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According to actress Tessa Thompson, beauty is determined not by somebody else's standards but by how you feel.
She imparted this wisdom to me during a Zoom interview (from one Tessa to another, if you will), which is why she's perfectly suited to be named the newest face of Armani Beauty.
"My idea of beauty applies to every woman as it enhances her personality and uniqueness," Giorgio Armani, the luxury brand's founder and CEO, said in a press release. "Tessa Thompson struck me with the radiant energy she exudes, the vibrant calmness of her way of being. I am delighted to be able to work with her and express a new facet of the feminine kaleidoscope of Armani beauty."
Tessa will serve as the ambassador of Armani's cult-favorite Luminous Silk Foundation and Lip Power Lipstick, two of the actress' favorites on set, on the carpet, and in real life. With 40 shades of complexion-perfecting, lightweight foundation, Tessa says the Luminous Silk Foundation became her go-to when trying to find the perfect tone.
"I think, particularly for a lot of women of color, you'll find that it's hard to find your exact right shade in one bottle," she tells me. "So on one of my first big red carpets when a makeup artist introduced me to Armani, it [became] the brand I'd always bring."
The star explains that she's also ready to bring back a bold lip after a nearly two-year-long hiatus thanks to the COVID-19 and the (very necessary) masks.
But this partnership means even more to her than just how the products make her feel. Becoming a face of the brand is really a full-circle moment for the young Tessa who grew up loving beauty and idolizing her grandmother's skincare routine. As well as a woman of color who felt empowered when she finally started to see other women like her represented in the beauty industry. "Our ideas around what is beautiful, culturally, are shifting, and becoming more inclusive," she stated in the release. "What I love about Armani is the way in which it empowers any kind of woman to feel her best self."
Read on for my conversation with the actress to learn more about this new partnership, how makeup gets her into character, and what beauty ideals she still lives by.
Tell me about the partnership and why it was the right fit for you?
This partnership, really and truly is a dream come true. I had really wanted for multiple reasons to work in partnership with a beauty brand, selfishly because I love beauty, I love makeup. I used to play in my mom and grandmother's makeup. And then I think more specifically, I know how impactful it's been for me in moments where I get to see — whether it's friends of mine or people that I don't know — women of color in the beauty space. That's happening with more frequency now, and I know how powerful it's been in the moments where I've been in an airport and flipping through a magazine, and I've seen the reflection from a beauty brand that looks like me. I feel seen in those spaces. So the idea that I could do that, that someone could see my face and feel the way that I have felt really beautiful for me.
Armani has been a brand that I've used for over a decade, both personally and professionally. I can look at so many characters that I've played and red carpet moments and know that I'm wearing Luminous Silk Foundation in those moments. It feels truly surreal that now I'm representing the brand.
Has Armani always been your go-to on the red carpet? What are your favorite products?
It is — which is not to say that there aren't other brands that I have used and admire, but Armani has been my tried-and-true, particularly in terms of foundation. Their [Luminous Silk] color range is so wide and varied, and they came into my life at a moment when, quite frankly, I had been struggling on sets. The colors [on set] wouldn't work for me. I would see myself on screen and go "I look too orange" or "I look too red." I think, particularly for a lot of women of color, you'll find that it's hard to find your exact right shade in one bottle. As a woman of color you have a greatest chance of finding something that really works for you in a bottle [from] Armani. Also, the way that they blend is really nice, so together you can formulate a color that is really right.
I love beauty and products that feel almost undetectable. I think there's so much with Armani that you can do. I really love their Lip Maestros Liquid Matte Lipstick, and I've used them forever, and in fact, the nude, I'm sure some of the best sellers, have been the ones that I love. I think there was a period of time when I used it so much that probably people thought it was my natural tone. I remember one makeup artist saying to me, "Your lips, you have the most beautiful, natural color." I just didn't tell them that I already had color on my lips. Also, I love their Fluid Sheer Glow Enhancer Highlight —you can use under or on top of your makeup. Sometimes, I even just mix it with my serum or face cream when I'm not wearing anything, and it gives me a natural glow. Recently [I went] to dinner at my parent's house, and my dad was like, "Your skin looks so good!" He didn't know I was wearing Fluid Sheer.
He's a cool dad for noticing!
He's actually really good for that! He has a good barometer on skincare because he tends to notice it. I look very much like myself in the [Armani campaign] images, which my parents like to see most.
What are you looking forward to most about being the face of a major luxury beauty brand?
The idea that some might see an image of me and feel validated in their own skin and their own beauty. As [long] as I've had a relationship with the brand and have been using them, I'm really excited to get even better and to play more. Skin is also something that I've gotten more interested in as I work with artists. You realize that the thing that matters the most is how to prep skin. I've always liked Armani's Luminous Silk Hydrating Primer.
I also [like] the opportunity to create a character using their products, particularly Charlotte Hale, a character I played on West World for seven years. She would always wear Armani foundation. We're working on the third Creed now, and it's so fun with a character like Bianca, who's a musician and has a more exaggerated sense of beauty and fashion, to play with the line and find looks that are dynamic. Years ago, when I was working on the first Thor that I made, [I saw] how thoughtful and intentional Cate Blanchett, another face of Armani, was about using beauty and makeup as an expression of character. It feels really exciting to get to do that with Armani.
What were some beauty ideals that were instilled in you as a child? Which have you strayed from and which do you still believe in?
Something that was instilled in me early — and it was never told to me — was watching my maternal grandmother, who is a gorgeous woman, sort of the Elizabeth Taylor kind of beauty at the time, and still is insanely beautiful. She still wears a red lip in her early 80s. I gave my grandmother an Armani Lip Power, and she was very excited. She always wore a full face of makeup, I liked to watch her apply it, but my favorite was to watch her take if off at night. She applied so much cream to her face, and it just helped me understand that a part of the reason she was so beautiful and over decades was because she took incredible care of her skin. Particularly as I get older that's something that has really stuck with me. And in those moments, it's not just that you want to hold onto your beauty, it's also that you want to take time for self. Watching my grandmother in this very meditative way take off her makeup, cleanse her skin, put on her creams, [it] was a quiet moment to center herself, touch her skin and feel what she needs — although, she didn't know I was watching her [laughs].
I think beauty does shift the older that you get. Something that I have thankfully done away with is thinking of makeup as covering up something about you — imperfections. The relationship I have with it now really has to do with enhancing beauty that exists, and truly I feel the most beautiful when I look like myself. When I was younger, I would just slap it on. I really liked to cover it up, which is a tragedy because obviously my skin was so naturally luminous and plumped then. Now it's definitely [about] letting everything be it's most natural, beautiful, healthy self.
What's the best piece of beauty advice you've ever received?
Take care of your skin and hair. I mean makeup can hide a multitude of sins and working with talented artists, like Nina [Park] or Keita Moore, they can do all sorts of lovely things playing with light and shadow. But Keita said to me there's nothing you can do about texture. And that has everything to do with what you're putting in your body and on your skin. So really take care of it, make sure that you're moisturized.
Another thing, particularly with fashion or beauty, is not to put on a dress or lip to look sexy but to feel sexy, and that is so independent to you. That shouldn't be beholden to anybody else's standard of beauty. That should have everything to do with your relationship with yourself and who you are. Shooting my campaign for Armani Lip Power was so fun [because] we were playing with all these different shades and every one brought out a different personality in me. That's what's fun about makeup — it can be either an expression of how you're feeling that day or help you feel a way you want to.
I'm sure it helps you get into character too.
It totally does. I didn't really feel like Valkyrie [from the Thor franchise] until I had that perfect smokey eye that looks like I had worn it for three days and slept in it. I think there's so much about makeup that can really transform not just how you look but how you feel.
What beauty trends are you looking forward to rocking in 2022?
We all have had a lip hiatus, given that we've been wearing masks so much. As we're adjusting to the fact that we have to keep everyone and ourselves safe, how do we integrate that into our lives and invite ourselves to wear a lip again? Maybe you reapply the lip once you arrive wherever you're going and take your mask off. And I'm excited to try a lip and an eye. There's sort of those beauty [rules] that people tell you you cannot do. I like to gracefully break them. It's been fun, especially with Armani, to play with the Lip Power and the metallic eyeshadows [Eyes to Kill Stellar Eyeshadow]. They're really easy to apply. So I'd love to play with those things together in 2022.
What impact do you want to leave on the beauty industry?
I really love the idea that you can have more transparency, like beauty for me sometimes has felt like [the Wizard of] Oz or something, you have to part the curtains to see. And I think we're starting to have more transparency in the beauty industry. Hopefully brands are re-touching things less, and they're allowing people to actually see what people look like, what their skin is actually like. And to be able to talk with transparency in beauty spaces and have it feel safe. As a woman of color, I know there's so many different things we deal with, whether it's hyperpigmentation or tone. Everything doesn't need to perfect, actually. The things that we consider imperfections are the things that make us uniquely who we are.