Meet Professional Makeup Artist, Francesca Levethan!

School & class: Sophomore at Barnard College

 

Major: Urban Studies with a concentration in Race and Gender, Minor in Environmental Science

 

Hometown: Pound Ridge, New York

 

1. Tell me a little about yourself. What are you favorite hobbies and interests?

Besides all things makeup, I love hanging out with friends, exploring the city, and finding new museums and restaurants to go to. On campus, I’m involved with HOOT mag, am a tour guide for Meet Me at the Museum, and am the VP of Foundation for my sorority, Delta Gamma. I’m also really passionate about social justice issues, especially when it comes to gender rights, immigration reform, and environmental justice.

2. When did you first become interested in makeup?

To be honest, I’ve been obsessed with makeup for as long as I can remember. I actually still have a Christmas list I wrote asking my parents for “lickwid liner” and “violit lipstick” when I was in second grade! It’s just always been something that I was drawn to, even from a really young age.

3. When did you begin to do makeup professionally?

I did makeup for friends and family all throughout high school, but I didn’t really start working professionally until after I completed my training the summer I turned 17.

4. What inspired you to become a professional makeup artist?

I have a twin sister who has always been an incredible artist, but I’m terrible at drawing and painting; I think seeing her being so creative made me want to find an outlet of my own, which is why I turned to makeup as my art form. I wanted to become a professional so that I could turn my artistic passion into a career. After years and years of practice, I still felt like I wasn’t equipped to do makeup on someone else (let alone accept payment for it), which is why I decided to enroll in an academy training program. I also really wanted to expand my creativity within my work and gain the skills to do more experimental, avant-garde makeup looks.

5. You were trained at RO & RO Institute in Italy before coming to Barnard. What drew you to this institute in particular?

I wanted to complete some sort of training before my senior year to help me decide whether I wanted to go to college or go to an artistry academy to pursue a career in makeup instead. However, in the US, the majority of academies require you to be at least 18 years old and have a high school diploma or GED to enroll. In Italy, where my mom is originally from and where I hold dual citizenship, there aren’t any similar restrictions which is why I decided to go to school there instead. I discovered and decided to attend RO & RO because my cousin, who is herself a well-known makeup artist in Italy, highly recommended the school and had a friend who taught there (who ended up being one of my teachers!).

6. As your senior project in high school, you began doing prom makeup for free for girls who could not afford it. What was this experience like?

It was honestly the best, most rewarding experience I’ve ever had. I worked through the local community center in my town, which primarily serves immigrants from South and Latin America. Since getting your makeup done can be a very invasive and intimidating process, I do my best to ensure that the client is comfortable and enjoying herself so that she has the best experience possible. I always start conversations with my clients while working on them because of this, and also just because I’m a huge talker and love getting to know people in general. In doing this, I got to know the girls really well despite the short time we were together for, and they often opened up about the circumstances that caused them to leave home and the difficulties they were facing in America. I didn’t realize how much these conversations and my makeup work meant to these girls until one day after an appointment, when I went to my supervisor’s office to say goodbye for the day and found her crying at her desk. She told me that the girl whose makeup I’d just done had told her that this was the first time in the 8 years she had been in this country that she felt like an American person was talking to her as an equal, instead of as her superior. This instance made me realize how important the work I was doing was, because to these girls who had faced so much hostility from the rest of the community, the fact that someone not only cared enough to help make them feel beautiful on their prom night, but actually wanted to listen to them and get to know them was immensely meaningful. Before I left for college, a group of the girls I had done makeup for and their mothers, sisters, and grandmothers threw me a beautiful thank you party. They were so incredibly grateful to me and their gratitude made me realize the power that doing makeup has. That's why I am so in love with my job-  it allows me to connect with women on a meaningful level and help them feel beautiful, worthy, and cared for.

7. After completing your training at RO & RO in Italy, why did you decide to move to New York City and study at Barnard?

It was actually my experience doing makeup through the community center and being exposed to the difficulties and injustices faced by immigrant women of color especially, that made me decide to attend college instead of a makeup academy. Being the daughter of an immigrant myself, I’ve always felt really uncomfortable and frustrated with the amount of xenophobia and racism that exists where I live, especially because the fact that my mom is white and European seemed to make people forget that she’s just as much of an immigrant as someone from Guatemala is. Whereas my friends from South and Latin American backgrounds and their families faced constant hatred and bigotry, people were always fascinated by my mother’s background, thought her accent was cute, and loved hearing about her immigration story. It always infuriated me that my mom and my friends’ parents were treated completely differently solely because of their skin color; in fact, my mom was actually here illegally when she first arrived and was so for a much longer time period that most other immigrants I know, yet nobody ever suspects or even considers her immigration status because she’s white. The experiences I had at the community center only reaffirmed and cultivated the frustration I felt with the injustice that immigrants of color face in the US, which is why I decided to go to Barnard to pursue a degree that would help me change the discriminatory, unfair attitudes that pervade our society and legal system.

8. Have you done any work on campus or in New York City?

I have done makeup for both photoshoots and fashion shows for a variety of student groups on campus since being at Barnard. These include Alpha Chi Omega’s Runway Warriors charity fashion show, Lunar Gala, and editorial work for HOOT. Since being at school, I haven’t had that much time to work professionally off campus, so I’ve mainly been doing special event makeup for friends and community members instead.

9. Has Barnard changed your perspective on the fashion and makeup industry?

Definitely! Since being in this environment, I have been exposed to so many new perspectives on race, gender, sexuality, ability, and the body, through both classes and the Barnard community. This has made me even more sensitive to and aware of all the problematic aspects of the beauty and fashion industries, which obscure the majority of the population by perpetuating unattainable, non-inclusive ideals. I began to pick up on things like the extremely heteronormative assumptions made by advertising companies in beauty and fashion campaigns, the failure of makeup brands to cater their products to people of color, and the double-edged sword women face where if they do wear makeup, they are perceived as vain and superficial, but if they don’t wear makeup, they’re criticized for not caring about their appearance and seeming unprofessional. I’m extremely passionate about and interested in exploring these issues further, and am hoping to get an internship this summer doing editorial writing on social issues within the beauty and fashion industries at a magazine or website.

10. As an Italian citizen, do you notice any differences in makeup between Italy and the US?

In Italy, there is definitely more of a focus on more minimal, “natural” makeup, especially within the editorial sector. This really helped teach me to refine my skills and take a less-is-more approach, which has definitely helped me when it comes to working on clients who don’t typically wear much makeup on a day-to-day basis. In America, there is a much larger demand for creative, high-fashion looks and emphasis placed on originality and uniqueness– the weirder, the better!

11. What is your favorite part about being a makeup artist?

My favorite part about being a makeup artist is being able to help change how people see themselves and help them feel empowered. In my opinion, makeup should be something that empowers people to feel confident and strong, and act as a source of creative and self-expression. Through my makeup artistry work, I try to promote this message and encourage the clients I work with to embrace makeup as a source of power and as a way to embrace their own inner and outer beauty.

12. What/who are your biggest makeup inspirations?

I’m absolutely OBSESSED with Isamaya Ffrench, who is an incredibly talented artist that produces some of the most unique, innovative, and socially-charged work in the beauty industry. I also think Jordan Liberty has a really beautiful, refined aesthetic that still maintains an edginess that I love.

13. What are your favorite makeup brands or products?

I’m constantly trying new brands and products, so it’s hard to pick a favorite! I’m a sucker for cheap makeup, so I think Colourpop is one of the best brands on the market– besides being made in the USA, cruelty-free, and on par with high end brands in terms of quality, all of their products are under $10!

14. If you could do any celebrities makeup, who would it be and why?

I would love to do Kristen Stewart’s makeup! She always wears really bold, graphic looks and she’s constantly taking risks with her makeup, which I love. I also adore Zoe Kravitz’s grungy, beautifully messy aesthetic, as well as how Solange simultaneously keeps her makeup minimal but still strategically plays with color in her looks.

15. What are favorite makeup trends right now?

I love that freckles are finally starting to be embraced in makeup, as well as big, bushy, wild brows! I’m also loving the emphasis on clean, minimal skin and the glossy lids trend, which are both really big right now.