Glowing skin, flawless makeup, and the most outgoing personality. These easily explain how celebrity makeup artist Angel Merino, also known as @mac_daddyy, made it big in our current age of Instagram, but we’ll have you know that he isn’t about to get comfortable just yet. In fact, the Latino makeup guru has an entire beauty brand to his name — Artist Couture.
Sure, celebrity and influencer makeup lines seem dime a dozen these days, but what stands out is that this one’s by a makeup artist who has put in his years in the beauty industry, working on all types of complexions and skin types. On top of that, Artist Couture delivers on stunning formulas, the same kind of results you’ll see Merino himself creating, at affordable price points. The idea here is accessibility, which is close to Merino’s heart as he shares with us about his growing-up years.
“I felt like it was my responsibility, especially with having an audience and a platform because of social media, to create something that people could use and people could turn to to give them that self-confidence and make them feel better about themselves,” he adds. It’s quite clear, then, that the brand is all about celebrating self-expression. The ever-passionate Merino makes that feel even more personal, whether he’s talking about a makeup collection made to represent his Spanish culture, or multi-use products that encourage a “no-rules” kind of freedom and creativity.
Ahead, we hear about his beauty journey, from M.A.C makeup artist to beauty brand founder, as well as gain some useful tips and tricks for mask-wearing and Zoom meetings.
How did you get started in beauty?
Angel Merino: “My very first passion was dance. Once I discovered that I wasn’t going to have the career that I aspired for in the dance world, I kind of shifted from wanting to be a dancer to teaching, and had a job working at a dance studio. At dance competitions, I would see all the other teams and how amazing everyone else looked at, and how we just looked a little rough, so I took it upon myself do everyone’s makeup before competitions. I wasn’t good. I honestly didn’t really know what I was doing.
I also had friends that worked at the M.A.C counter, and it always seemed like such a fun, cool place. I just loved the vibe and the way that everyone looked, and what it was about, so I was really drawn to that. I took a chance and I ended up dropping out of school — my mom was not happy about that. So I ended up pursuing a job in makeup, and getting a job at a department store, and I just fell in love with it.”
Your first beauty-related job was at M.A.C Cosmetics — what made you fall in love with makeup?
AM: “I fell in love with connecting with people, I fell in love with the idea of helping people find products and learn how to do their makeup, and the way that gave them a sense of confidence so they feel better about themselves. I just fell in love with the entire aspect of it, everything that revolved around makeup, and I really knew that that’s what I wanted a career in. Fast forward years later, Instagram happened, and I was posting before and afters, photos of myself, information on products, and it completely took off. Through that, I’ve been able to work with tons of amazing brands that I’ve loved, as well as create my own. It’s been a long, long journey, but that’s kind of how I got to where I am now.”
How would you describe your relationship with makeup?
AM: “I grew up in a single-parent household, and I didn’t really have a lot of people around me to talk to about the way I was feeling, about being gay and being different, and all of these things. Everything that is acceptable now and the changes and strides that we’ve made now, it wasn’t like that back then. There wasn’t even a show on TV with gay people that I could get guidance from or look to. There wasn’t social media where I could find someone else that was like me. I think there were two other people that were openly gay in my high school, and I saw how they got ridiculed and how they got treated, and I was never out in high school because I was just so scared. I really turned to makeup as a way for me to kind of express myself, as a creative outlet as well. But at the same time, it also gave me confidence and it made me feel good about myself. It is so transformative and it’s what gives people a sense of confidence, and it really is something that people turn to to feel better.”
From there, what inspired you to start your own makeup brand, Artist Couture?
AM: “I felt like it was my responsibility, especially with having an audience and a platform because of social media, to create something that people could use and people could turn to to give them that self-confidence and make them feel better about themselves. I was just obsessed with the idea. And working in the industry, as a makeup artist, I felt like I knew what was missing.
I’ve worked on literally every complexion, every skin type, and so I felt like I had a really, really good knowledge as to what was missing in the market. And specifically with my brand, all of the products that we create are all multi-use products, and can be used for different parts of the face.
I really strive to create products that also enable people to feel creative and inspired. I never want to create something that’s like, “okay, this is a lipstick and you can only use it on the lips”. I kind of make it open-ended so that the artist, or whoever’s using the product, can really be creative and have no boundaries, because I feel like there’s no rules when it comes to makeup.”
Why is affordability an important part of your makeup brand?
AM: “That’s one of the biggest things with my brand. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money so she couldn’t just go to a makeup store or go to a department store and get whatever she wanted. So with me and my brand, my biggest thing is accessibility. I like to think of my brand as an affordable luxury, so it’s just pretty accessible price points. Nothing’s too crazy, as far as the price point goes. It’s very accessible, but at the same time, we really pride ourselves in having really great quality ingredients, really amazing formulas, we work with some of the best labs in the country, we work with some really amazing Italian labs as well, which create a lot of our product. And even down to the packaging — the black and the gold — I just think it’s really sleek, really clean, but also feels really luxe as well.”
The Diamond Glow Powders and Diamond Lights Finishers have been really popular — why did you choose to launch loose powder formulas instead of traditional pressed powder ones?
AM: “The Diamond Glow Powder is actually the first product that I launched for my brand. With the loose highlighter, I wanted to make sure that the pigments looked really, really good on the skin, Since the pearls are loose, the way that they set and adhere onto the skin is a lot different from something that’s pressed. Typically for a pressed product, you pick up a lot of pigment with a brush so when you’re applying it, it kind of looks like a streak, and you’re kind of like, “oh my god, this is too much!”, and trying to blend it out and make it look good. With loose powder, that doesn’t really happen — it just sits and melts into your skin on the top layer, so it looks a lot more effortless.
I also really wanted people to have the flexibility to use it on different parts of the face. You can mix it with a body lotion and create a custom body glow. You can mix it with your favourite body oil, and create more of a dewy, balmy look. You can literally put it in a setting spray to get more of a luminous sheen. You can use it on your eyes. We’ve used it in clear nail polish. We’ve used it in so many different ways, so the fact that it is a loose powder gives you the versatility to use it on different parts of the face.
Same thing with the Diamond Lights Finishers — those are loose pearls, but they’re really uniquely formulated. Each pearl is coated and wrapped in silicone oil, so when you touch it, it feels emollient and wet, and the silicone oil is what actually allows it to really melt onto the skin. You get that super wet, light, sparkly shine. And again, you can use it on your body, you can use it on your face to highlight, you can use it on your eyes. It’s so fun, and I want to really encourage people to get creative and explore and play.”
The Caliente collection, in particular, celebrates your Spanish heritage — why was that so important to you?
AM: “I really wanted to do something where I celebrated my culture and brought a little bit more visibility to it. All of the eyeshadow names are in Spanish, all of the products in the collection are basically in Spanish, and all of the shades are inspired by my culture too.
I felt like the colours really spoke to me while I was naming them. There’s a shade in there called “Cultura”, which is “culture” in Spanish, and I thought about what the colour yellow means and represents. It represents optimism, and is like the brightest colour in the spectrum, and I thought that it was just such a great colour to represent my culture. There’s another colour in there that’s called “Vibras”, which is “vibes” in Spanish, and it’s a really pretty pink.
I really wanted to kind of have that moment, because I personally can’t think of a lot of makeup brands or products that have that Latin, Hispanic feel, that are even in Spanish. I know of a few smaller indie brands, but I wanted people to be able to log on to a shopping place like Sephora, or be in a Sephora environment, and pick up a product and identify with the fact that it’s Spanish, and kind of feel like they have that representation and that visibility.”
You just launched the Ethereal Bloom collection. Are there other exciting things planned for 2021?
AM: “I’m super excited for 2021, we’re finally starting to play in the complexion category, because currently we’re just doing colour, so palettes, lipsticks, lip glosses. We’re also starting to play with makeup-skincare hybrids — we have a few products coming that just have really, really great skincare ingredients that go really well with makeup. I’m really excited to introduce new parts of the brand.”
On mask makeup — do you have any tips for keeping your makeup in place under a mask?
AM: “I definitely think that everything you do before your makeup and after your makeup is going to be super key. So with wearing makeup under a mask, I highly recommend using a primer that’s going to grip onto the makeup. If you’re someone that’s more on the oily side, kind of like me, mattifying primers are great because they help to keep the oils under control, so that the oil isn’t breaking down the makeup as well. The minute that happens, you could touch your face with your finger and it’s going to separate and come off.
Once you’re done doing your makeup, you need a really, really, really good setting spray to kind of lock it all in and make sure that it stays in place. I really like Urban Decay’s All-Nighter Setting Spray, because it really, truly, almost creates a shield for your makeup, so that it’s not moving. It does contain a little bit of alcohol, and I know some people try to stay away from products with alcohol, but that’s what makes it stay in place. For lipsticks, I like to set them with a translucent setting powder over the lipstick, because it almost mattifies the lipstick so that it’s not transferring. You’re still able to get the colour that you want, but kind of manipulating it so that it doesn’t transfer.”
How about Zoom meetings, is there a specific look you might recommend?
AM: “When it comes to makeup for Zoom meetings or Zoom calls, I definitely don’t think that you have to be like, full glam. So just a little but of concealer to brighten you up and make you look nice and awake, maybe spot concealing if you have any blemishes or pimples or pigmentation. Honestly, just a little mascara, and a really pretty gloss, and you’re good to go. I think, especially on Zoom, everyone’s a lot more relaxed, so it’s a great opportunity to look more fresh, a little bit more effortless.”
You’re also a celebrity makeup artist — how would someone achieve the “airbrushed” look celebrities seem to have at red carpets?
AM: “Similar to the other question, it’s really important how you prep before the makeup, and the things you do after the makeup. For me, I like to make sure that the skin itself is nice and prepped. I’m going in with a really great hydrating serum, so that it’s hydrated, plump, and smooth. Then, a really great moisturiser that’s going to make sure your skin is just looking super lush. When you’re taking the time to do the serums, moisturisers, the eye creams, and all that stuff, it’s going to make a difference with the way makeup works on your skin. Makeup is going to glide on the skin a lot better, it’s going to set on the skin a lot better, it’s going to look a lot better. And then also, I like to make sure that I’m using a foundation that isn’t too heavy, that isn’t looking too cakey. So then that’s looking nice and flawless, but then it looks lightweight and feels lightweight, because no one wants to feel like you have something on your skin or on your face. But the biggest tip for me, would be to definitely make sure you’re taking time to prep your skin with skincare.”
What do you think is a good skincare routine that most people could follow at home?
AM: “Definitely a good cleanser — cleansing is really important. I like to keep my cleanser in the shower, so that I’m just cleansing while I’m in the shower. I would definitely recommend a good exfoliator, and to use the exfoliator a couple times a week, because that’s really going to help to get rid of any dead skin cells, or just any dry skin around the face. And after that, a good toner. A toner is going to help balance the pH levels of your skin. There are pore-tightening toners, which are my favourite ones, because those kind of instantly help the appearance of your pores to look smaller. And then definitely a good moisturiser, and a good eye cream. As long as you’re doing a cleanser, a toner, moisturiser and eye cream, that’s a pretty good skincare routine, especially if you’re doing that on a daily basis.”
What is one product you think everybody should have?
AM: “There’s one product that I really, really love to use, it’s from a brand called Glow Recipe, and it’s their Watermelon Glow Pore-Tightening Toner. I love that toner, because when I get out of the shower and use it, I instantly feel my skin hydrated. And I visibly see my pores appearing a lot smaller, so when I’m applying makeup after, my makeup just looks a lot smoother. That’s definitely something everyone needs for sure. Another great skincare product is the Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist, because you can use it before makeup, you can use it after makeup. I like to just use it throughout the day to feel refreshed. I love it, it’s one of my favourites.”
Is there a particular makeup trend or look that you’ve been seeing online that you really liked?
AM: “I really love the Euphoria-inspired makeup, where it’s like the rhinestones, the glitter, the high pearl, metallics — that’s so fun. I love that, and it’s a great way to be creative and just have fun with makeup. I haven’t watched the series to be honest with you, but because of the beauty trends and the wardrobe, I definitely get a vibe of what the show is without even having to see it.”
You’ve paved the way for a lot of male beauty lovers — do you have any advice for people who are starting to play with makeup or just coming out of their shell a little?
AM: “I would definitely say something that helped me a lot is that not everything has to look perfect or perfectly blended. The thing with makeup is that there’s really no rules. My biggest advice to anyone that’s just starting to learn how to apply makeup, or who wants to learn, is literally sit down in front of your mirror with your brushes and your makeup, and just go to town.
The more you do that, the more that you’ll be able to understand the colours that you feel look the best on you, or the colours that you gravitate to, or the ones you feel wouldn’t complement you. You’ll start to really understand your tools and your brushes too, being aware of what your brushes do, the shapes of the brushes, where the brushes go. All of that is really helpful because once you’re able to master your tools, it’s going to make such a huge difference — you’ll know more-or-less what to use, on what part of your face, and how to use it.”
Artist Couture, available at artistcouture.com.
Images from Artist Couture, or Angel Merino’s Instagram. Interview conducted by Natalie Tan. Edited by Amelia Tan.