What black millennial in the UK doesn't remember smearing one of the two unforgiving shades of Dream Matte Mousse foundation all over their face? In all honesty, they were one of the few high street brands back then even trying to make an affordable foundation for black and brown people. “All the girls were obsessed with that Dream Matte Mousse” Adwoa Aboah laughs, “only two shades! But that’s how much things have changed – it’s amazing.” Fast forward 10 years and who would believe that British Vogue would be edited by a black man, with cover of the first issue under Edward Enninful graced by the freckled, Ghanian-British, bald-headed Londoner Adwoa Aboah. She’s right, things are changing and more companies like Revlon are listening.
There’s no doubt that Aboah is probably one of the most famous models in the world right now. At just 27, she’s been on almost every Vogue magazine you could think of, including Vogue Italia, British Vogue, Vogue US, Vogue Arabia, and Vogue Poland as well as the covers of i-D and Love Magazine. You just have to walk outside and you’ll see her face in shops, and plastered on posters. But Aboah is an activist too, back in 2015 she created Gurls Talk, which grew from an Instagram account into an online community for young women dedicated to talking all things mental health — something Aboah is open and honest about.
We meet on a warm September evening in London, not too far from Oxford Street in Revlon’s free 24-hour pop-up shop celebrating their new “life-proof” ColorStay Foundation (which also lasts 24 hours), for which Aboah is an ambassador. She sits legs crossed on a sofa in a high necked yellow dress, excited about getting her nails done downstairs after we speak. We soon end up diving into the realities of makeup for black models, mental health, and why it’s so important to spend time on self-care.
For black makeup fans, the most pressing question about any new foundation line is whether it has the range. Thankfully, the new Revlon collection sports 41 shades. “There’s such a massive amount of selection that it becomes very inclusive for anyone who wants to wear foundation,” she assures me. Aboah's makeup artist is able to pick from four foundations when shade matching her — any woman of colour will know that’s an absolute rarity. The Colorstay foundation is also ideal for those who don’t want full coverage like herself, making it "a great in-between," Aboah explains.
Searching for the right makeup hasn’t always been an easy ride for Aboah. Growing up she says she could just about get one concealer, “but that was about as far as we were going to go with matching.” Revlon might be proving that foundation can be everyone, but the beauty industry at large still has a long way to go.
Aboah has been named British GQ's Woman of the Year in 2017 and modelled for the likes of Calvin Klein, Versace, and Dior, yet bewilderingly still can’t get matched properly for shoots and catwalks. “It’s ridiculous, and I actually don’t mind calling people out about it. I don’t think you should be able to call yourself a makeup artist if you don’t know how to do a variety of people’s skin.” For black and brown models the prospect of getting a makeup artist who can actually prepare their skin is still a rarity. She tells me about how around 10 girls, including the white women, would queue for a particular trusted makeup artist at fashion shows.
“The amount of times I’ve been at shows and I’ve moved from person to person,” Aboah says, explaining that this usually results in her skin ending up the worst complexion imaginable. “It’s grey! They go for grey!” she says.“I think before I was embarrassed, can you imagine that? Being embarrassed about you having the skin that you have or the hair that you have?” Now Aboah doesn’t take any nonsense when it comes to makeup artists who can’t accommodate all skin tones. “I think I feel a lot more respectful for myself if I don’t sit there and let them do what they’re doing.”
Afro hair isn’t treated much better either. Other models, like her sister Kesewa, who she acknowledges is darker in complexion with longer natural hair than her own, has to deal with nightmare afro situations like “sitting in that chair for three hours getting two braids done.” Something any black person knows shouldn’t take longer than half an hour, and that’s generous.
And on the topic of skin, Aboah is no stranger to showing her imperfections on the internet — something you might not expect from a model. Only recently this month, she posted photos of her acne on Instagram. For a lot of people who struggle with their skin, foundation is a quick fix, but loving your skin, flaws and all “is easier said than done” she tells me. “I don’t cover it up” instead Aboah says her skin “needs to breathe or something,” chuckling. “But, I probably cover it up in different ways, there’s a lot of hoodie action going on,” she admits. “When I stress about it, it definitely gets worse. You kind of have to take the power away from it” she says, explaining that it's something you may notice more than anyone else does.
The new Revlon ColorStay Foundation campaign is all about being covered for whatever life throws at you, but in such a fast-paced world, where it’s easy to burn out – finding mechanisms to slow down is just as needed. Yet for Aboah to slow down she has to speed up. “It's going to come across like I’m some weird...” she trails off and pauses, “really exercise is key for me — like actually key.” she reiterates more seriously. “And being someone who has had a long history of mental health issues, I can approach any situation in a positive way, even if it’s stressful, if I’ve been to the gym.” Her work schedule revolves around her gym sessions, where she likes to do intense cardio, weights and feel the burn. “I don’t look at my phone, I have to really concentrate on the task at hand,” she says.
And as far as self-care goes, alone time is Aboah’s go-to. “I take a lot of trips by myself,” she tells me, ''I'm lucky in that I can do that. It’s good to spend some time by yourself.” Finding herself hiking in LA, “I’m not talking about full-blown adventures babe” she assures me and we both laugh. She’s also learning how to say no, when to stay in and binge watch TV, when to go out, and “following my instincts and not just following the crowd” she puts it. Although Aboah admits FOMO can be real, but trying to “remember you chose you first” is even more necessary.
Dispelling myths around perfection in an industry that sells it is so refreshing and Gurls Talk is a testament to that. Earlier this year, Gurls Talk teamed up with Revlon to create a limited-edition makeup kit, inspiring body positivity and women’s empowerment. “The Gurls Talk team, we look back at that as a really major moment for us.” After the collaboration's success, it makes sense for the two to work together one day. “Wouldn't that be great! Who knows what the future may hold.”