Mai Quynh doesn’t like to follow the rules. When asked how she feels about the preponderance of East Asian beauty rituals in Western culture—particularly the glass-skin trend (complexion so flawless and dewy it looks like crystal)—the celebrity makeup artist and La Prairie partner is quick to note that the look isn’t one size fits all. “If you’re super pale, go with it,” she says. “But if you’re pale and you want to be tan, it’s going to be a lifelong struggle—you’re always going to be self-tanning.”
While Quynh, whose clients include Chloë Grace Moretz and Scarlett Johansson, is an expert at what works and what doesn’t, it wasn’t until her early twenties that she realized what would work for her career-wise. When it comes to makeup, she says, “everyone’s unique and they should work with what they have instead of trying to be someone else.” But when it came to her future, it wasn’t as straight-ahead as applying the right shade of lipstick.
When Quynh was in junior high, one of her friends’ mothers was a beauty consultant for Jafra Cosmetics and told her to take whatever products she wanted. “I didn’t even know what colours worked for me,” she says of her 13-year-old self, “but I would go HAM on my face.” And with a predilection for painting, whether on skin or canvas, she thought she’d give art school a go post-secondary. “Apparently they have projects that are due when they’re due,” she says. “And I was like, ‘No, I kinda wanna paint when I feel like it.’” So she waited tables instead, during which time her father, who had moved from Vietnam with her mother and studied to become an engineer, vocalized his hope for her (a collective hope among parents): “I just want you to figure out what you want to do.” When he died, she thought, “What am I doing with my life?”
In Quynh’s search for what she wanted to pursue, one of her friends suggested makeup school. Apart from a childhood informed largely but the supermodels of the 1990s, which translates to the face as earthy nudes—“I was like, ‘Let’s just brown everything, brown this, brown that,’” says the Los Angeles beauty, “there was a lot of brown”—Quynh didn’t know what it meant to be a makeup artist. “So I went to school and I learned everything and eventually figured it out.”
Did she ever. Her work has since appeared in the pages of magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, and Marie Claire, and has walked the red carpet on the faces of Emma Stone, Julianne Moore, and Jessica Paré. Her talent even caught the attention of the Swiss luxury skin care and cosmetics line La Prairie, and she speaks today at a New York City event promoting the brand’s new Skin Caviar Essence-in-Foundation: a silky hydrating emulsion compact with an easy sponge applicator that boasts flawless coverage and a natural finish.
The Essence-in-Foundation, which contains caviar extract, caviar water, and SPF 25, can be worn alone or as part of a more elaborate cosmetic routine; because at the end of the day, makeup is whatever the wearer wants it to be. “There are no rules,” Quynh says without missing a beat, when asked to share her best beauty advice. “You can do whatever—whatever makes you happy.” Suffice to say, she paints when she feels like it.
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