While you might not know her name, if you follow fashion, you will certainly be familiar with the work of makeup artist Raisa Flowers. She’s the mastermind behind poet and activist Amanda Gorman’s dewy, fresh-faced look on the cover of American Vogue’s May 2021 issue and is quite possibly the reason why you’ve considered adding colourful contact lenses to your go-to beauty look. You might even recognize her from a slew of recent runway appearances, from Gypsy Sport to Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty, or even on the side of a bus modelling for Calvin Klein.
Welcome to Artist Spotlight #53 series on my blog.
Born and bred in Mount Vernon, New York, Flowers has built a name for herself thanks to her unapologetic use of colour and alien-esque aesthetic, regularly using her own face as a canvas on which to experiment. That said, she wants to reassure the industry that, yes, she can in fact do the natural look, too. “I’ve assisted Pat McGrath during fashion week, I know how to do this,” she quips over Zoom. While we’re on the subject, she has another message for the industry: “I want people to know that I’m here and I’m a badass.”
When did you first become interested in make-up?
“My mum loves make-up, so I got into it because of her. She wears it every day, even on the days where she’s going to the laundromat. I started doing make-up pretty young, around 13 years old. I would experiment on my aunties, my granny and my friends – I was doing weddings and school proms at 16. So, I was doing it for a long time. I didn’t want to be a make-up artist, I loved it for fun, but when I started doing it more and more, it got me super inspired. I was into fashion – that’s where my love of make-up came from; seeing the show make-up and all these different types of looks got me into it.”
You’re known as much for your own looks as you are your editorials. Do they require the same sort of approach or do they occupy different levels of creativity?
“When I’m doing editorial, it’s based on the vibe of the shoot and the creative. People have a specific vision of how they want it to look and it can become super linear unless they actually want to spend time on it and collaborate. Normally, they want the clothes to shine instead of letting the make-up be a whole vibe.
“My own make-up is based on a vibe. I will be chilling and then I just let my hands play. Either I will dream it on myself or I will see myself in a certain way. And if it doesn’t come out how I envisioned it, I’ll try something else. I’m down to be open and play with it. Sometimes I have no direction of where I’m going with it and I just like to let it flow and create something beautiful. Some of my best looks have been the fastest looks. I’ve done the ones that I hated the most in the moment of doing them, and then they just came out great.”
How would you describe your relationship with make-up?
“I love make-up, it makes me happy. I love being able to pick a colour palette and play with different textures and make someone feel super beautiful, especially on a day where they weren’t feeling beautiful. Having a model sit in my chair and being inspired by their face is something that’s important to me; it gives me an adrenaline rush. When I do something really good, it makes me feel how food makes me feel: satisfied.”
What’s been your biggest highlight so far?
“Working with Rihanna, doing her make-up and being in the Savage x Fenty show was big. We share the same Caribbean heritage. We’re both Bajan and Guyanese, which is a big thing, so just being able to share the moments I have with her, and connect with her on these types of levels, is very important to me and my career because it shows me that I’m going in the right direction.”
What was it like to have your first American Vogue cover with Amanda Gorman?
“I was so excited to be part of that important cultural moment. A Vogue cover was definitely on my bucket list for sure. Check.”
Which direction would you like your career to go in?
“My goals in the industry are just being myself and doing the level of work that I’m doing. I want to bring back makeup again. I feel like shoots are boring because people care so much about the clothing. When you see work from the ’80s, they have such big concepts and it revolves around the make-up, the hair, the styling, everything. Now, it’s so minimal – it’s just like, ‘Let’s do some skin,’ and throw it out and that’s it. I would love to bring back the type of feeling of creating a mood.”
You’re constantly challenging traditional notions of beauty in your work. Why is this so important to you? What are you hoping to communicate?
“For a long time, people wouldn’t hire me because my looks were too dramatic. Then all of a sudden, there are these shoots with contacts. I would love for the industry to be more open to trying new things. I’m one of the only few Black women in the industry doing make-up on my level, other than Pat McGrath, but she’s gigantic. I want to make my mark and put these high-level, tasteful looks into the world.
“A lot of Black people have been shunned by the industry or put to one side just because people think they can’t do the same work that their counterparts can do. I have piercings. I have tattoos. I look different, my art is different. When I’m on set, I’m the only Black person 90 to 95 per cent of the time. A lot of girls say to me that they feel comforted when they see me, especially Black talent or any person of colour. I have a different complexion and they feel comfortable knowing that I’m there because I might make their skin better or make them look better. This is an experience I want to give people.”
What would be your advice to aspiring make-up artists looking to get into the industry?
“Stay true to yourself and the things you are most passionate about. That is what resonates the most. If you don’t think there is space for you, create your own.”
What does make-up mean to you?
“It gives you the freedom to express yourself in any way that you want. It’s so freeing to throw some colours on my eyes, pop a contact in, throw a lash on – it allows you to be your true self. I feel like a lot of people would love to wear make-up but they judge it because they think it’s too much. People should experiment with it more. I love beauty, it’s a performance and it helps you to be your true self. So, I hope we’ll get more into it.”
What would you advise younger generations who don’t feel beautiful or free enough to express themselves?
“What is beauty anyway? Real beauty is internal. Love yourself first and real beauty will radiate out.”