“Lipstick in Barbados? Not unless I was a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding,” recalls Rihanna with a laugh when asked about her teenage beauty routine. “My mom wasn’t flexible. I wore no makeup.” Though she wasn’t allowed to partake, Rihanna says her mom, who worked at a cosmetics counter back in the day, inspired her passion for makeup and perfume.
Now 29, and with a few credits of her own under her belt (pop icon, designer, actress), Rihanna has channeled her lifelong love of maquillage into Fenty Beauty, her hot new line that has earned raves from both the industry and the general public since it launched in September. Though she loathes the idea of promoting “perfection” (“everyone is beautiful in their own way,” she says), the most buzzed-about products are the ones that allow her fans to share in some of her glow. They include 40 shades of velvety matte foundations that cater to women of all skin tones. (Worth noting: The darker shades sold out almost immediately.)
Here, Rihanna discusses how beauty helped her evolve from shy Barbadian to global phenomenon.
Did you always know you wanted to do a makeup line?
You have all these ideas of things you want for yourself, and for me, beauty was a natural fit because makeup is such a huge part of my career and image. I wanted to do a line for years, but it needed to be credible, something that industry pros and girls around the world would respect.
Do you have a favorite product?
I love the Killawatt highlighter because you can use it in so many ways. I put it on my eyes, cheeks, and body. It goes on smooth, and the texture is superfine, almost like liquid—plus it’s extremely high-shine. There’s a ton of different colors.
As a woman of color, I’m most impressed by the range of foundation shades. So often, makeup brands leave us brown girls hanging.
That was very important to me. I wanted everyone to feel included. We actually started with foundation because it’s the very first makeup product I fell in love with.
What was your first experience with foundation?
When I was a teen back in Barbados, I was in a pageant, and my mom did my makeup for it. I will never forget the feeling I had after seeing how even my skin looked when she put foundation on my face. And I remember my brother being so upset. He was like, “You’re gonna put that on every day?” I loved it. It’s like Photoshop. I like my makeup to look like skin—really good skin.
I read that your mom used to be a professional makeup artist.
That’s true. She worked behind a cosmetics counter at a department store in Barbados, and she did makeup for weddings. That’s where my obsession for cosmetics and perfume came from, but I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup unless it was for a special occasion.
Tell me about your look in high school. What was your go-to hairstyle?
I wore cornrows until I got a perm. Then once I got a perm, I rotated between ponytails and wearing my hair pressed straight. But when I would go to the hairdresser and my hair was freshly done, I wouldn’t put it in a ponytail until it got a little greasy. I had some really strange hairstyles, though. I would do stuff like pull one random piece out of the ponytail or have two cornrows braided down the middle of my head that connected into the ponytail. What was that?
So now that you’ve experimented with so many different hair and makeup looks, what’s been your overall favorite?
Definitely when I wore a Jean Paul Gaultier couture gown and a doobie wrap with bobby pins to the American Music Awards [in 2013]. It was just so wrong. I couldn’t believe what I was doing, but I ended up loving it so much that I kept wearing my hair like that for the next two weeks. I pinned it every day and everything.
On the days when you’re not feeling so hot but still have to go out and be Rihanna, what do you do?
I start by looking for my outfit, and even that can be like, “Ugh, I gotta figure something out.” If I’m still not feeling it, I go to the mirror and get my beat together. Makeup is therapeutic for me. Once I start my glam—the makeup, the hair—I’m good. I’ll play music, find the good light in the bathroom, and just have a great time. That’s what gets me motivated.
You always seem so confident. What pressures have you gotten over?
I don’t know if it was a confidence thing, but I was very shy at one point. I knew what I was about and what I stood for, but I was not very vocal. In the Barbadian culture there’s this thing we say: “Speak when you’re spoken to.” It’s polite not to blabber. It took me a couple of years to come out of my shell.
At what point in your career do you think you came into your own?
I would say after Good Girl Gone Bad . That album led me to this place where I was like, “What is there to lose?” I just have to be myself. I have to be at peace every day of my life.
What advice do you have for young girls who might be struggling with their identities in this age of social media?
The biggest mistake you can make is to compare yourself with someone else. I hate the pressure that’s being put on us by social media. Young girls don’t know which way to go; they’re still figuring themselves out. And what we’re teaching them through social media is this idea that you have to be perfect. I just reject that at every cost. I only know how to be me, and people thrive when they’re who they’re meant to be. I can only try my best to encourage girls and women to respect their uniqueness and be 100 percent true to themselves.