We catch up with the Fenty Beauty Global Artist to talk growing up as a third generation Mexican in California, all things make-up and her new Chola-inspired shoot
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.
Growing up, Priscilla Ono never thought about becoming a make-up artist, she just knew she loved make-up. From watching her Mexican grandmother put on make-up before church in her California hometown to admiring her aunts’ Chola beauty looks and idolising Gwen Stefani, who was herself taking reference from the Chola aesthetic, Ono found inspiration in what she saw all around her. “I’m definitely influenced by my background in so many ways,” she says. “It inspires the beauty looks I do and the hard work I put into my craft was instilled in me by my grandmother. She would always tell me that I would have to work three times as hard because I was a woman and because I was Latina.”
Finding joy in make-up, Ono would create bold, unique looks on herself which eventually landed her a job doing the make-up on a music video directed by her future husband. “I was my own walking advertisement,” she says. “People would book me for my creativity.” After years of honing her craft working at Sephora and assisting, Ono booked her dream job as a Global Artist for Fenty Beauty in 2017, where she works across everything from product development to education and training to creating looks for campaigns and covers. And yes, she responsible for keeping Rihanna beat to perfection.
We caught up with Ono to find out more about her inspirations growing up, career highlights and what her day to day looks like working at one of the top beauty brands in the world.
Tell us a bit about yourself and where you grew up.
Priscilla Ono: I’m third-generation Mexican and grew up in these small cities in California that are all right next to each other – Lynwood, Compton, Paramount, Norwalk. Growing up, I spent most of my time with my grandparents who came to the US from Mexico in their 20s. My grandmother has always been my muse. As a little girl, on Sundays before church, I would sit on the bathroom floor and watch her do her make-up. It was so fascinating to me. Especially when she would apply her individual lashes. During the week I would lock myself in her bathroom and use her products to “recreate” her looks. Growing up, Latina beauty was a big deal to me. And I was always so interested in the looks my tias would do. I’m definitely influenced by my background in so many ways. It inspires the beauty looks I do (very eye and lip-focused) and the hard work I put into my craft was instilled in me by my grandmother. She would always tell me that I would have to work three times as hard because I was a woman and because I was Latina.
Growing up, what informed your understanding of beauty and identity and the way you presented yourself visually?
Priscilla Ono: Growing up in the late 90s, I was very inspired by punk and ska music – as a pre-teen Gwen Stefani was my fashion idol! I loved how she used Chola make-up as inspiration in her looks. Her thin Chola brows and dark lip liner were what I was used to seeing on my tias growing up in Lynwood. She didn’t follow “trends” and was so uniquely cool and that’s always how I felt. I think seeing that pushed me even more to do what I wanted with beauty, and it’s kept this “fearless” element in me today.
Why are you a make-up artist? What made you want to become one?
Priscilla Ono: Make-up was always something I loved but becoming a make-up artist was never even a thought of mine when I was growing up. Growing up with a strict first-generation Mexican grandmother, who did everything she could to get her family to the United States for a better future, was pretty intimidating. The only options I had as a career was in medicine or law. But when I was 20, I met my now-husband, who had just recently started his photography career; he was in the middle of casting his first music video and asked if I would do the make-up. I expressed to him that I only did make-up for fun and I didn’t even have a kit so he said he would pay me the rate beforehand so I could buy what I needed for the looks. To be honest, I said yes because I wanted him to fall more in love with me! And it worked! But I also fell in love with the idea of doing make-up as a career. Being on set and creating these different looks, seeing the lighting, wardrobe, hair…the entire process was so magical. From there on out, I knew being a makeup artist was what I was destined to do.
How did you actually get into it? Where did you hone your craft? Is it something you learnt or is it more instinctual?
Priscilla Ono: Make-up is part instinct, for sure, but it’s also practice. I knew if I wanted to be the best I could be, I needed the practice and plus I needed money, too. So, I got a job at Sephora. I worked there for three years and it really helped shape my artistry, as well helped me in becoming an educator. I also assisted professional artists for two years which really helped me understand how to work on major sets. It’s not just being good at make-up that makes a successful make-up artist. It’s also the adaptability, the common sense, the problem solving, that gets you to the top. This is why I am so proud of my make-up courses which I’ve been teaching for over 10 years. Yes, I teach skill and technique, but more importantly, I teach what set etiquette really is. Fifteen years of experience can help hone anyone’s physical skills, but what sets you apart is your quick problem-solving skills.
Tell us a bit about your creative process.
Priscilla Ono: The process is always a bit different. Most of the time I make sure to get involved in the project preparation as much, and as soon, as possible. I get the vibe for the look and I come up with options of make-up ideas that would be complementary. For more creative shoots, I don’t really think about it - I just let my instincts create what looks best for that person’s face and the overall look. It’s so hard to explain, but it’s almost like my hands are just going without me really thinking about it.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject?
Priscilla Ono: Beauty is a huge part of my artistry. No matter how crazy I get with a look, my goal is to always make it beautiful.
How did you first become involved with Fenty?
Priscilla Ono: I’ve been friends with Rihanna for years. When I heard she was developing a make-up line, I reached out to her team. It was perfect timing because it was around the time she started a nation-wide search for Global Artists for Fenty Beauty. So I tried out, and I got the job!
How has working with Rihanna been?
Priscilla Ono: It’s been amazing! I get to work with my number 1. When I first started make-up, I saw this YouTube video that Danilo Dixon (hairstylist) made, and he said he made a list of everyone he wanted to work with and worked hard to make it happen. Kind of like a vision board. He said he worked with everyone on that list! I think it was because of that list that he had the drive to make it happen. I really liked that, so I did the same. Rihanna was number 1 on my list. To me, she is so creative and so free, she is like a chameleon and can pull off so many looks. She’s not afraid of any make-up look and that is so refreshing.
How important was it to you to work with a brand that prioritises diversity in the way Fenty does?
Priscilla Ono: Extremely important. I’ve been a make-up artist for 15 years and it was a struggle for many years to carry the right products in the right tones I needed in my kit. I would often have to mix colours and pigments. It was frustrating to find a formula that was perfect for a project but was limited on who I could use it on, because of the limited colour range. It's mind-blowing to me that it took this long for these huge brands, who’ve been around for years, to acknowledge a diverse colour range. I’m so proud that Fenty Beauty has set the tone for everyone to see that this is so necessary and overdue.
What does your role as Global MUA encompass? What does your day-to-day look like?
Priscilla Ono: It’s definitely an eclectic role, which I love! No day is ever the same and I get to travel the world representing Fenty Beauty - educating cast members at our retailer partners, contributing to product development, shooting videos for social media, attending press events. I love that it’s not just one thing over and over again. One week I’ll be in Paris for a training at Sephora, the next I’ll be on set shooting a campaign, and then the next I’ll be in office testing out new products and finessing textures and shades. It’s always something exciting and new.
What’s been a highlight so far in your career?
Priscilla Ono: Teaching. When I first started as an intern 13 years ago, I did a lot of music videos. I would mainly do dancers. I noticed so many lead make-up artists lacked some of the most simplistic qualities like proper hygiene for their kits and just making someone feel pretty. I would have a line of dancers just waiting for me because they wanted to look good and feel comfortable while getting their make-up done. Now that I’ve been teaching my course I make it my mission to teach every ounce of what I know when it comes to being on set. I’m so proud when I see my students on sets doing something as simple as setting up their make-up stations looking clean and pristine – it all starts with a good set up!
Does your technique change depending on if the look you are doing is for red carpet/editorial/runway? What are the differences?
Priscilla Ono: Yes, definitely. Preparing for the look has to start with the understanding of what the lighting will be. When it comes to skin, red carpet has to be more medium coverage with strategic powder placement. Editorial is as minimal as possible when it comes to foundation and almost no powder products. Runway is similar to editorial with more sheen.
How do you think the industry has evolved since you first started out?
Priscilla Ono: There wasn’t as many HD cameras when I first started out. I think HD is making makeup artists strive for perfection because you can see in so much more detail.
How do you think our understanding of beauty has shifted with the evolution of technology?
Priscilla Ono: When it comes to technology like smart phones and social media, I think it’s made me push myself further to come up with new looks because people are always looking for newness and studying it in more depth than they could ever before. People can sometimes get stuck in the same type of beauty. I always push myself to come up with new perspectives of beauty.
What advice would you give to young artists hoping to get into the industry?
Priscilla Ono: Practice and patience. It took me 15 years to get to where I am.
What is the future of beauty?
Priscilla Ono: I can only hope for more innovative products in the future - I would love to see products that allow you to do less steps because time is precious.
Who would you like to shine a spotlight on next?
Priscilla Ono: San Cha (she’s so cool!!)
The Golden Laurels of self-ordained prestige are a cornerstone attribute of the Chicano culture, self orienting and powerfully imposing, gracefully, with zero apologies. The aura of self definition and authorship of ones presentation in today’s fashion cannot claim a true linkage without tribute paid to these pioneers of expression past, present and future.
Photography by Sarah Pardini
Make-up and creative direction by Priscilla Ono
Hairstylist and hair accessories by Patricia Morales
Styling by Hoza Rodriguez
Models-Laura Elizabeth Woo with Freedom Models and Shelby C With Freedom Models