“This is my second career. My first career, I worked in educational reform at various nonprofits that provided services and training to low income schools, specifically teachers and administrators. I worked in every kind of school setting you could think of, from preschool to high school. Eventually, I was working with a principal and she was opening a new charter school in the Bronx, and she asked me if I wanted to come on and be the COO of her school, essentially, you’re a vice principal. Eventually, I really got to the point where the institutionalized prejudice, racism, classism was just a brick wall I kept banging my head against. I had very specific ideas and I was constantly met with no’s. I felt kind of like those memes where there’s a final boss, and I had gotten there, and I was just like, ‘You know what? This isn't the way. This isn’t how I’m going to effect change.’
I decided to change careers. During that time, I was also doing stuff on the side, always. One of my friends, Raul Lopez from Luar, was doing shows, and so I started producing his shows. Also, I started lightly styling and creative directing stuff and just dipping my toe into a number of different projects, just to see what I liked. When I decided to leave my job, it was a huge deal. I didn’t even tell my family, because everyone would’ve been in shock. I did my master’s degree in early childhood education, I was all in. Then I just started freelancing, and I was doing literally everything. I was doing set design, I was doing styling, I was PAing. I started doing everything I could do to understand more about the [fashion] industry.
Then, a few months in, I went for an interview at Dover Street Market. I was interviewing to work in the store, but when I went in, the manager was looking at my resume and was like, ‘So, what is it you want to do?’ And I was like, ‘What do you have?’ He asked me about what I do well and it turned out that there was a vacancy for Special Projects Manager of Installations in the store. So I got hired for that. That was my first real job after changing careers. Also, simultaneously, I worked at Comme des Garçons. That was an incredible time. I was installing different pieces for Rei [Kawakubo] directly, so talking to her, emailing with her, was very surreal and inspiring. Also, working with cool young brands because Dover Street does a lot with new, young designers.
After almost two years I left Dover Street, and I started working with Travis [Gumbs], and we worked on this project called Maroon World, which was a zine of our art. It was really just a personal project that we wanted to put out there because Travis also comes from a fashion background. We had both worked with clients, brands, who wanted to get a person of color to come in and consult and give them an eye and give them a look and give them the feel, but would say insane things to us, which everyone now recognizes as passive aggressive comments and microaggressions. But at the time, in the industry, you roll your eyes and keep it moving.
We were greatly inspired to shoot content that was specifically for BIPOC, and we worked with BIPOC talent. The zine came out in 2016. Then, as a result, we effectively became a creative agency and started getting approached by brands. Travis is a photographer, and I’m a creative director, so we worked together for many years in that capacity, up until now. I also have started to direct, creative direction and direction are the main things I’m focused on right now. I think the tie-in is that my first career was dedicated to helping kids and families, and I think that has carried greatly into the work I do now, because what I’m dedicated to is telling stories from our community that don’t often get told.
For me, I often think of that meme that says, ‘When did you realize that you weren’t ugly, you just grew up surrounded by white people?’, I felt that way for a lot of my life. I felt like I was uncomfortable with the way I looked, or just wanted something different when I looked in the mirror. I think that really coming to accept myself, accept my culture, was the key for me in recognizing that the type of beauty that I aspire to and that I celebrate within my work. The whole world is inspired by the kind of beauty that I grew up with, it was often called ‘ghetto’ or ‘weird.’ I can think of a million things: ‘chola’ makeup, the rimming of the outside of your lips with a dark liner, the cat eye, long nails, wearing all of the gold jewelry… All of those kinds of things that were frowned upon and weren’t seen as chic are now being copied by people all over the world.
For me, I always felt it was beautiful, but in the context of being judged by others or by societal norms, I often felt ashamed of where I was from and the way that we looked, even though I thought it was cool. Once I came to accept that, that’s when I really came to appreciate myself. Now that I’m very comfortable with myself, flaws and all.
I used to have a very long skincare routine. It had a lot of products that had retinol and a lot of stronger ingredients. I got pregnant and had to figure out what products I could use, and there’s this website called 15 Minute Beauty, where you can enter any product you use and it’ll tell you whether or not that product is safe for pregnancy or breastfeeding. I ran a bunch of my products through it, and I couldn’t use a lot of them. Now, my routine is pretty “natural,” because I still want to use products that are safe for my body and for my child. It’s so pared down as opposed to before.
Sometimes it’s dry here, so I don’t want to wash my face with soap in the morning. I’ll maybe spray it with rosewater. I always use a toner, I use Circumference Active Botanical Refining Toner. I love them so much. People talk about pregnancy cravings. When I was pregnant, I would crave the Vital C Antioxidant Day Serum. I couldn’t wait for my face routine. So I use their toner, and then I use SK II Essence. I’m a huge SK II fan. I love their essence. I often get asked, ‘Does it really work?’ Yes—I notice a major difference in the way my face feels when I don’t use it. The worst is when I’m rushing and I get to the cream phase, and I’m like, ‘Fuck! I forgot to put on the essence!’ And I’m so pissed at myself. Then, I’ll use the Vital C serum, and then I’ll use the Circumference Moisturizer, and also their Pure Balancing Botanical Face Oil.
Sometimes I don’t wear makeup when I’m working from home and don’t have to do a video call, I’ll do a face mask during the day, depending on the weather. Here [in Mexico City], it’s a really dry period, so I’ll do a lot of moisturizing masks during the day. If I wear makeup, I’ll do a double cleanse. Depending on how crazy I went that day with the beat, if it’s a really intense beat, I start with African Black Soap. I love, love, love that soap. I can’t find it here, so I buy huge bars and bring it back from New York. TSA is probably like, ‘What the hell? Is she gonna sell this?’ So I start with that first to take everything off, and then I do a second round with the Circumference Daily Regenerative Gel Cleanser. On days where I only did concealer and stuff, I’ll use the Koa Daily Face Cleanser and then use the Circumference Cleanser again. I’ll do that, I’ll do toner again, I’ll do SK-II Essence.
At night, I like to use the Odacité Ma + N Elasticity Serum Concentrate. I love stuff that smells really earthy, and all of their products smell so good. Then I put on the Circumference Moisturizer. Sometimes I alternate with Sunday Riley’s Juno Oil. I also love to use my SolaWave Wand. I especially love the wand under my eyes. I feel like it really depuffs. I’ll use it before I go to sleep, and then sometimes in the morning, if I sleep on my face too much. I try not to sleep on my face, but that’s really hard.
During the pandemic, I was looking at the best, most expensive face oils, and I made a spreadsheet of every product and their active ingredients. Then, I cross-referenced the spreadsheet to see what were the active ingredients that were coming up again and again. Then, I bought all of those oils. Let me take a step back: this was while my husband was getting really into herbs, and so he was like, ‘You should do this.’ That’s what prompted it. He was like, ‘You should look into all the face products.’ Then, he bought all the oils, and he made this insane face oil. But then, life picked up again. He hasn’t made it since, but I remember that oil with hearts in my eyes. During the pandemic, people were making bread, and we were making face oils.
After I do my face routine, I’ll put Noto Botanics Rooted Oil all over my neck and shoulders and hair. That’s my favorite scent. I don’t even want to tell y’all because I love it so much. [Laughs]
For me, I often think of that meme that says, ‘When did you realize that you weren’t ugly, you just grew up surrounded by white people?’, I felt that way for a lot of my life...I think that really coming to accept myself, accept my culture, was the key for me in recognizing that the type of beauty that I aspire to and that I celebrate within my work.
I usually wear concealer, and I’ll do an eyebrow and some blush, but sometimes I’ll do a full beat if I’m shooting or if I’m going to go to a party or something like that. Mainly, I use Fenty. I’m a Fenty girl. Rihanna can have my coins. I also love Pat McGrath, and Glossier. Those are my three. From Fenty, I’ll use everything—concealer, foundation, blush, eyeshadow. I love Glossier Cloud Paint, it’s my go-to. That’ll be my base, and I love mixing them because you get a lot of pretty colors. On top of that, I’ll layer the Fenty highlight blush. From Pat McGrath, I love her lip stuff. Lipsticks, lip creams, lip glosses, I love all of it. All of my brushes are Fenty as well. For brows, I use Anastasia Beverly Hills and then Glossier Boy Brow. Sometimes, I get them laminated, so when I do that, I also use this waxy pomade that keeps them up.
I get my eyelashes done. I do individual ones. I like to get it done because I am so tired and it really just opens your eyes and makes you feel put together. It makes me feel put together in such a simple way. There’s a place here that I go to that I love, that does it really naturally so that it doesn’t look like I’m ready to go out when I’m dropping my son off at school. For me, it’s a game changer.
I love the Koa Hinoki Citrus Body Cleanser. It also smells really delicious. I lived in Hawaii for a few years because I did my master’s [degree] there. I love their products so much because their smells are so reminiscent of Hawaii. I love Nécessaire, their Sandalwood Body Wash, and their Eucalyptus one. I also love this Mexican brand called Xinu. They don’t actually make body wash, but I use their hand wash sometimes, just because the smell is so ridiculous. When I get out, I usually do coconut oil with a few squirts of Everyday Oil. It smells so good. If I were to use it as a moisturizer, I’d have to pour the entire bottle over my whole body, because it’s so dry. I like to mix it, and I do the same thing for my son. When I give him his little after-bath massage, I use the Aveeno Baby Formula Cream and then I’ll squirt some Everyday Oil in it. He likes it a lot.
I am definitely very addicted to getting my nails done. I’ve been doing it for fifteen years at least. One time I didn’t have them because I was taking a break, or I couldn’t get an appointment or something. My friend was like, “This is the first time I’m ever seeing your hands without nails.” One of my best friends in New York did my nails for ten years, Naomi Yasuda, and she’s incredible. Here, I have a girl named Zai Vega, and she has been doing really incredible work and is an up and coming nail artist here. I always just get a sheer white nail. But when Naomi and I first started, I would do crazy nails with a chain hanging off, or it would look like I dipped my fingers in diamonds… All that kind of stuff. Now, it’s really impractical for me to have designs or super insane nails, just because I’m constantly with my son.
I get my hair done at Paprika, it’s a hair salon in Mexico City. She fills in my blonde on top, which I started because I had so much gray. I was tired of dyeing it. Eventually, I just want to let it grow out so the gray can do its thing, because I think that looks so beautiful. For products, I use Davines products. I use the Love line for curly and wavy hair in the shower. I use their shampoo and conditioner. I also use one of those purple shampoos, because my hair is blonde. Then, I use Melanin’s leave-in conditioner as a styling product. It’s so incredible. All three of us use it. We put it on our son, Travis uses it on his beard. We’re constantly using it and running out all the tme.
I don’t heat style. At night, if I want to have the bangs that I have sometimes, I’ll just take a shower, and then I put it how I want it, and then I wrap it tight so it can do that. Otherwise, I just let it be natural. Especially because it’s colored, I don’t want to put any heat on it."
-- As Told to ITG
Cynthia Cervantes Gumbs photographed by Travis Gumbs in Mexico City.