Conversations: Hung Vanngo On Selena Gomez, Red Carpet Radiance & More
From Selena's lips in "Fetish" to Emily Ratajowski's award season glow, I ask the biggest celebrity makeup artist of the moment to spill some of his beauty secrets.| August 8, 2017
If you’re following Selena Gomez on Instagram – and you probably are, since she’s currently the most followed person on the platform – there’s a high chance that you’ve liked Hung Vanngo’s work at some point. Undeniably one of the most sought-after makeup artists in the business, Vietnamese-born Vanngo’s repertoire includes hundreds of major magazine covers and an extensive A-list clientele comprising Karlie Kloss, Emily Ratajowski, Julianne Moore, Kate Bosworth, nearly every Victoria’s Secret Angel and yes, the mighty Gomez. Oh, and he has over 900K followers on Instagram to boot.
To top all of that off, Vanngo is also the Global Artistry Ambassador at Marc Jacobs Beauty. He may have all these big names tucked nicely under his belt, but considering that his clients almost always make it into the many “Best of Beauty” lists, Vanngo’s work speaks for itself. Remember that sensational orange look Gomez wore to the premiere of Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why? That look is the reason behind the five pots of various orange eyeshadows in my vanity box. Vanngo’s winning quality lies in his beautiful technique. (That, and his super down-to-earth personality.) Whether it is a strong smokey eye, a pair of bold lips or a no-makeup makeup look, like the one in Gomez’s critically-acclaimed “Fetish” music video, the makeup looks he creates always appear so seamless.
I met the wildly talented Vanngo on his recent visit to Singapore for the launch of Marc Jacobs Beauty’s Eye-Conic Multi-Finish Eyeshadow Palette and naturally, I asked him to spill more than a few of his makeup secrets. I mean, it’s not every day that you come face-to-face with one of the biggest celebrity makeup artists of the moment. Grab the pen and paper, ladies.
You come from a humble background – a kid from Vietnam, moved to Canada and worked as a hairstylist in a salon, and then later to New York where you started again, this time as a makeup artist. Now, you have a long list of clients and major magazine covers. How does one get to where you are today?
I just believe in being focused and working hard. One thing I learned form working with these women is that I’ve never met a successful person who is lazy. They can say that they’re chilling, but they’re really working hard.
You’re an advocate of “natural” makeup. What does that mean to you?
I appreciate all kinds of makeup, not just natural makeup. But my aesthetic is, it doesn’t matter if I’m doing a no-makeup makeup look or heavy makeup look, I don’t want to change the person completely. So, you look at the makeup and you should still see that it’s Selena or Emily, for example. I don’t believe that I should transform someone at all. I want to enhance their features, I don’t want to completely change their look.
What goes into creating your signature no-makep makeup look?
Of course, you use 20 different products to create a no-makeup makeup look! A lot of times, my followers don’t understand that and they go, “I clearly see makeup!” The no-makeup makeup look is the ultimate makeup look that everyone wants to achieve, because they look as though they have no makeup on. For me, it’s not just one look. It could be a beautiful brown tone, or a peachy tone. It’s always a tone-on-tone look for me, because I think that looks more natural.
You’re not a fan of over-contouring. How much is too much?
I’m not a fan over-contouring, but I am a fan of blending. So, you can do contouring and highlighting, but as long as you blend it well and it looks seamless, that’s what I am a fan of.
Is my contouring okay?
I think you look great! Love the lipstick colour, too. (Writer’s note: I was wearing Ginger from Kylie Cosmetics.)
I noticed your clients have such a radiant glow on the red carpet. What’s the secret behind it?
Exfoliation is key. Whether you’re in hot or cold weather, taking the dead skin off is important and that alone will make your skin look more radiant. Moisturiser is also your best friend. It keeps your skin healthy and youthful. I also like to use a primer, like the Marc Jacobs Under(cover) Coconut Primer, which feels almost like a serum. I’m currently obsessed with the Marc Jacobs Dew Drops Coconut Gel Highlighter. I just put a little bit into foundation, primer or sunscreen, mix it and it gives skin that natural radiance. That’s all there is to it.
There’s a fine line between looking radiant and greasy, though.
That’s the thing! If the highlighter is too sparkly or too pigmented, that is when you will look greasy. So, the Marc Jacobs Dew Drops, for instance, it feels like water and that hydrates your skin already. (Writer’s note: Hung drops some the Under(cover) Coconut Primer and Dew Drops on my hand and blends it out effortlessly.) You see the glow? It doesn’t look heavy or over sparkly, it’s a nice, healthy glow. It’s suitable for your local weather, but I would still avoid the T-zone.
What about when it comes to the red carpet? How do you keep your clients’ makeup from becoming overly greasy?
I think for red carpet looks, you don’t have much control, because of all the flash lighting and cameras. I powder the T-zone, because that’s where the light hits and looks the most greasy. After that, I’ll pass them some blotting paper to take away the shine where necessary without adding more product onto it.
What about that natural, beautiful flush that your clients all seem to have?
I like to use a bigger brush. If I’m using a blush palette that comprises different tones, like the Air Brush Contouring Powder, I just blend them together and flop the brush on the cheeks in an upward movement. I never go horizontally across the cheek, because it makes the face look droopy.
I never know what to do with a blush brush. I feel that I do it differently every day.
I think it’s easier if you do this: you smile, and you put a little colour on the apples of your cheeks, and then you blend from there.
How do you go about creating the different looks for your clients?
I get inspired by their features. I like looks that suit their individual look. I don’t want to use the same eye shape on different people. If someone has smaller eyes, I think about what I can do to make the eyes open up. If someone has big eyes, I think about what I can do to make it look more almond-shaped. I like to tweak things just a little bit.
What about prepping skin for red carpet makeup?
Whether it is natural makeup or heavy makeup, red carpet makeup or for a photoshoot, I always go through the same steps. I’ll always ask the client to exfoliate first, then I’ll moisturise, prime, put on some eye cream and lip balm. If someone really needs hydration, I’d use a sheet mask. After that, I’ll blot the skin to remove any excess moisture, and then I apply foundation.
Some women worry about putting on too many products before their makeup, because it may cause the makeup to wear off more easily.
No, I think it depends on the products you use. The Coconut Primer, for example, gives a nice canvas. When a product has too much silicon, you will get a cakey finish. It’s also important to remember to keep a light hand.
Let’s talk about Selena’s look in the music video for “Fetish”. How did the look come about and how does it relate to the theme of the music video?
Working with Selena and Petra [Collins], we wanted the look to be really natural and healthy. Petra sent me references of girls with really soft and natural lips, and healthy skin with a lot of freckles. Well, Selena doesn’t have freckles so we had to create them. So, that’s really all there is to the look. I used Marc Jacobs Beauty’s Enamoured Hi Shine Gloss Lip Laquer in French Tickler for her lips.
Now, the main event – the Eye-Conic Multi-Finish Eyeshadow Palette. Which one is your favourite?
We just launched six palettes in a completely new formula from the old shadows and each palette comes in four different textures: matte, pearl, satin and metallic. Each palette also comes with a pop colour, in case someone wants to play up their look. There’s a poem at the back of each palette, too. For myself, I’m attracted to Scandalust.
That’s my favourite as well!
You, too? Everyone says the same thing! I think because the colours appeal to everyone. In Sydney, I used the pink in Provocouture and blue in Smartorial to create two different looks, I just loved how they looked. It’s really hard to pick a favourite, because I love colour. For the everyday woman, however, I think perhaps they will be attracted to Glambition, because it’s a core palette.
How does someone who isn’t used to wearing colours on their eyes ease into these pop colours?
Instead of using heavy colour on the whole eyelid, go for the corners or maybe the centre. You can use coloured eyeliners as well, out from the corners, or on the waterline. The key is to remember to apply some eye primer to create a nice canvas for the product to grab on to. If you do have heavy colour on your eyelids, just go with a soft blush for the face.
What’s your favourite way to apply eye shadow?
I think that if you’re using things like cream blush or anything like it, it’s great to use your fingers because it breaks the product up nicely. But for something like a smokey eye, I use brushes, like these three new brushes – a smudge brush, eyeshadow brush and blending brush – from Marc Jacobs that I think are amazing.
How do you create that seamless eyeliner look? I can’t seem to tell where the eyeliner ends and the eyeshadow in the looks you create for your clients.
I usually apply eyeliner first, then shade it to create depth, then I apply eyeshadow. I blend them really well, then I’ll go again with the eyeliner on the top if I want more a more dimensional look.
I’ve heard that you like to take screenshots of makeup you see on Instagram done by other makeup artists. Are there any social media makeup gurus that you like?
I love to watch beauty YouTubers. Patrick Starr and Manny MUA are fun, Desi Perkins is good. They have their own aesthetic. I love that everyone has their own vision of what makeup artistry should be.
Do you think you’ll start your own YouTube channel?
I don’t know. Maybe one day, I’m not sure, I think it’ll be interesting. I think it’s about managing my time as well, because I don’t want to do anything half-assed, I want to do it in full-force.
What To Read Next: Beauty Wars: We Searched For The Best Primer Ever, 11 Effective Skin Quenchers That We Love (Besides Water) and The Ultra-Smooth Eye Crayon You Didn’t Know Existed | This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Main Image: The Fabulous Collective