based hydration and oil-based moisture. We’ve got squalane, sodium hyaluronate, glycerin, caffeine, green tea… it’s rich, but light enough for the day. When we were creating it I’d ask makeup artists at work how they thought my skin felt, and how makeup was applying on top of my moisturizer. They were always like, ‘Why are you asking me all these questions?’ [Laughs] But I knew we were getting close when they started asking me what I had on. Jenna Rosenstein from Harper’s Bazaar recommended First Aid Beauty’s Weightless Liquid Mineral Sunscreen to me, and I really like it. It’s a little bit tinted and has a great finish. That’s the only difference between my morning and night routines. I’m pretty lazy! Occasionally I’ll do a face mask, but that’s more so as an activity with my mom or a friend. My favorite is Skin Laundry’s sheet masks.
If I have a lot of time before going out, I love sitting on the floor and playing with makeup. I’ll go on a YouTube deep dive—I’ve always liked NikkieTutorials, James Charles, Emma Chamberlain, Best Dressed, and Violette. I really want to try Madison Beer’s makeup routine from her Vogue Beauty Secrets video, because I know a lot of people are doing that online. Beauty tutorials are so calming—I’ll watch review videos for hours. Then I’ll go into work and ask makeup artists ‘What are you using? What is that? NikkieTutorials likes this, do you?’ I love to play up my eyes with liner, and I would ask every makeup artist on set to tell me how they do a cat eye. What started making the biggest difference for me was following my bottom lash line, and drawing the wing towards the end of my eyebrow. But I also learned that nobody can do perfect liquid liner in one go—not even makeup artists. I used to be so hard on myself about it. Having Q-tips and some sort of makeup remover to clean up the line is helpful. And Erin Parsons who’s the makeup artist for Maybelline, also taught me that you can carve out the wing and make it super sharp with concealer. You kind of have to mess with it.
I’ve pretty much been doing the exact same makeup routine every day for 10 years. The only thing that’s changed is that, during the pandemic, I don’t wear mascara. In the beginning of quarantine Erin went on Instagram Live with me and taught me some makeup tips. My favorite one is applying concealer on the tops of my cheekbones to create a kind of cat-eye effect. I take a flat brush, apply concealer right at the corners of my eyes, and blend it upwards. I love that for when I’m super sleepy. I also put concealer under my eyes, on my chin, and on my forehead. I’ve been using Maybelline’s Instant Age Rewind with the fluffy end forever—usually I’m Warm Light, but in the summer I use Sand. I don’t like liquid foundation because it makes me feel like I’m wearing a lot of makeup. But I will use powder foundation, and I like to apply Fit Me 220 all over my face with a massive fluffy brush. I apply my blush sticks with a giant fluffy brush too. Milk Makeup’s Quickie is good, and I also like this Bare Minerals one in You Had Me At Merlot. I always put on way too much blush, which is trendy now.
I used to be so hard on myself if I couldn't do the perfect wing with liquid liner in one go—but nobody can. Not even makeup artists.
I also use bronzer. Benefit’s Hoola bronzer is my old faithful—been using it forever, put it all over my face and a little bit on my eyes, just in the crease. Then I use some sort of brown eyeliner to create a small flick, which changes my face completely. It’s so satisfying. I do need some sort of brow because I have no eyebrows. This brow pencil by Benefit helps fill them in, and then I usually just use a little bit of hairspray on a spoolie and brush up my brows to keep them in place. That works great. A lot of makeup artists use the Shu Uemura lash curler, and I feel like it always pinches or snags my eyelids. The one I love is Kevyn Aucoin’s, and I’ve purchased it multiple times. I just got the Maybelline Lash Sensational Sky High mascara and I am obsessed with it. It’s so funny, I’ve been with Maybelline forever and they usually send me all of their products, but I bought this one myself. I saw someone using it on Tiktok and literally ran to CVS. It’s insane. I have no eyelashes, and this gives me crazy eyelashes. Their new Lifter gloss is so good too. I either use that in the shade Silk, or the same Milk blush stick. I also love Clinique’s Chubby Stick in Graped Up. Underneath I always use Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream. Seriously, I use that stuff every single day.
Jenna Perry just cut curtain bangs for me at her salon in the East Village. But I don’t color my hair—I got highlights once a couple years ago, and it turned orange. I was like, ‘Never again.’ I’ve gone on a journey recently because I have a dry scalp and a naturally frizzy-wavy texture. I have this fancy comb from Leonor Greyl that feels so good on my scalp, and my dermatologist recommended I use T Gel from Neutrogena in the shower. I always have that in case my scalp starts acting crazy, and I’ve also been using this Oribe Gold Lust Repair and Restore Conditioner. I wanted to find a product that would make my hair look good when it air dried so I asked my followers for recommendations. The one that kept coming up was the Ouai Leave-in Conditioner, which has been great for the task. But the one that I always return to is the Bumble and Bumble Don’t Blow It Thick Hair Styler. If I put it in when it’s wet and let it dry, my hair will look so freaking good. I’ve recommended it to so many people. I’ll also put the Gisou hair oil on my ends. I only wash my hair like twice a week, so the Batiste Hydrating Dry Shampoo is essential between washes.
I am obsessed with hair tools—I use all of Harry Josh’s stuff. The clips, hairbrush, all of that. I’ve had my Harry Josh blow dryer forever. I have a GHD curling iron, but I usually do my waves with my GHD Platinum flat iron. Weirdly, that's my claim to fame. It’s my best performing video on YouTube—it has like 3 million views. I’ve been modeling for so long, but now on all my photos people comment things like, ‘You’re the girl who taught me how to wave my hair with a flat iron!’ Is this my legacy? I guess so. Anyway, you basically just take a chunk of your hair in the straightener, flip it, pull it away from your face, and let it glide away from you. That creates a perfect corkscrew curl. I always straighten the ends, because perfect corkscrew curls are not cool. If I’m ever going somewhere, I at least do that to the front of my hair so that I look presentable—I can get away with not actually doing the rest.
BODY + FRAGRANCE
I’ve been using the Barbara Sturm Anti-Aging Body Cream. She sent it to me, and I love it even though I’m not going to repurchase it. It feels so good and hydrating and makes my skin the perfect amount of shiny. And I really like using Weleda Skin Food on my hands during the winter. To wash my body I just use the Everyday Coconut body wash by Alaffia, which I get at Whole Foods. I’m strictly a showerer. I know I have a beautiful bathtub, but I have a phobia. I do not like baths, and I do not take baths.
I’ve been modeling for so long, but now on all my photos people comment things like, ‘You’re the girl who taught me how to wave my hair with a flat iron!’
I always have Coco Mademoiselle by Chanel, which I’m almost out of right now. I’ve been using that for a long time. Gris Dior was what I bought for my wedding—it’s one of Dior’s less popular perfumes, but when my husband and I went shopping together he really liked it. I do too. I still return to it sometimes. What I’ve been wearing most recently is Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge. I smelled it on someone else first, and asked them what it was because I loved it and wanted to smell like that too. I ordered it from Sephora immediately.”
—as told to ITG
Emily DiDonato photographed by Alexandra Genova in New York on March 10, 2020