How to Glow Like Nam Vo
"Makeup is like breathing to me."
Nam Vo is the master behind the beauty terms #dewydumpling and #glowjobs. Aside from highlighting the cheekbones of women among the likes of Kylie Jenner and Rosie Huntington-Whitely, she’s quickly risen among the ranks of makeup artists to amass a staggering 140k followers on Instagram. Vo utilizes the platform to demonstrate how to achieve beautiful, dewy and illustrious looking faces in just about 15 seconds, and recently she’s entered a new role – creating eye-popping content behind the scenes of her major beauty campaigns and masterclasses. We talk to the glow god about all highlighter, starting out at a strip club and growing up with an umbrella glued to her hip.
I feel that we always revisit the habits of our childhoods. Did you have anything growing up that you adapt in your routine currently?
Yes, trauma from my mother. It’s so funny, I grew up with Vietnamese immigrant parents and I was born in the United States. It’s really interesting because in Asian culture, skin and even hands – are everything. In Vietnamese culture, people love to look at your hands. When I was little all the fortune tellers would always say “she’s a princess and will never work a day in her life.” I work hard – but I don’t do any like, physical labor. My mom was not a glamorous, vain person and I didn’t grow up around women that were glamorous. But she always hated that she had melasma and sun spots and would always sit me next to her and say “You see these brown spots – do you want brown spots?” Since then, she has traumatized me to stay out of the sun and wear sunscreen. I was made fun of when I was a kid because before I was let off from the bus stop I would start slathering on sunscreen, and then I would walk home with an umbrella. Sometimes it would be a 10-15 minute walk from the bus stop to my house, and once in a while, she would drive by to see if I had my umbrella out. I was always made fun of for it, but now I’m like super psycho when it comes to my skin.
I think I just naturally gravitated to fashion magazines and read about celebrities and watched beauty pageants. It was more nature, it was never nurture – other than having clear skin and not getting sun damage, I was never raised to really worry about beauty too much. I think the Asian immigrant work ethic is really something that’s in my DNA. I always tell people my parents owned a chain of salons and the immigrant hustle was real. If a customer walked in at 7:05pm [they close at 7pm] – do you think they would ever say come back another day? Hell to the no. They’re always like “Nam…I don’t get these American employees because they want their birthday off, they want an hour for lunch…” and the Asian mentality – they’re all about the hustle. I’m a little bit of a princess but when it’s time to hustle – I hustle.
What’s the greatest piece of advice your parents have imparted on you?
Don’t think you’re all that. Because just around the corner there’s going to be someone younger, prettier, harder working so don’t ever get comfortable. And the hustle really never ends. You could be Pat McGrath, and I’m sure she’s still working hard, hustling and looking at the person next to her. It’s not even a competition thing I think – you can never get too comfortable. The number one question people always ask me is if I’m ever going to come out with my own makeup line. It’s a smart question because I’m only going to make so much rolling my makeup kit everywhere. For me, and I might change my mind later – I have to think outside the opulum. Meaning there’s enough great highlighters and makeup in the world – but you’re going to see some stuff coming soon in the dumpling world that’s actually not makeup. Because you have to think outside. And the thing with makeup is that everyone is doing so well, and they’re like big empires of companies. I’m not interested in competing with Estee Lauder, I’d rather create a product that complements beauty.
My money’s on skincare.
No it’s not actually – it has to do with beauty, but it’s nothing you put on your face.
Given your upbringing and background, how did you break into this notoriously challenging industry?
Like many makeup artists, I started working at the mall. I was a MAC makeup girl for years. I was miserable, and the reason was that it wasn’t about doing makeup. At the end of the day, my manager did not ask me “Wow did you make people beautiful today?” – no, it was like “How much did you sell?” – which, I totally understand. Like Oprah, I always say it’s about when preparation meets opportunity. People always say “you’re so lucky, you met this person, you’re so lucky.” But if I was sitting at a cafe next to a famous beauty editor and I was a good-for-nothing makeup artist, it doesn’t matter. You could be at the right place at the right time – but if you’re not the right person for the job, then you’re not lucky.
It’s kind of crazy though for makeup artists because the industry has completely changed – my worries used to be I would roll my makeup kit on set, hope and pray I would do a good job and the art director and producer would rebook me. If I wanted to shoot an editorial for a fashion magazine, my agent would submit my book, I’d say a prayer and hope I’d get a job. Even if they contacted my agency, they would submit 20 portfolios and I’d hope mine would get through. But now the industry has completely shifted – celebrities, magazines, brands – all of that, it all leads back to Instagram.
It cuts both ways. It’s great because Instagram is its own currency. Two years ago I did a video for Bobbi Brown, and it was one swipe of highlighter going off and it went viral. Now when it comes to my Instagram, I ask myself three things before I post a picture: 1 – is it visually stimulating, 2 – if it isn’t, am I offering some education or insight, or 3 – is it something on brand, like a press piece. I used to just post whatever, but now I’m mindful of it because it’s very hard to get a follow now.
For young makeup artists trying to break through that success through Instagram, what advice would you give?
Like I said, beautiful makeup is beautiful makeup. If you’re a glowy girl like me do that. It’s good to have versatility and diversity, but do you to the best of your ability. Share insights and tips! Makeup is like breathing to me. Sometimes people are like “how many times do you swipe the mascara?” and I’m like – what kind of question is that? But I forget because it’s second nature. Also for me – videos perform really well. It’s hard to do [and I’m really bad at this] but answer questions! I try to do 10 a day. If someone asks you for your favorite moisturizer, share tips. Simplifying makeup, not over-retouching and just be you. If your work evokes an emotion from someone, you’re doing something right.
F: Over the course of your expansive career, what has been the most interesting makeup trend you’ve seen?
N: The most interesting trend…maybe is contouring? Word on the street is contour sales are down and the glow is all the way up. I always tell people highlighting is so fun, it does something to you…and maybe this blinding highlight won’t always be in but beautiful skin will always be in. When I was a kid, I was watching this special and they asked people what the one thing that is considered universally beautiful. People were guessing – full lips, big eyes, long eyelashes. None of that is true. In Vietnam, thin lips are beautiful. In some African cultures, wider noses are considered beautiful. Even children recognize symmetry and clear skin as reading beauty. I think I’m going to ride that good skin train forever.
You mentioned that you’ve never had surgical work done and credit good skincare to products and habits. How do you feel about non-surgical skin enhancing treatments?
I sat next to a plastic surgeon one day at lunch and he was like “You 1000% have had your face done.” I was honored! He was confused because when you look at my face when I talk, only my mouth moves. That’s not on purpose – I have Asian stone face. I was like no honey, that’s a GFG – which stands for Gift From God. He was like “your forehead doesn’t move!” and I was like, yeah I trained myself! And I take excellent care of my skin, I’m obsessed with it.
First of all, there is some good work done out there. Second of all, I think that people get really distorted. Sometimes when I’m walking down LA – I’m like woah, it’s almost like a new face – everyone has cheeks and lips. I have nothing against it, but I just see people get one thing done, it looks kind of good and then get carried away, which is so easy to do. I’m more into lasers, they go into dermal level and cause a wound in your skin and then your skin goes into overcompensation mode. I’d probably actually be open to getting Botox and fillers but that’s my last, final alternative. And then I’m going to Korea. They’re like 10 years ahead of us.
Do you think Instagram has fed into that?
Oh, of course, you look at like 17 and 18-year-old girls who’ve already started with the cheeks, the fillers and contour and makeup and contour. That’s why you look at all these heavy makeup brands that were really popular and then all of sudden Glossier came in. It was such a refreshing moment for everyone – it was like here we go, back to being glowy, a little blush and lip balm — not to say that’s everyone M.O. – I love glamour and some lashes and liner too. But I think as a woman, it’s really nice to have fun with beauty – one day you could be a glam girl, then you could go to brunch with some lip balm on. But at the end of the day – the common denominator should always be beautiful, clear skin. A lot of it is DNA and diet, lifestyle. But formulations are stronger than they’ve ever been before, even with skincare lines that are not that expensive have excellent ingredients, like The Ordinary. There are price points and brands for everyone. Beauty is having such a moment and it’s only getting stronger. You’d think the world doesn’t need another highlighter – but apparently, they do because it sells out.
Is there anything else you would like us to know?
I always get up and coming makeup artists asking me how to get started, what career path should I go into etc. At the end of the day – work hard, show up on time and do you. When this heavy, crazy, Instagram makeup trend came out I was like oh no what am I going to do – my makeup is so light – oh my god I need to go take a seminar! I’m really glad I didn’t take that route because sure it might be good to learn how to do one of those crazy makeup looks, but do you to the best of your ability. Be nice to people. Show up on time and don’t be a dick. And you’ll be just fine.