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Naoko Scintu is the celebrity make-up artist who hates contouring

From Cindy Crawford to FKA twigs and Charli Howard to Dua Lipa, the London-based make-up artist is the go-to for starlets and supermodels who want her signature glow

From digital artists to photographers, body sculptors and hair stylists to make-up and nail artists, in our Spotlight series, we profile the creatives tearing up the rulebook in their respective industries.

“I’ve always had the same idea: paired back make-up and making the best of what you have,” says London-based make-up artist Naoko Scintu on her understanding of beauty. Being half-Japanese and half-Italian, her happy medium between the extremities of the super pale skin and super tan skin sought after in those cultures is healthy-looking, just like the sports people she admires. 

After discovering beauty editorials on the pages of recycled glossy magazines, Scintu’s art foundation lead her to London College of Fashion where she honed her talent and love of make-up to succeed as an industry professional. She hasn’t really stopped working since, switching from editorial to show to red carpet and more without missing a creative beat, making dewy, glowy skin for all skin tones her signature. 

Having worked with FKA twigs, Cindy Crawford, and Bella Hadid in the past, Scintu credits joining the Wall Group as a turning point in her career due to their “massive celebrity influence.” From a Replay ad with footballer Neymar and model Emily Ratajkowski to painting a swimsuit on Charli Howard in silver bodypaint to the SS20 Burberry show with Lily James, all of Scintu’s major beauty moments are documented and sometimes product-tagged on her Instagram feed. 

Her famous clientele only continues to grow thanks to her dedication to making them all look like the best versions of themselves. “I’ve never liked to change the way someone looks but to enhance one’s beauty,” she says. “I’m not into heavy contouring and the explosion of ‘Instagram’ make-up is far from what my idea of beauty is but each to their own.” 

Here we caught up with Scintu to talk through her beauty journey, red-carpet tricks, and how she’s keeping it real.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up? 

Naoko Scintu: Camden is an amazing place to grow up – running around Parliament Hill Fields, Hampstead Heath, on Primrose Hill and in Regent’s Park playing with conkers and hedgehogs. I spent a lot of time in the food market on Camden High Street in the late 80s as my parents had a spaghetti stall.

Do you remember the first time you were conscious of your appearance?

Naoko Scintu: Honestly, I don’t really remember not being conscious or aware of my appearance but in a very neutral way. I don’t know how I would have coped if I was born in the era of Instagram and social media, it must be so challenging for young people.

Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?

Naoko Scintu: Italians love to be really tanned and bake themselves in the sun, while the Japanese love to be super porcelain and white, which I thought was really strange when I went to Japan. Friends would walk around with a parasol and wear really long sleeves and I would be baking myself in the sun. I like freckles, being golden and having some texture on the skin. My older sister is a sculptor and her influence has been realistic personal beauty. Never polished, always a bit rough and gritty.  

Why are you a make-up artist? 

Naoko Scintu: At a very young age my father told me to do something I really loved. Every Saturday morning in the late 80s and early 90s, my mum would take us to the recycling centre in Camden. I would jump into the massive recycling crates and take as many fashion magazines as I could carry – ELLE, Marie Claire, Vogue. I was fascinated by the glossy covers and close-up beauty shots. 

Doing someone’s make-up, handling make-up, talking about make-up is fun. Playing with products, seeing how they react with the skin and the improvements you can make by using them. It makes me feel good, then it became about how you could make someone else feel. 

What’s the story behind your signature look- healthy, dewy skin. 

Naoko Scintu: I just love skin looking as healthy and glowy as possible. I'm quite obsessed with sports people because they always look really fresh and glowing. They are running around, blood is going to the surface of the skin and you have sweat and dewiness. It’s the most important part of a make-up look and anything else is a bonus. I don’t like too much make-up, it’s about balance and making the model, actor, whomever, look like the best version of themselves. 

Tell us about your creative process from idea to finished face. Where do you find and seek inspiration?

Naoko Scintu: I take most of my inspiration from nature, natural colours, and earthy tones. The iridescent quality of the inside of a shell translated onto the eyelid. If the idea is predetermined, I won’t really know the outcome until the day. This part is so brilliant, it’s an idea in progress, you never really know what’s going to happen. 

What would you say was your first big job? 

Naoko Scintu: When I was 26 I worked with Cindy Crawford. It was just a do and go for a wedding at Claridges, nothing more came from it, apart from me being so happy to work with her. I adored her as a kid and I was shaking when I met her. 

What does your role as a ‘celebrity’ make-up artist encompass? 

Naoko Scintu: A celebrity make-up artist needs to be super organised, have a squeaky clean and neat kit and be able to work fast, while the hair and nails are being done at the same time. It’s funny to me that I’ve been put in the ‘celebrity make-up artist’ box, as I still do a bit of everything – editorial, shows, red carpet, press junkets and brand work. I’m working with girls who are really blowing up like Lily James, Laura Harrier, Sophie Turner, Jodie Comer, and bits with Karlie Kloss too. It's exciting for me to sort of perfect what they have. 

“I take most of my inspiration from nature, natural colours, and earthy tones. If the idea is predetermined, I won’t really know the outcome until the day. This part is so brilliant, it’s an idea in progress, you never really know what’s going to happen” – Naoko Scintu

Is perfection something you try to capture in your work or something you reject?

Naoko Scintu: What is perfection? It’s different for each and every one of us, right? I want the skin to look healthy and glowing and to enhance one’s beauty.

How important is it to you to use natural and sustainable products?

Naoko Scintu: I have many products in my kit that are natural and sustainable. Some of my favourite brands like Inika, Dr Hauschka, and Jurlique are non-toxic, kind to the body and the environment. A lot of packaging is made from recycled material but still has a long way to go as it’s tricky to contain liquids and creams in biodegradable materials.

Does your technique change depending on if the look you are doing is for red carpet editorial or runway?

Naoko Scintu: Red carpet make-up needs to have more staying power so I’ll use a primer and powder on the T-zone and waterproof mascara. I tend not to use any powder on an editorial, I just love the skin looking as dewy as possible (depending on the lighting). 

I worked with Jurgen Teller on a 032c cover with twigs that was really pared-back and not retouched which was exciting. Runway is a mixture of the two as the glare of the flash can make the models look too shiny. Experimentation is key, it’s just how far everyone wants to push it so it’s always a collaboration of ideas. 

How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?

Naoko Scintu: Social media and the evolution of technology has changed everything. When I started it was all about running around collecting precious tear sheets from magazines for your portfolio. Now it’s all online and our portfolios are digital. With Instagram, things are way too retouched, too over-the-top, too much make-up. It's really refreshing to pare it back.

What’s the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?

Naoko Scintu: To enjoy every moment of it. There is no endpoint where you think, ‘I’ve made it’, it’s an ongoing journey of self-development and challenge. So just enjoy each step because there is no endpoint. 

What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?

Naoko Scintu: Be prepared, determined, and work hard. The competition is fierce, even to assist.

What is the future of beauty?

Naoko Scintu: Natural and pared-back.

Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?

Naoko Scintu: Hung Vanngo. I’ve met him quite a few times, he’s so lovely and amazing at brows. He does glam but also great editorial as he’s very versatile. I’d love him to do my make-up.