The reasons why we admire Mai Quynh very much lie in her work, her creativity, her world made of shining colors, unique products (sometimes almost impossible to find), and in the passion she puts into every detail. We fell in love with her work following the makeup looks of actress Chloë Grace Moretz, from the Met Gala and the red carpet ones to the editorials. What strikes us the most about her is the way she always respects the face she works on, honoring it, enhancing it with something creative, unique. And, as she says, it’s a game of trust between artists. Mai is now also an Artist Collaborator for Giorgio Armani Beauty. Among her clients, we find Sandra Oh (one of the many makeups she has done for this year’s Oscars), Camila Mendes, Kiernan Shipka, Saoirse Ronan, Eliza Scanlen, Alison Brie, Diana Silvers and many, many more.
Mai welcomed us into her beautiful home in Los Angeles: from her bathroom where she showed us her skincare products with which she obtains a luminous and hydrated skin to her precious lipsticks and the products from her trips to Japan that she jealously guards.
Don’t miss our new April Beauty Cover Story with the one and only, Mai Quynh.
What’s your earliest beauty memory?
Probably I started using eye cream when I was about 12 or 13. It’s kind of early.
I would always look at magazines because I had older sisters: one is 9 years older so at the time she was well in her early twenties and she was doing everything makeup wise and I was always watching her, and reading her magazines; I remember looking into them, and there was a L’Oréal eye cream with liposome and I had no idea what liposome was but it seemed like I needed it and so I would save up my allowance to buy eye cream instead of buying clothes or other things.
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up and the last one when you go to bed?
I rinse my face in the morning and it wakes me up. I’m not a morning person, for instance, usually, I prefer to shower more at night because I like to get the most sleep that I can; a lot of people wake up and they snooze, definitely not me.
Me too. I can’t set a thousand alarms as many people do.
I agree, also I can’t fall back asleep and in 5 minutes wake up again, it’s annoying. I just wake up and go. So, I’ll just rinse my face, and brush my teeth and do all my skincare. I also do a lot of sunblock too, I like SPF 50: it’s so hard here in L.A. because there is so much sun and it’s so hot all year round.
“I started using eye cream when I was about 12 or 13. It’s kind of early.”
Being always on set, do you have any tricks or secrets that you might have also learned through the years that you can spill out to us?
Sometimes I learn things from my clients, and from experimenting with things. I remember one time, I used to work with Miley Cyrus when she was really young, and she had a few blemishes and she would always pick at them and when you pick at them, they are wet so the skin is exposed, so it’s hard to put makeup on because normally for a dry blemish you put concealer on and you can cover it. But since hers had just been popped, no makeup was sticking to it so then we were playing around and I realized that if you take a loose powder on a Q tip and just put it on top it absorbs it and stays on it. That was a good trick that I learned being with her. Plus, I love asking every woman, just regular women, what they like to use; also, I was just recently in Japan and Korea and I like to see what their trends are too and just see how I can incorporate it.
What’s the process of your makeup when you are working with a client? You do a lot of fun stuff…
I try, because I’ve been doing this for a while so things can get a little repetitive and I just feel now with social media everyone is just trying to do so much and sometimes it’s fun and I’m like, “Okay, that’s cool” but others it’s not really necessary. There’s a time and place for everything and it’s obviously a collaboration: I like to see what they’re wearing, what the event is, what the hairstylist is going to do, and we talk it over, it’s a team effort. For instance, if she is wearing something 70’s, we might play with that or if she’s just wearing a black dress, we go over what we can do to make it a bit more exciting.
And I think that your looks are always so balanced with the dress and everything.
Thank you! It can be tough sometimes because it’s also about what the client is comfortable with, so I try to talk them into experimenting and just trying new things and sometimes they don’t want to and it’s fine, they are wearing it so they have to be comfortable.
“I love asking every woman, just regular women, what they like to use.”
Is there a client of yours with whom you experiment more?
Probably Chloë Grace Moretz, we have a lot of fun, just because she is young and my best friend does her hair so we are always playing with each other, giving each other ideas, he inspires me and hopefully, I inspire him but we try to make things happen between us.
I have to ask, what’s the secret for her luminous glowing skin?
She has great skin, everything is genes. She doesn’t wear anything when she’s not working which I think is good because she lets her skin breathe.
What’s your favorite facial?
I’ve had a couple that I really love: there is this lady Olga (she is used to work at this place called Kinara SPA) who made a red carpet facial, that’s what she called it, and it was really cool, my skin is sensitive but I also like feeling that things are working, and she had the right balance where I could feel things tingling and my skin felt very hydrated and fresh (and it didn’t burn my skin off which had happened before). And I recently had an amazing one when I was in Japan at Koh Gen Do. They have a store where I was invited to have a facial there. It was really nice.
What does “feeling comfortable in your own skin” mean to you?
I think just being able to be myself and having an opinion, or being able to voice my opinion. As I get older, I like to change people’s minds so like if someone came in and said, “I can’t wear this” or “I don’t like this,” I’m like, “can we try?” I mean I wouldn’t ever do anything on someone that I didn’t think would look good but some people are so used to looking at themselves in a certain way because they always do their makeup the same way that they’re used to. So they might think it looks weird, it doesn’t mean it’s ugly, it’s just a different look, it’s almost like psychology.
So I guess for me, I think being around a lot of women, especially now that there are so many strong women that do voice their opinion and just say how they feel; it really helps me find my voice and I’m able to say how I feel and what I think.
What’s in your makeup bag lately? And what are your holy grail products?
I would say my favorite lip balm by a brand called Shiro which they only have in Japan (but they have a store in New York now) and it’s yuzu flavored which is a Japanese citrus. Every time I use it on a client, I always get asked about it because it’s so refreshing and nice. It’s also in my makeup kit. I love my Shu Uemura eyelash curler, it’s a staple; and the Mascara by Cle de Peau.
Have you ever thought about doing your own makeup line?
Yes, I have, it’s very hard and it’s also very expensive but I always have ideas, sometimes I’m like “oh no, no one has ever done this…”
Because you know what’s missing from the market…
Yes, I do. Once, I was really interested in making a product and I went and talked to a brand consulting person, and I told him my idea and he asked me “can an 80-year-old woman wear this?” And I said, “I don’t know, probably no or she probably won’t want to” and he told me that I should make something that everyone can wear and use. Then I also spoke with the creator of the Beauty Blender sponge – she is a friend of mine – about how she got to where she got and if she had any issues, and she told me, “you should also create a product that is somewhat disposable in the sense that someone always has to go buy a new one.” There are all these ideas that people are giving me, I harvest them, they are in the back of my head, I write them down in my phone, in my notes but I think with trends there are so many products nowadays that every once in a while I’m like, “wow, that’s really different” but now I don’t know, I’m still thinking about it.
Okay, but let me know when you’ll do it, I’ll be the first one to buy something.
Thank you! [laugh]
“There are all these ideas that people are giving me, I harvest them, they are in the back of my head, I write them down…”
What makes you laugh the most?
So many things, I love it when people are silly and goofy. I love comedians, comedy shows (we’ll go and see stand-up) or I love watching comedies, every Friday night, my boyfriend and I will have a date night and we’ll watch something. I mean, equally, I also love dramas.
Bath or shower?
Probably shower, I shower more just because bath I feel like it’s a treat and unfortunately, I don’t always have time.
Your favorite hair styling product or tool?
I’m so bad with hair. [laugh] I love Davines shampoo and conditioner.
Your favorite fragrance?
I love Rose of No Man’s Land by Byredo.
What was your first beauty product obsession?
It’s probably lipsticks, nude lipsticks. Nude is so different for everyone: I always get asked, “what’s one good nude?” And I’m like “one nude on me won’t look the same on you.” Because the pigment in your lips determines what is going to look like at the end, so I always have to consider that. Nudes are tricky, and again I find a lot of great nudes in Asia – they just do everything so well, especially in Japan, it’s so annoying. I’ll buy a lipstick, and as much as I give away lipsticks, with the Japanese ones I don’t use on people unless it’s a photoshoot because then I don’t have to give it away because I’m there the all-time. And people are like, “what is this color?” And I’m like, “don’t worry you are never going to get it unless you go to Japan.” [laugh]
Do you have a product that is at the top of your beauty wish list?
One of the facials that I had that was really cool was in New York and now they have one here, it’s called face gym. It’s like a workout for your face: you make the appointment, you meet up with your trainer, and you tell what kind of facial you want because there are different kinds; And I had this one where they used this tool and I could feel it literally working and they only did one side of my face and you could see it had lifted.
Do you have and use tools for your skincare routine?
Yes, I do. I have (and love) a LED mask from Dr. Dennis Gross that has 3 settings: one for acne, one for lines and wrinkles and one that is like for everything, pigmentation and so on. So, they combine, it’s like red, blue and purple. So, I use that, and I also use NuFace, it’s also the same ideas that face gym one.
What do you have too many of? Probably lipsticks…
I do have a lot of lipsticks but never enough. [laugh] I always need more.
Since you travel a lot, what is your jet lag beauty cure?
I never look at the time where I just came from, a lot of people are like, “oh my god, it’s 3 am in LA” but I don’t want to hear any of that because if know it will make me tired. If I feel tired it’s just me being tired. So, I try to be in sync with the time wherever I am at, like I’ll force myself to either go for a walk.
What’s the bravest thing you have ever done?
Probably this job. Just starting with this job: I worked at MAC for a few years, and I remember everyone was like, “you are going to quit something stable to do something unknown like freelance?” And freelancing is crazy, I just had to learn but I love having to work with different people every day.
“I do have a lot of lipsticks but never enough.”
What would you love to see more and more in these days in the beauty world?
I’m a big advocate, especially now, where I feel like everyone thinks that beauty is a certain look, especially here in Los Angeles, maybe even in the States, people are doing a lot of surgeries or fillers. And I feel everyone is looking the same. I appreciate people looking different because that makes them unique and that’s why I think it’s important to embrace that.
What’s your motto?
My mom used to always say, “never try, never know.” And it’s true, if you don’t try things, you’ll never know if you like it, or if it looks good.
Have you ever had an epic beauty fail?
Oh my god, yes, yes, yes! I’ll give you one: there was this actress, Amanda Bynes, it was my first time working with her and she was in “Hairspray” so we are shooting her for a magazine, and whoever worked for the magazine said, “they made a doll out of her character and she is going to hold it, and we want her to look like a doll too.” And I was like, “Okay, that sounds fun I guess” so I did a doll makeup, like circle blush, really red, bright pink and these lashes…they did some shots with her holding the doll and then they ran shots without the doll…I was just starting out on my own and so now if that happened now I would say, “No, are you crazy? Why do you want her to look like a doll? Just shoot her normal and she’ll hold the doll or whatever” but I remember they ran the pictures and it was her and she looked like a doll with no doll in the photo and I was like, “she looks crazy.”
But there have been times that where people said, “we have this idea…” and I had to follow it but now I’m like, “No”, I love saying “no” now, I used to not be able to find my voice but now I’m like, “no, I don’t like that.”
“I love saying ‘no’ now, I used to not be able to find my voice but now I’m like, ‘no, I don’t like that’.”
That’s great, it’s not easy to be able to say “no.”
It’s not, it took a lot of practice.
Do you have a favorite cinema or TV series beauty look?
There are so many, it’s hard. I love a classic beauty like “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”, I love that era. She is so beautiful because she is also so fair, so certain colors, the brighter the color, just looks so striking on her so I do love that, and “Mad Man” as well. It’s something about that era.