Hector Espinal of Fenty Beauty on being inspired by Rihanna, embracing inclusivity and shattering makeup rules
Giving good Fenty face
Fenty Beauty was arguably the biggest makeup brand to launch in 2017. And beyond selling bottles of foundation, what Fenty sold was a sense of inclusivity that resonated with millions of women around the world. From having 40 shades of foundation from the palest ivory to the deepest cocoa, to introducing multi-use products that gave customers the freedom to play with their facepaint, women (and men) were clearly buying what Rihanna was selling to them.
Here to promote the brand's second drop of its 'Beach, Please!' collection, global makeup artist Hector Espinal is a breath of fresh air. Besides creating looks on his own Instagram, beauty tutorials on the brand's YouTube channel, doing the makeup for campaigns, and travelling the world to spread the gospel of Fenty Beauty, the spirited Espinal shares his favourite products and what the customers love most about the brand.
How does it feel to have been hand-picked by Rihanna for this role?
It's surreal, surreal, surreal... I never in a million years thought that I would make it. When I made it to the final three, it it was all three good makeup artists who had been shortlisted. And when I won, I told my mum, "We won", and she was like, "No you didn't", and I was like "I won!" And I get chills about it, and till this day I still can't believe it. When I saw Rihanna after I won, she ran up on me and she hugged me and jumped on top of me, and I was like, "I can't believe that I grew up with your music, and now I am working with you."
Do you know what was the special thing that set you apart?
I think Rihanna goes a lot with connection and energy. I feel like she's a Pisces so she goes on vibes — if she really likes you she does, and if she doesn't... then you know. And I am a Cancer.
Oh I get it. Because my daughter is a Pisces and my husband is a Cancer and I am a Scorpio. We are all water signs, so we get along well. As a makeup artist, what do you think is your signature?
I love the complexion. When I did Rihanna's makeup for the 'audition', I kept it very simple, beautiful and clean which is what the 'Fenty Face' is about. And when I turned her around, I was like "Hey, do you like it?" and she started taking selfies and I think she knew that I knew my base. And as a makeup artist you need to know your base — which is a beautiful, clean look.
When I approached the audition, I didn't want to show off either. I treated her like a friend. I felt like that's what she wanted, so I wanted her to feel comfortable. So I didn't go into it thinking I would go all out. I wanted to give her beautiful Rihanna, and then from there, build to different Rihannas. And I think she saw that.
There has been a phenomenal response to this brand. What has your encounters with the customers been like?
As a makeup artist I can make anything work. I can make mix all these foundation [points to the rows of the Pro Filt'r Foundation] to make different colours. But what I didn't realise was that so many people didn't have the right foundation shade. And I feel like for me, as a makeup artist, being a part of this makeup movement, where anyone, from any culture around the world, no matter what their colour, gender or skin type, can finally have a foundation, is impressive. When I see women coming up to me and they're like, "I finally have a foundation", or even men, like the artist Miguel, who I worked with not too long ago telling me good things. He said, "Dude I love Fenty Beauty".
When you meet the customers, what has been the feedback?
They love the foundation and they ask me how they can use the Match Stix and what else can they do when they see the YouYube videos that I do. Most importantly, what I get from the clients is that they already know what their foundation shade number is. And it's impressive to me because usually customers come in and ask "What foundation do you think I am?"
The brand is known for diversity and catering to all women. Do you see that reflected in the customers base?
Absolutely. It is so different. Like working for Sephora honestly, it is a global brand, and I used to see every woman of every colour, every race, every culture and every religion. But with Fenty Beauty, it is different. The brand is like a comfort. The customers come to you and they are like, "I feel like I am part of the Fenty family." It feels refreshing having even women of different religions that usually cannot talk to men, coming up to me and feeling comfortable doing so.
We all love the Rihanna Glow. So what are some Fenty Beauty products that can achieve beautiful, highlighted skin that is not over the top?
You start with the fresh Fenty Face which is our original step one to creating the look that Rihanna loves. It's all about layering. Layering any formula that feels and looks creamy, so even using the shimmer Match Stix first, and then setting it with powder. These beautiful summer Killawatts are so great because with these you can do all different types of looks and create that glowy effect. So even if it is a blush, or an eyeshadow, it's still glowing.
What are your five, must-have Fenty Beauty products?
The Pro Filt'r Primer — you need to have that. You need to have your Pro Filt'r Foundation. And the Invisimatte Blotting Powder is very important, because if you don't have your blotting, you are going to look oily.
I need to have the Gloss Bomb because I cannot live without that product. It is the best thing ever. And then, I will have to pick the Match Stix. With the Match Stix formula you can do anything: You can do eyeshadow, concealer, contour, foundation and lips. I have a YouTube video about it that you should check out.
What are the key products that we should definitely be getting from the second summer drop, and interesting ways that we can use them?
So this collection is very dear to Rihanna because it has an Arabian summer vibe. The first thing that I would get if I were an outsider is the limited edition products. So you have the Iridescent Lip Luminizer in Summer Daze and Summer Nights, they come already in sets of three lipglosses, with fun names like 'Single', 'Bilingual' and 'Ready To Mingle'. And then you have these cream eyeshadows (the 2-in-1 Liquid Eye Shimmer) that you can use even on the lips if you want, or on the rest of the face. I would get that, for sure, that would be the first thing.
And then these Killawatt Foils in 'Sangria Sunset/Mimosa Sunrise' at first look intimidating because they have fun colours, but you can also use this as a blush. It's good for family weekends or chilling poolside. For the Killawatt if you've noticed, it is called the Killawatt Freestyle Highlighter. So freestyle means you can do whatever you want. You can use it as eyeshadow or on your lips. Rihanna actually used the purple shade from this one (Killawatt Foil in '7 Day Wknd/Poolside') as an eyeshadow and she posted a video on her Instagram.
And will you be able to use the bolder colours on other parts of the face?
Yeah, you can use it on the cheeks as well. The Killawatt Foil in 'Sandcastle/ Mint'd Mojito' was actually used on Rihanna for the Met Gala. Or you can try the Mattemoiselle Lipstick in Candy Venom, and you layer this ('Mint'd Mojito') on top because it's more shiny, it looks very, very holographic.
So the limited editions will not be replenished?
Some have already sold out on Sephora online in Singapore. And they are not going to restock it. The limited edition collection is really a moment for us. So it's like, this is the 'moment'... right now this is what we are feeling.
What do you think will be some new makeup trends in the next year?
Well I think a trend that I've seen all over, like even on the red carpets is the '90s. The sort of wash of colour that is very effortless, where it's like, "Let's party, let's live life."
This collection is very holographic and metallic. When you see this you think about like 1998, being very Carrie Bradshaw from Sex In The City, where she wears a wash of colour. I do see that being a trend in makeup in general — being effortless while still being chic.
What is the advice you give customers or even celebrity clients when they are trying out the Fenty colours?
Honestly I tell all the people, it's just makeup. If you don't like something, you can just take it off and try something else. And with Fenty, more is more — we don't really believe less is more. So play, have fun.
What are the brand's bestsellers?
We really don't know, to be honest with you, because everything sells out. In every part of the world, what we've seen is that the whole brand in general is doing phenomenally. Nothing is doing better than the other, because like what's number one here in Singapore is the same in Europe and New York and L.A.
From your travels, what differences have you seen in the way customers approach beauty?
Before when I used to see clients at Sephora, I could pinpoint — based on their culture or where they lived — what kind of makeup women would like. As a salesperson at Sephora you could tell that customers from the Middle East liked lots of makeup. For European women, it was no makeup. For New York women — we didn't really know, as she likes everything.
With Fenty all of a sudden everyone likes makeup. If you go to Paris, these women love Fenty Beauty, and then you go to New York and they are all wearing it as well. I feel like there has never been a brand that doesn't put you in a box. When you think about other brands, they have a niche. For Fenty Beauty it's like, voom, everything you want we've got. It's fun, it's open, and even as a makeup artist I never realised that women felt so boxed in.
When I think about makeup it should be fun, and something that you play with it. When you were growing up, you probably looked at your mum or your sister putting on makeup and you were like "I want to be able to do that." Why did it go from that to, "Oh I can't wear this colour because it doesn't go with my skin tone." I've always wondered, who taught us that because it doesn't work like that?
Let's say for example you've found this colour, and someone else is a bit lighter-skinned, why can't you both wear the same colour? Does it matter? As long as your foundation matches, it's okay. It's crazy to me that people didn't have that before. Why? Who made that rule? As a makeup artist, I feel you should be able to put anything on your face and body, and if you don't like it, wipe it off.
As a global makeup artist, what are some of your duties besides travelling and making YouTube videos for the brand?
I do development for the brand, a lot of meetings with Rihanna herself, and makeup for the shoots and the campaigns that will be coming up. And also a lot of travelling, meeting the media and meeting great people from different countries and cultures.
Sometimes I'll be like, "Oh maybe I am tired", and then I'll remember Rihanna is working on Savage, Fenty Beauty, Fenty Puma, and then I'll be like, "I'm not tired, it's okay, we're doing fine!" So it's great to see somebody who is the same age as me doing so much and still giving so much of herself.
How involved is Rihanna in creating the looks for the campaigns?
Rihanna is involved in every single step of the way, 120 percent. So if there's a product that we might like, she will first try it, take pictures, and then she might use it for the red carpet.
And then when it comes to campaigns like this one, she's involved in everything because she's a makeup artist and she doesn't want things to feel the same. I consider her a makeup artist 120 percent. That girl knows how to do makeup just as good as me. Did you see the Vogue tutorial that she did? She did her face beautifully. But I feel like in general, she's involved in every single look. If we do a look, she feels she wants something different — remember she's a visionary because she comes from a background of music, and music is a universal language, but at the same time you've got to be different. Everything she does looks different. Even when she dresses herself.
So like when we do something that has been done already, she will add something, and I will say, "Why did you add that colour you just messed up my look?" and she will be like, "No sweetie, I made the look." Then she will walk away and be like, "I love her." But you know it's a different thing, the moment you look at the picture you'll be like... woah!
The models Fenty Beauty chooses are also very diverse compared to the usual ones you see in beauty campaigns. How does the selection process go?
Rihanna actually scouts them. All the models that we have in our campaigns, she has basically built their careers. Like Duckie, Slick, all these girls... nobody knew about them. She has picked these girls whom she felt were obviously gorgeous and unique.
She loves things that are controversial yet good. Like you have nothing else to say besides, "Damn, that's good!" Because now everyone wants Duckie, and everyone wants Slick, and we are like, "Yay!"