We chat with Selena Gomez’s makeup artist, Hung Vanngo
The man behind the makeup
"I'm now one degree of separation from Selena Gomez," a fellow beauty journo declares gleefully. "He knows her, and I know him."
Clearly, that was one of the most important takeaways from the evening at the ArtScience Museum where Marc Jacobs Beauty (MJB) commandeered the floor in honour of its brand new Eye-conic eyeshadow collection launch. And the 'he' in question is none other than Hung Vanngo, celebrated beauty pro with a resume spanning 500 magazine covers and countless A-list red carpet commissions. His clientele — interchangeable with 'BFF circle' — includes famous names such as Gisele Bündchen, Katy Perry, face of MJB Kaia Gerber, every single Victoria's Secret Angel and (duh) Selena Gomez.
A quasi-superstar in his own right, the Vietnamese-Canadian makeup artist was on a whirlwind tour that saw him globehop from L.A. to Sydney to Singapore in anticipation of MJB's exciting fall makeup collection. Taking the stage to thunderous applause — obviously, Vanngo's got a local fanbase — the humble pro demo-ed two gorgeous, statement looks to a rapt audience that showed off the intensity and versatility of the Eye-conic shadows, on top of his makeup expertise. So strong was his game that in the post-presentation mingling, you'd be hardpressed to grab some facetime with Vanngo as everybody clamoured for selfies and the occasional autograph.
But the beauty gods have decreed that Buro was meant to interview the makeup genius, and with the stars aligning for us, we had a sit-down with Vanngo in the cosy setting of his suite and got to talking all things beauty and why passion is the key to everything.
As a global artistry ambassador, what are some of the most exciting projects that you have worked on? How did you come to work with the brand and with Marc Jacobs?
I got to know the brand about two years ago. That was when I first met everyone at Marc Jacobs, at the event for the Velvet Noir mascara, and that's how the relationship started. But the opportunity to be the ambassador came last year and we didn't make it official until March this year, so it's actually still pretty new.
Incidentally, I'm also the type of person where I don't want to be an ambassador if I don't believe in the brand. It's important for me because when I'm sitting here talking to editors and representing the brand, I really have to believe the philosophy, and really love the products and what they do. Otherwise, there's no point for me. It was only after doing research and trying everything, as well as understanding MJB's future plans that I was on board with this partnership.
What is your approach to makeup in terms of creating looks for different mediums? For example, television or film compared to live performances and editorial/cover shoots versus real life appearances? How do the techniques and products you use differ?
I don't think I use the products differently. What's different in terms of approach is the controlled environment. So when I do a photoshoot, I have to understand the lightning and how everything is manipulated. You have to know how everything looks and how the control of the lightning is going to affect the makeup. For instance, when you do makeup for the red carpet, you have to understand how the celebrities are going to be photographed and how the photographs will turn out due to the flash. So the products are the same, it's just the application going on a bit differently.
And there's also a difference when you do makeup on a model for a photoshoot because they're a canvas and you're working with a concept. Compared to when you work with a celebrity for red carpets or music videos, you're working with a personality. That's when you have to learn how to communicate with them and convince them that's the look they should go for.
Honestly, in order to be a successful makeup artist for both situations you really have to understand the lighting. It's not just about makeup on its own. Because you can do a gorgeous look, but if it's meant for a shoot and not for the red carpet, the glow for the photoshoot can look greasy on the red carpet. You have to know how much you need to powder or where you set the makeup.
What is your approach when you work with celebrities like Selena Gomez or Katy Perry? How do you bring out their beauty, yet push them to try something different?
I always work with a team. I don't believe that it's all about my makeup. If I'm getting a celebrity ready for the red carpet and I think a strong look shouldn't be the statement, then it shouldn't be. It could be the clothes or the hair; I have no problem playing down the makeup. But if I think it ought to be a statement look because the clothes are more muted and they need a little kick with the makeup, then I will put the idea out there.
It's really about having to work with a team and understanding what would be best for the whole look, not just the makeup on its own. So I always consider the outfit they wear and then we [the team] discuss it together. It's a whole package. I don't think you can do well in this business if you walk in there and you say, "It's all about my makeup". That's not true. That's why sometimes you see I'll do very natural makeup and sometimes I do a strong eye or strong lip. It's because we all agree that's the look the talent needs.
Are there any famous faces you particularly like working with? Why?
I really love everyone that I'm working with right now. I'm not being diplomatic, I just think at this point in my career I shouldn't work with people whose company I don't enjoy. It's the same thing partnering up with Marc Jacobs. If I really don't like the product, I don't think I should work with them because if you keep doing something you don't love, it will show in your work.
This goes for the talent too. If I don't love them, I shouldn't do their makeup. I mean, I'll try it out but if there's no chemistry there, I shouldn't work with them because I won't perform as good. And I think regardless of what you do, it's important you're passionate about it. There has to be that fit, you know? Of course, at the beginning of my career, you suck it up and you do it but the older I get the more I realise I perform best when I'm really passionate about what I do!
What are three of your favourite Marc Jacobs Beauty products and can you tell us a tip for each on how we could use them for everyday?
First is the Dew Drops Coconut Gel Highlighter. I like this because the pigment is so fine. It's not like other highlighters on the market where you see so much sparkle. I like because I can mix it with moisturiser, foundation, body cream, face cream, sunscreen — it's endless! And it looks like a lit-from-within glow; it doesn't look like you've put on highlighter. I love it and it's my go-to. I use it on the face, body, everywhere. I think it's even sold out in the US in most places.
The second product I love is the Velvet Noir mascara. It's truly one of the best mascaras out there. I think it's amazing as it gives tons of volume, especially for Asian lashes since we tend to have shorter lashes, and we aren't privileged like other people... I can say this without being racist! (laughs) Since I'm Asian myself and I know that Asian women don't have the luxury of having long, lush lashes. So this is perfect for giving tons of volume and length to the lashes. It's just great, and it's also the first product that got me into the brand. This mascara was the one that started everything.
The third item is my newest favourite: The new Eye-conic eyeshadow palettes. They're so saturated and I love that each palette comes with four different textures. There's matte, satin, pearl and metallic finishes, and each shadow is so pigmented and easy to blend, which is great because in order to create a beautiful smoky eye, you need more than just one texture to create depth. With more finishes, the possibility to create all sorts of smoky eye looks with this palette is endless. You could even do a neutral eye first — and because each palette has a pop colour — then use the pop shade to play it up. So they're really perfect for everyone and with all these textures, there's a lot you can experiment with.
What are some hot makeup trends you're seeing right now and which do you think will take off?
When it comes to trends, I think people are more willing to experiment with colour. I find with just a little more colour, it really uplifts the face. A great way to start is to use a coloured eyeliner in the corners or in the lashline. I think it's a nice change from your typical black or brown. And now you also see people picking up tips and tricks on learning how to create that flawless skin, as well as the 'no makeup' makeup look. The trend for beautiful skin is always in. A bold, red lip is also always beautiful, plus MJB has a great range of red lipsticks to get the look. I think this is a timeless trend for everyone, really.
If you could change one thing about the way women did their makeup, what would it be?
I won't necessarily say it's wrong, but it's the choice of foundation. It needs to be blended in more! I know we always want the shade that we don't have — you know, perhaps you want to have lighter skin or to look more tanned. Yes, you can choose a shade that's a bit lighter or darker, so long as you blend it down the neck so it looks seamless. For me, applying foundation doesn't stop right at your jawline; it stops where your clothing's neckline opens up. I always get people complimenting me saying, "Oh, your client looks so airbrushed!" and that's because my foundation goes all the way to where the skin is showing. So even when you wearing a low-cut dress, your foundation should go all the way down to get that seamless, airbrushed look.
Men and makeup are taking off in a big way. What are some simple products a man can incorporate into his daily routine to make him look more polished, but not necessarily made up?
I think every man should use a little highlighter. I mean, since majority of men don't really take good care of their skin as much as women, their complexions always look a little flat. So just a little bit of highlighter mixed into the moisturiser will have them looking healthier. I'm not wearing it today but sometimes I do put a little bit into my moisturiser, especially when I'm feeling more tired. I think it just makes you look more awake.
Hmm... and bronzer too. To me, men look healthier with a bit of bronzer. I know a lot of people prefer pale skin but dusting on a little bronzer can make a big difference. You'll look like you spend time out in the sun and have a strong, healthy appearance.
What about brows? Should men aim to perfect their brows too?
Well, I like men who are well groomed, but that's just my aesthetics (laughs). But it's different for every individual, though I would advise to use a little brow gel to tame the hairs at least.
The Marc Jacobs Eye-conic Multi-Finish Eyeshadow palettes and fall 2017 collection are available at all Sephora stores from 16 August. To follow Hung Vanngo on Instagram, click here.