Name a role Tessa Thompson hasn't mastered. Historic civil rights activist? Check. Cold blooded robo industry boss? Check. Hipster artist who lives in a garage? Check. Ground breaking queer superhero from space? The checks keep on coming. She's even voiced Disney's most elegant dog, Lady.
Now, the on-screen chameleon has added yet another role to her already prolific CV, this time as the new face of Armani Beauty. Which comes as no surprise when you consider that when it amounts to playing herself, Thompson's repertoire is no less versatile. She is equally experimental (and epic) with her beauty looks. A braided beehive finished with an embellished Loewe veil, a cylindrical donut up-do that defies gravity, and a bum-grazing finger wave ponytail all feature in the Californian's beauty back catalogue. We haven't even mentioned the time she worked a pearl encrusted spine...
ELLE caught up with 2022's most avant garde beauty icon to talk all things messy beauty looks, altering the landscape of representation and the one skincare tip Tracee Ellis Ross swears by...
How would you describe your approach to beauty?
'I like the idea that beauty should be playful. I’ve always found it oppressive this idea that there’s one way of being beautiful. In my own make-up and fashion aesthetic, especially on the red carpet, I’m trying to contend with that idea. I want to show that beauty can also be surprising, it can also be challenging and, inside of that, it can also be simple. It can be whatever you want it to be and it can change. This idea that you have to have one way of being or looking, I also find that oppressive, especially as a public figure where people look at images of you and judge how beautiful they think you look. I always found that stressful and not much fun. I like the idea that I get to decide what makes me beautiful and that can change radically.'
What gives you the confidence to be so experimental with your looks?
'There is definitely a safety in knowing you have a way you like to look and appear because sometimes you take a beauty risk and (I can attest to this!) it doesn’t always pan out. But I really like the idea of taking big swings and big risks even if there are varying degrees of success. I get to work with the best artists in the world and I wouldn’t want to sit with them and say “Give me a blowout” or just a demure smokey eye. If I’m their canvas I want them to have the chance as artists to express themselves and do things that challenge and excite them as well as me. That to me is really fun.'
Are there any boundaries to your beauty experimentation?
'The only beauty rule I have is asking, “Do I feel like myself?” For me, that’s always does my skin look like my skin? That’s the baseline. Feeling good in my skin gives me the space to then make outrageous choices with the rest of my look - whether that’s my make-up or my outfit. Which is why it’s so auspicious and incredible to collaborate with Armani Beauty because it’s a brand that I’ve used for so long. I’ve literally used their Luminous Silk Foundation for over a decade. It’s the foundation I wore for my first ever big red carpet. They have such an amazing range of foundation shades, like 40 of them and 20 of those are for women of colour like myself.'
Would you describe yourself as a make-up hoarder or Marie Kondo?
'I have to admit, it’s not as Marie Kondo as I’d like it to be - it’s a little treasure trove. But I have got better! I have a stash that is my tried and true products, like if I had to hop on a plane immediately they’re the things I use daily. But in my closet it’s a little unwieldy because I like to be able to play. But it technically is Marie Kondo because all of it sparks joy! I just need to get better at organising it…'
Any red carpet regrets?
'I actually don’t have any looks I feel shameful about, the only red carpets I look at and cringe are the ones where I used to dress myself and do my own make-up. Those are really tragic but I love them! I love that person that was confident enough to not work with professionals and rock up wearing something I’d bought from the mall or a thrift store. I really admire that person. It’s all part of my story my journey which has got a lot better! There was a look that I did for the Met Gala where I wore a big latex ponytail and the make-up was really fresh with just a bright pink pout that was really powdery and beautiful. I loved that.'
Your Marvel character, Valkyrie, also rocks a major beauty look...
'In fact Valkyrie is also wearing Luminous Silk, which is fun. Something that we talked about a lot with her beauty was this idea of wanting to buck up against expectations. In her first scene she comes out of the spaceship in this powerful moment, and the next minute she falls straight off of it. It’s this idea of subverting what a sexy female superhero looks like. Part of that was giving her a smokey eye which arguably is a sexy thing (and something I still can’t do myself!) and then messing it up so it looked like she went to sleep on it three days ago and still hasn’t washed it off. Her beauty is allowed to be messy.'
As a beauty icon yourself, who do you look to for inspiration?
'Grace Jones and Bianca Jagger have always been big beauty icons for me, and David Bowie probably singlehandedly made me want to be good at eyeshadow. Oh, and Prince! Of my contemporaries, Tracee Ellis Ross is so inspiring in fashion and beauty and she’s also given me really good tips about being overly moisturised when you go to bed. She told me more moisture is the one when you got to sleep, so I’m very grateful for that!'
As the face of Armani Beauty, how does it feel to be changing the landscape of representation?
'I remember when I was younger I loved going shopping to the market with my mum because I would read all the magazines. I don’t remember during that time how many women of colour I saw selling beauty products on the pages, maybe a few supermodels. I certainly can tell you the first time I saw a woman that looked like me in television or film, those memories are deep within me. In many ways those women helped me to understand that I could be in movies, that I could pursue a career.
'We look to magazines to say what and who is beautiful and if you don’t see someone that looks like you, what does that say to you about your beauty? There were so few examples of naturally textured hair when I was growing up so it was no surprise that so many women like me wanted to straighten it, wanted it to be different.
'Now, I think that’s changed immensely. When friends of mine have beauty deals, particularly when they’re women of colour, it feels so special when I’m flipping through a magazine and I see their face. It feels empowering for me as someone that has visibility, so I can only imagine how it must feel for a woman that doesn’t have visibility in the same way as me to see a reflection of beauty that reminds her of herself. How that reverberates, on a global scale, can’t be understated.'
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