Raised by a beauty school dropout, it was written in the stars that makeup artist Vincent Oquendo would find his way to the Instagram feeds of the Hadid sisters and Hailey Baldwin. But the road to 91,000 followers wasn't as smooth as some might expect. From the sunglasses counter at Saks Fifth Avenue to becoming the BFF to the most famous supermodels in the world, Oquendo's story is nothing short of a mystery and a miracle. Here, he tells writer Samantha Sasso how he got his start, why his clients trust him so much, and exactly what he thinks we should expect of bride-to-be Baldwin on her big day. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Born With A Love For Beauty
My mom was a beauty school dropout. But she never pushed me into the industry like she did my three older sisters. I was her little boy. Still, I always loved making women feel like their best self. That was always part of it for me, even as a child. I would always help my mom with her hair and makeup and was just sort of around and available to assist when she needed me.
Eventually, when I got a bit older, I wanted to get a job at Saks Fifth Avenue because I heard the people there who worked in perfume made $19 an hour. The idea of making that much blew my mind, but I didn't get the job. Instead, I sold sunglasses on the sales floor. That counter just so happened to be right next to the cosmetics department — and I absolutely fell in love.
So, I switched gears and started working at the Stila Cosmetics counter, then moved to Yves Saint Laurent, and finally finished my career at Saks with Bobbi Brown. After working at that counter for four years, I got a chance to work on a shoot for America's Next Top Model as an assistant. There, photographer Mike Rosenthal saw potential in me and requested that I do the makeup for his shoot on Cycle 13 of the show in Vegas. I got to do the makeup all on my own and that caught the attention of Pat McGrath.
A Behind-the-Cover Star
About four years after that, I got the opportunity to do the cover of W magazine with Jessica Chastain around the time she was starring in Zero Dark Thirty. I landed the job thanks to my connection with the artist designing the shoot, Mickalene Thomas. I'd worked with her before, doing the makeup for some of her pieces, which was tremendous. Looking back, I know now that my work is immortalized in her art, but getting that cover in 2012 was bittersweet. I had just landed the biggest magazine cover in the country and had no jobs lined up after the fact. I was a mystery, a complete unknown to publicists and photographers. I had to build my career from the ground up from there. No one really wanted to take a chance on me — until they did.
I remember in the beginning of social media, I was in Paris with Jen Atkin. We were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, assisting McGrath and Guido Palau respectively. We both realized fairly early on that we had to create a brand and a voice of our own. We had to give our fans — before we even had fans — a peek behind the curtain. It's been that that's made me so successful. I've been able to curate a voice on social media, so people understand me. It's like opening a magazine: There's a distinct tone and style you notice. My feed is about establishing that. For example, I'll take Polaroids and lay them on a textured background, or use black and white filters. Whatever it is, it's unique to me.
The Model Man
No one knew me, but I knew the models. I knew them from working backstage at the fashion shows. And because of the resurgence of the supermodel around 2014, these women were getting more and more red-carpet opportunities. So, they'd text me, asking me to do their makeup. Fast forward to now, the supermodel — and the Instagram supermodel — are really having a huge moment.
Eventually, I met Bella and Gigi Hadid, then Kendall Jenner when she was first breaking out on the scene. I was also introduced to Hailey Baldwin when she was working on the ad campaign for Tommy Hilfiger’s fall ’16 with model Lucky Blue Smith. I'd actually worked with her cousin Ireland before working with her, which just shows how deep the roots run in this industry. Hailey was relatively unknown then — it was just before she was with IMG — and she was pretty green to the world.
Pushing Makeup To The Max
Working with Hailey is all about trust. I'm one of the few makeup artists that she works with who pushes her to try the kind of looks she wears. I think it's because we've known each other for so long that I can get her to try wildly-colored shadows and lipstick, like at the Brit Awards this year. That crazy, blue detail was so unexpected. We'd been having conversations about it all week. Then, we did it. It was thrilling because it was something brand-new.
Hailey is very, very, adventurous. When she calls me, it's when she wants to try something, when she's feeling adventurous, when she wants to push the boundaries a little bit. In New York earlier this year for the Tiffany & Co. Paper Flowers event, I originally did a very demure and natural makeup look on her. Then, she looked at herself, looked at me and said, "How about we do a little more purple?"
I can't think of a time she's pushed back and said "no" when I've suggested trying something new. Sure, sometimes there's coaxing to warm her up to the idea, but she's never said, "No, I don't want to try that." It's really a testament to her wanting to make something memorable. She's always been fearless in that sense.
His Skin-Care Secrets: Stem Cells & Eye Drops
When I did the blue lip look, there was so much prep work for her skin. Because when you do a navy-blue lip, it cools down the skin and makes everything look paler. Normally, I always paint her warmer, but I had to double what I usually do for this one. First, I used the Kevyn Aucoin Liquid Contour Wand, then pressed in the Benefit Cosmetics Hulu Cream Contour Stick. Over that I used both the dark and light colors in the Charlotte Tilbury Bronze and Glow to sculpt her cheekbones. Finally, I topped that off with the Giorgio Armani powder blush. It's a lot like a recipe. It's layering and layering — and that's just the makeup. Her skin is all about the prep and prime before that.
My formula is simple. I love Dr. Barbara Sturm's Facial Scrub as a first step. Then, I use her Deep Hydrating Face Mask that I'm totally obsessed with. After that, I recommend using a serum. I love Georgia Louise's Stemcell Renewal Elixir because it adds even more luster to the skin. Then, I use Shiseido's Waso Mego Hydrating Cream as the base for the makeup — it's perfect. I also always use Lumify Eye Drops to brighten the eyes and reduce any redness. The last thing I do is use Bite Beauty's Agave Lip Mask and Sugar Scrub. At this point, she has baby skin. If someone is dehydrated, their lips are chapped, eyes are red, it will take away from the look. So, I always gift my clients a goodie bag of skin-care products for them to use when I'm not around. I do that because it's all this cumulative stuff over time for them to do when I'm not with them. That's what makes the makeup so good. I could add a glowy powder to their faces until my fingers fall off, but the skin needs to be polished underneath first. With my clients, including Hailey, I've only had to use concealer after all the lotions and the potions because they already look their best without the makeup.
And although I wouldn't feel comfortable predicting Hailey's bridal look, I will say she's going to want to feel like herself. I don't know if it'll be a moment for a big look for her. I think she's going to be no different than any other bride and just want to feel and look like her best self.