The past year for Hector Espinal has been, in one word, "rewarding." As one of Fenty Beauty's global makeup artists, Espinal has traveled the world, painted the faces of Savage x Fenty models before New York Fashion Week, worked on every single Fenty Beauty campaign, and has even done Rihanna's makeup. Oh, and he always knows what the next Fenty product will be before anyone because he works on product development with the brand as well.
Not bad for a guy who was a nanny in New York City a decade ago. "Maybe all the drawing and colouring I did while babysitting helped me to get where I am today," Espinal tells Refinery29.
With a longtime affection for makeup — which began by watching his mother do hers at 5 a.m. before shifts as a waitress and hairstylist in Spanish Harlem — Espinal went from full-time nanny to Sephora employee in 2009 working at a store on the Upper East Side.
Years later, after a few promotions, Espinal was a Sephora Pro on Sephora's own elite artistry team when he first met Rihanna in 2016 at Paris Fashion Week. At the time, he was already a massive fan. "I was literally thinking I was this grown man going through heartbreak listening to 'Unfaithful' in the 5th grade," Espinal says. Looking back on it now, their meeting predicted exactly the kind of work he and Rihanna would end up collaborating on.
"Something went wrong backstage at the show she and I were at," Espinal says. "And I was the only artist back there that had her right foundation, her right shade. I was the one who had it, and who was ready to cater to all different kinds of women and skin tones."
Fast forward a few months later, and Espinal was auditioning to be one of Fenty Beauty's global makeup artists. It was a brutal process, Espinal says, like American Idol but with makeup, with several rounds and challenges for all the artists, including creating looks for the runway and an editorial spread, with the final challenge being doing Rihanna's makeup. (Talk about pressure.)
He remembers her being impressed with how experimental he was, and then he got the job along with Priscilla Ono. While traveling with Rihanna in Dubai earlier this month, she finally revealed exactly why she was so struck by his work. "She expressed that she liked that my work was really global," Espinal says. "There’s no X amount of any race. There's multiple races, multiple skin tones. That's what caught her attention."
That philosophy that beauty should seen through a global lens was one of the more revolutionary aspects of Fenty Beauty's launch last year, with a groundbreaking 40 foundation shades and campaigns that starred models with all different skin tones. For a guy originally from the Dominican Republic, the quest to make makeup more inclusive for all is personal.
"For Latinos and people from the Middle East, we have really rare undertones where we’re very olive or are red because we tan so easily," Espinal says. "I was always mixing colours and my mom would always mix colours. And now we only have one foundation. Like, you saved me 10 minutes of sleep. To see that impact has been so emotional for me."
For every product he helps develop, he makes sure it looks just as vibrant on someone with pale skin, light brown skin, dark brown skin, and so on. Among his favourite Fenty products are the foundations (natch) and the Gloss Bomb, which he uses on his lips and cheekbones for highlight.
"We're going around the globe now and seeing the impact that we have caused," Espinal says. "It’s not like I'm just sitting here and posting on Instagram. I'm meeting women and finally showing them their perfect makeup match. It's truly a reward to be able to do that every day."
As you can imagine, working closely with Rihanna for one year now has been a whirlwind. "No two days are the same," Espinal says. For Rihanna's makeup, when he does it, it's all based on her mood. If she's feeling flirty, he'll go with pink and sparkly shades, and Rihanna's usually pretty clear with what she wants, given that she's got some serious makeup skills herself, which she just showed off in a tutorial.
"I did not know homegirl was such a good makeup artist," Espinal says. "She'll take a brush and put on some highlighter and I'm like, 'Girl are you serious?' Then she's like, 'You're not the only makeup artist here'."
Given that Espinal knows every Fenty Beauty product ahead of its launch, we had to ask: What's to come from Fenty Beauty now in its second year? Espinal told us: "In Rihanna's words, you just have to sit down and wait."