I first met Nam Vo by happenstance at a holiday party. I had been chatting with a fellow beauty editor when Vo, gleaming like tinsel, approached us and introduced herself. She really needn’t have, though: With a loyal Instagram® following of 252K, a Rolodex® of A-list celebrity muses, and the unofficial title of “Glow Queen” to her name, Vo is a force in the beauty sphere.
In case you’re new to our world, though: Nam Vo is an editorial-turned-celebrity makeup artist. Her ascent (or what she calls “the glow up”) began at a strip club, where she created makeup looks for exotic dancers. Today, her clientele spans from Kylie Jenner to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley — though her artistry is always rooted in a specific theme: hyper-luminosity. Born from highlighter, skincare, or a crafty combination of the two, the technique has since been coined Dewy Dumpling SkinTM;. Vo’s work is splendid in the truest sense of the word, but it’s her unfiltered, devil-may-care attitude that has skyrocketed her to such sizable recognition.
“I've literally made a career out of being myself,” she tells me today, almost a year after our first encounter. We’re lounging on a blush-hued couch in her West Village apartment. Larger-than-life swan murals flank the walls; a gorgeous marble-topped vanity shines from our right. The room isn’t particularly large, but the vibe it gives off could be described as palatial nonetheless. “If I wasn't a makeup artist, I'd be an interior designer,” muses the 37-year-old, glancing at her reflection in an oversized mirror. Late August light bounces off her cheekbones. Vo’s skin is everything you’d imagine it to be: practically poreless, mesmerizingly glossy, and as plump as . . . well, a dumpling.
Spotlyte: How did Nam Vo become Nam Vo?
Nam Vo: I have always been a natural-born makeup artist. I was never good at school: I can't count. I can't spell. I'm only good at socializing and doing makeup.
Spotlyte: How did you leverage those skills?
NV: I moved to New York 10 years ago with $35, like Madonna. I wanted to work for Steven Meisel and do Italian VogueTM;. I was really an editorial junkie. [At first], no agency would take me. So I started my career — even though my aesthetic doesn't look this way — as a makeup artist at strip clubs. I also worked with brides. It’s how I paid the bills for many, many years — brides and strippers.
Spotlyte: Did your clientele influence your work?
NV: It was a good training, because brides and strippers are the pickiest people in the world.
I call people dumpling, doll face, sugar muffin. I call people all kinds of things!
Spotlyte: How so?
NV: Brides are spending lots of money. And [their wedding] day is the day they’re expected to look their most gorgeous. It's the same with exotic dancers; they're on stage, and they're celebrities in their own right. A lot of those girls have multimillion dollar clientele books.
Spotlyte: Speaking of clients, you’ve since worked with countless A-listers. Can you recall a time you’ve felt particularly starstruck?
NV: You know what? I never really feel starstruck. I guess I see [celebrity clients] as people. I might get a little bit nervous to be able to do their makeup in a particular way, but I actually don't really get starstruck.
Spotlyte: You’ve become a bit of a celebrity in your own right.
NV: The glow up?
Spotlyte: Exactly. Any tips for aspiring artists?
NV: It’s one thing to have talent and skill as a makeup artist, but it's another thing to really know how to read energy. It's such an intimate job. And, a lot of times, people just have to like you. You have to know when to talk and when to shut up. Some clients want you very behind the scenes, and some want you to talk to them about their date last night. So you have to know how to read the energy.
Spotlyte: You’ve famously coined the phrase “Dewy Dumplings.” Where did that come from?
NV: People always say, “What great marketing!” But I always say cheeky, funny things. My friends call them Nam-isms.
Spotlyte: What are some other Nam-isms?
NV: I call people dumpling, doll face, sugar muffin. I call people all kinds of things!
Spotlyte: Why do you reckon Dewy Dumplings, in particular, went viral?
NV: I called my boyfriend for years Dumpling. One day I just hashtagged Dewy Dumpling without thinking twice. I hashtagged it once. I hashtagged it twice. I hashtagged it 10 times, and the next thing I knew, it was taking on a life of its own. And dumplings — they're cute, they're sexy.
Spotlyte: Can we expect a Dewy Dumpling highlighter anytime soon?
NV: If I'm really being honest with myself, I think the world has enough good highlighters. I might wake up one day, and be like, “The world needs a jelly juice highlighter!” But not right now. I have to do something that's unique to me, you know? I just want to move my dumpling empire in another direction.
Spotlyte: How so?
NV: [Fashion designer] Yumi Kim is one of my best friends, and we're doing a [clothing] collaboration. There's going to be dumplings on nipples all around the city.
Spotlyte: You’re not going to stop doing makeup, are you?
NV: No, no, no, not at all. This collection is just a fun little project — like a capsule collection. But you never know. Let's see where it goes.
Spotlyte: We’d be remiss not to ask about your skincare routine.
NV: That's the number one question people ask me. I can literally open my DM right now and there's like 300 questions. It's hard for me to say, though, because I have to try [different skincare] products all the time.
Spotlyte: How do you try it all?
NV: It takes forever to finish a product. So [I have a system]. I start by using a product on my face. And then, when I have to move on to a different product, I put [the old] product on a tray. The products on the tray become my body serums. That way, I don’t feel bad about wasting products.
Spotlyte: Any current favorites?
NV: I'm a big fan of Biologique [Recherche]®. I've been using P50TM;. I love the La Mer® Concentrate. I love Sunday Riley® Good Genes®. I love Drunk Elephant® [T.L.C. Sukari] Babyfacial®. I'm really just a product whore.
Spotlyte: That’s a lot of exfoliation...
NV: I think you have to kind of abuse exfoliation. That's what lasers do, right? That's kind of my method of madness. I slough, I like to get it going. And then I replenish.
Spotlyte: Your skin doesn’t get irritated?
NV: I don't have sensitive skin. I think I've abused my skin so much that now you can pour acid on it. Even doctors are like, "Oh my God. Your skin doesn't react to anything because it's been abused so much." I get facials probably too often.
Spotlyte: Where do you go to get facials?
NV: I like Tulura®. I like Rescue Spa℠. I love Aida Bicaj on the Upper East Side [in NYC] — it takes like six months to get a facial with her. I saw her last weekend and she blew my dumpling face off.
Spotlyte: Any other words of skincare wisdom?
NV: Just stay the f*ck out of the sun.
Spotlyte: What about lasers and other treatments?
NV: I've had Clear and Brilliant®. I'm also a big radiofrequency person. One of the best investments you could ever have is the Celluma® LED mask. It’s very expensive, but it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Spotlyte: Any other treatments?
NV: No. And let's just address something as well: A lot about people on Instagram have been saying that I have a nose job and fillers. Excuse me — this is a gift from God.
[Editor’s note: Injectable filler is a temporary treatment that adds volume to areas of the face such as the lips, cheeks, and laugh lines. Like any medical treatment, it has potential risks and side effects. Be sure to talk to a licensed provider to see if it’s right for you. Have more questions? Chat with our team of trained aesthetic specialists now.]
Spotlyte: So, no injectables then?
NV: I'm not against fillers. I'll get them when the time is right. But right now, I’ll stick to facials and lasers.
Spotlyte: What about social media wisdom? How do you approach Instagram?
NV: Instagram is your own magazine. I get to showcase my work the way that I want to. But Instagram is [also] soul-sucking, and it really is tough because there are a lot of talented makeup artists.
Spotlyte: How do you combat that sense of constant competition?
NV: People always ask, "Do I need to post every day? Do I need a hashtag? What time do I need to post?" Take all of that nervous energy, and put it into doing quality work. With quality work comes an Instagram following. You have to keep in mind that it's hard. Do you know how hard it is to get one follow when there are a thousand, million, trillion makeup artists to follow?
Spotlyte: How do you stand out among the competition?
NV: When somebody clicks on your landing page, you have one second to [show them] what you’re all about. For me, it was really videos.
Spotlyte: Why videos?
NV: Because I think that with videos, one, you can't lie — you can't really edit. Also, I think you really see makeup come to life. And you see real talent in video.
Spotlyte: Any examples?
NV: I did, like, one highlighting video for Bobbi Brown® two years ago and I probably got 10,000 Instagram followers [from it]. It went viral. From there, the formula clicked for me. It’s like sorcery. It's captivating and oddly satisfying, and you see exactly how the product lays.
I realized that my work with the highest engagement is all shot with an iPhone®. I've worked on really high-end, fancy beauty campaigns with the top photographers, but I guess people want to see real work. It's easier to connect with that.
Spotlyte: Have you ever thought about what would happen if Instagram were to suddenly die?
NV: I'd probably have to take in some roommates. I think about that all the time. But I would like to believe that if Instagram shut down tomorrow, I'd still be a working artist.
Spotlyte: Any mottos that you live by?
NV: My favorite life quote is, “What is meant for you will not pass you.” Whether it be a relationship, a job, a donut — I truly believe that all you can do is show up as your best self.
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