“You don’t dare talk glitter when you first walk into a room,” says Vincent Oquendo, who works with style stars like Gigi Hadid and Winnie Harlow. He likes to set an upbeat tone with positive conversation and a Beyoncé playlist before broaching out-of-the-box ideas for the day’s look. When the vibes are right, “then we can discuss glitter,” he says.
Oquendo honed his ability to read a room — and a client — when he worked in Saks Fifth Avenue’s cosmetics department in New York City during college. He’ll never forget the day years ago that legendary makeup artist Pat McGrath came up to his counter while she was shopping for her kit. “I gave her my spiel, and she bought what I showed her.” When McGrath left, her assistant told Oquendo whom he had just met, “I looked her up, and it opened a whole new world for me,” he says. “I resolved to work with her one day.”
After years of building up his portfolio by doing test shoots for models (“I worked for free for so long!” he says), the self-taught makeup artist landed a spot assisting McGrath at photo shoots and fashion shows for Anna Sui and John Galliano. “I remember tears of joy running down my face as I was powdering the models at Galliano,” he says. “I felt like my dreams were coming true.”
Oquendo spent the next five years learning from McGrath and then slowly began branching out on his own. Though he contends that there’s no such thing as a big break, Oquendo’s red-carpet work picked up after he prepped Jessica Chastain for a magazine cover shoot in 2012.
In the years since, he’s developed a reputation for bold, colorful looks, painting smoky eyes on Hadid for the cover of Adweek, navy blue lipstick on Hailey Bieber for the Brit Awards, and showstopping glittery lids on Harlow for the Cannes Film Festival.
Now Oquendo has partnered with Maybelline New York as U.S. brand ambassador to help spread his message. “They’ve given me a voice,” he says. “I stand for a lot more than just creating beautiful looks. Half my job is doing the makeup; the other half is building up a client’s confidence so they can feel like their best self.”
Preparation is essential, says Oquendo. He applies hydrating patches then evens skin tone with a foundation that has skin-care benefits like SPF.
To buy: SiO Beauty FaceLift set, $50/4 patches; siobeauty.com
Maybelline New York Dream Urban Cover Full Coverage Protective Make- Up, $11; walmart.com
Instead of eye primer, Oquendo often uses long-wear cream shadow as a base for lids.
To buy: Maybelline New York ColorTattoo 24 Hour Eyeshadow in Golden Girl, $7; walmart.com
To offset colorful eye shadow, neutral lips are key, says Oquendo, who layers gloss over a satin-finish pencil.
To buy: Nars Satin Lip Pencil in Isola Bella, $27; narscosmetics.com
Chantecaille Brilliant Gloss in Modern, $36; nordstrom.com
For more stories like this, pick up the October issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Sept. 20.