How Much Does Diversity in Beauty Matter?

From doing makeup for state attorneys to holding court backstage at New York Fashion Week, Jessica Santoni has a lot to say about the beauty industry—and some super-helpful makeup tips for you.

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In order to be one of the best makeup artists in the game, you need to have range—the ability to work with any client, for any occasion—and Jessica Santoni is one such guru. She's powdered the noses of everyone from high-fashion models to Marilyn Mosby, the State's Attorney for Baltimore, MD. She's also behind many of the looks you see on reality TV, making sure the "real" women you see on screen always look fresh.

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We caught up with Santoni backstage at NYFW, where she was working as lead makeup artist for Pyer Moss's fall 2017 show.

One thing Kerby Jean-Raymond [the designer behind Pyer Moss] is known for is diversity, not only in his model casting, but with the topics he tackles in his collections. You've worked with many women of color. What are your thoughts on diversity and beauty, and what changes have you seen over the years in the industry?

There has absolutely been a shift toward [having] models of all complexions and ethnicities on the catwalk. We're not just seeing skinny, white models walking anymore. Designers are looking for men and women of color with different eye shapes, skin complexions, and sizes. Why would you have your brand or runway showcase anything else?

Over the past year, many models of color have revealed that artists often do not know what to do with their skin, and that they aren't always presented in their best light. Shouldn't every artist be trained in a range of complexions?

Getting the lip color just right for the Pyer Moss show. Photograph courtesy of Monica Schipper/Getty Images
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100 percent! When I got into artistry, I trained as much as possible before I went out and called myself a makeup artist. It was really important to me to be knowledgeable about all complexions and skin types, because if you're going to hold that title, you should be able to work with [all tones, from] the fairest to the darkest.

"No model should ever feel like he or she needs to carry their own foundation because the makeup artist backstage doesn't know how to work with their complexion."

No model should ever feel like he or she needs to carry their own foundation because the makeup artist backstage doesn't know how to work with their complexion. But things are moving in a better direction, and artists are seeking out more education on working with all complexions.

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You've worked with some amazing women, Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby and television personality Vanessa Simmons among them. What have you learned from working with such powerful and successful women?

Santoni poses for a selfie with Mosby! Photograph courtesy of @jessicasbeautychair/Instagram

It's really inspiring to be around women who are taking a stand and taking charge. They're not afraid to go out into a male-dominated industry and say "no" to all of the boxes society tries to place them in. These women are strong about making a way for themselves and others. It wasn't long ago when our "place" was only thought to be taking care of the children. Now, we can have amazing and fulfilling careers. It's all about a balance between your personal life and your job.

And you're one of the go-to artists for reality TV, which is so cool. We all know that these women are wearing makeup, but it's kind of a mystery as to who is doing it, or if they're applying it themselves. Has it been smooth sailing behind the scenes?

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The main thing when working on reality TV is being prepared and ready for what will change. I've adjusted to it. Sometimes our schedule doesn't go as planned and our location changes, but I'm good at shifts in environments.

Is everyone cool? A lot of people give off a diva persona on camera, but are they nice when you're actually working with them?

I'm fortunate in that everyone I've worked with is really nice. I haven't had any issues with anyone, but it's definitely important to know your place. I'm a makeup artist for hire, which means I'm not here to jump in the drama. I do my job, speak when I'm spoken to, and know my role.

"It wasn't long ago when our 'place' was only thought to be taking care of the children. Now, we can have amazing and fulfilling careers."

Are there any tips for looking great on camera, or for selfies?

Full coverage is a good starting point because that will absolutely show through in strong lighting. You also want more of a matte coverage because anything that's wet or glossy will appear as sweat on camera. There's also a difference between an everyday, "running to the grocery store" nude and a TV nude. You need to make sure the latter shows up under the lights, because it can easily get washed out.

Since we're here backstage at Pyer Moss, could you tell us a little bit about the makeup for the show and how you achieved the look?

A model on the Pyer Moss fall 2017 runway, which Jessica Santoni did the makeup for. Photograph courtesy of Brian Ach/Getty Images

The makeup look is very natural: dewy, hydrated skin. We definitely wanted to go for some coverage and use colors that complement every complexion and skin tone. The eyes and the lips are matte, and there's not too much highlight. Natural beauty is the goal.

See more of Santoni's life and work on Instagram at @jessicabeautychair!

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