The Artistry Behind the Brushes: Keke Vasquez

A medium used by millions yet, only a select few have mastered the skill.  Using the human body as their canvas these artists transform and create breathtaking temporary works of art that give all of us the supple opportunity to partake in the constant excitement of the evolution and change.

Keke Vasquez, a trailblazing Pasifika woman of Tongan/Samoan/Hawaiian decent is defining her place in the beauty industry as a dual threat.  This immensely talented hair and make-up artist is highly sought after not for her brilliant artistry behind the brushes but for her uncanny and unique ability to translate the beauty within all of her subjects.

I had the incredible opportunity to chat with Keke on her views of Pasifika Fashion, the different roadblocks and barriers she’s had to overcome, and what her advice would be to young Pasifika youth who have aspirations of following in her footsteps.  Check out CSM’s interview of Keke Vasquez, the artist behind the brushes:

CSM:  What inspired you to pursue a career in the beauty industry?

KV:  I’ve always love the beauty industry since I was young playing with my mom’s makeup and on a family member… I had a real painful past and felt if I covered what was from the inside out, no one can see the true pain I endured as a kid. I was also discouraged to continue down the beauty industry and it became a huge issue with me and my mom. I decided to pursue my first career for over a decade plus which was in technology. I worked as an engineer for quite sometime for Fortune 500 companies in the Silicon Valley here in the Bay Area. As years passed about 9 years ago I decided to go and do what I love which was makeup. By a fluke in meeting a mentor of mine that did primarily special effects… I continued to assist on movie sets, special effects and got educated in makeup schools and mentors. I met my main mentor Michael DeVillis with The Powder Group and past VP of the Pro Division at Make Up For Ever who was another ‘game changer’ that taught me presentation, portfolio and reel marketing, etc.   I secretly hid this from my family because it was taboo and wasn’t really a favorable subject because I grew up in a home that was religiously strict and also the preacher’s daughter.  Unfortunately I decided to keep myself from a distance with my family and decided to push harder with my makeup career taking in a different level… I started working as an assistant and making the assistant roster for almost most big agencies all over California and got to meet a lot of celebrities and awesome people. As I grew, I kept working on my portfolio of images and reels. I decided to get better with hairstyling by going to a Paul Mitchell school thanks to my my mentor Michael DeVillis and another Poly brother Mark Jason Solofa (barber owner in Berkeley and Samoan/Tongan decent) that went to Paul Mitchell the School East Bay in Pleasant Hill for leading me to pursue my education at Paul Mitchell the School East Bay. After joining I worked everyday as an engineer from 12am-8am, an hair/makeup artist from 9am-3pm for photoshoots and TV spots then 5pm to 10pm I would go to night school. I did this for almost a year and won a lot of hair shows and best overall for hair and makeup and then with Professional Beauty a Association I was a BEACON award winner where I was the first for my school to win overall over all cosmetology students in beauty school selected few. During this time I became less of an assistant and started heading hair and makeup departments in commercial/music… I lost my job as an engineer and my mom became really sick as well. After crying and getting on my knees praying for God’s direction, I get a call from my agency. The next day my agency, Look Artists Agency from San Francisco signed me on their full time roster. I have the best agent in the world and Rose and I have worked together seamlessly on amazing projects I haven’t dreamed of yet so early in my career as a full time artist on the roster.

 

CSM:  What was one of your most memorable styling appointments and why?

KV:  I have two that topped the list. The first one was meeting Tiesto and doing his men’s grooming for a few commercial spots….. I was his biggest fan and I nearly died after hearing that I was to work with him and his manager Kelly. It was the most memorable gig ever and honestly at that time I said I can now retire cause never in my life I would meet my favorite DJ.

My second one I wanted to talk about and why I mention it because it was a ‘game changer’ in my life getting me coming back to my roots and getting in touch with my family. My shoot with HM Princess Virginia Tuita of the Kingdom of Tonga. I worked with an all Polynesian crew which was the first for me in my career with photographer Ralph Misa, my cousin Monte, Mua with hair and myself with makeup. Working with her reminded me of the beauty, the honor and integrity of my culture. I looked at her and it reminded me of my family, my past… Who I am.

 

CSM:  As a pasifika female what obstacles have you had to overcome in order to create your niche in this beauty industry?

KV:  As I mentioned before, it was tough being a Pasifika women within my own family (my parents) because it was hard breaking their understanding of what the beauty industry was to them which was not a good picture…. Also being islander not a lot of people knew of any makeup artists or hair stylists that were polynesian decent! I often was classified as ‘The Rock’ or even ‘Troy Palumanu’ to give them an idea of an image of where and who I was… I just started to be me which was a proud Pasifika woman and worked really really hard.  I created a Facebook fan page and just worked along the way, but saw my fan base growing and getting heartfelt and touching emails and letters from Polynesians all over the world. I came into the realization that I wasn’t only working for myself, I was working for our people as a whole. Being the first Pasifika woman agency represented hair stylist and makeup artist, I have to strive for higher heights and push forward all I can because I guarantee I will not be the last Pasifika woman/man in this beauty industry. Many more will follow and also succeed!

 

CSM:  As not only a woman of color, but specifically a pasifika woman of color what are you Top 5 beauty must haves that should be in all of our make-up bags?

KV:

  • Top must have is moisturizer (my favorite is called embryolisse) the alternate to it is either Cetaphil or Olay face moisturizer.
  • Second, would be a good face wash.  All time fave is Ceptaphil face wash or my other fav with celebrities is Koh Gen Doh Cleansing Spa Water.
  • Third, would be a lip balm which I use a lot on myself is Baby Lips by Maybelline.  A higher line and more costly would be Face Atelier lip putty from New York 
  • Fourth, would be a good sunblock for the face and body (any) it’s important to use daily even on a gloomy day.
  • Fifth, would be a great toner.  What usually works on all skin types is witch hazel.  Other alternatives would be from the Jan Marini line that I truly love and a fav with celebrity clients.
So usually what works is cleanse, toner, moisturize (face and lips) and minimal makeup.  I have an eyebrow pencil, mascara, gel liner and lip balm.
For hair (I’m cheating with adding some more must haves for hair) all from Paul Mitchell:
  • Awapuhi Styling Treatment Oil that quenches and smooths any frizz, leaves the hair smooth , silky and shiny
  • Awaphui Shine Spray if you have only three seconds in your day uses three seconds spraying this weightless spray that transform any dull strand with reflective shine

 

CSM:  The beauty industry/world are constantly changing and evolving, what are your favorite trends for fall/winter should we all be trying?

KV:  My favorite trends for this fall is just adding a little darker lip color like the Bobbi Brown Blackberry depending on what skin taupe you are but I love Bobbi’s line especially her lipsticks.  The focus on the lips having it darker berry almost with a purple hue would be an ideal look for this fall.

 

CSM:  What pasifika fashion designer would you love to collaborate with? And who have you worked with thus far that has been the most memorable experience?

KV:  I love all my Pasifika designers especially Tui out of Sacramento and my cousin Monte out of Sacramento as well. I’ve worked with them both and love their style, drive and passion to fit our culture in their designs.

Designers outside of my Pasifika collaborations, would be my awesome clients thru my agency: Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Calvin Klein Performance and Bentley.  My favorite repeat client is Giorgio Armani.  Every gig I work with them they’ve been nothing but classy, beautiful and awesome.

 

CSM:  What advice would you give to our young Pasifika youth wanting to follow in your footsteps and pursue a career in the beauty industry?

KV:  Never let anything stop your dreams from coming a reality.  No matter how rough it is regardless of your past, be who you are, and do what makes you happy regardless what anyone says.

Check out some of Keke’s stunning work:

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