Makeup Artist Priscilla Ono On Rihanna, Launching Fenty Beauty, & Problem Solving

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In Bustle's Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they've ever gotten, to what they're still figuring out. Here, Priscilla Ono tells Bustle about the advice her grandmother gave her, how she prepares for a red carpet event, and how she landed her coveted role at Fenty Beauty.

"When Rihanna arrived on set of her "S&M" music video, I stood behind the cameras and was hiding almost. I could only see her feet because when you're a makeup artist on a music video shoot, proper etiquette is to avoid making eye contact with the artist." Priscilla Ono, Fenty Beauty's global makeup artist, is recalling the moment before she met Rihanna in 2011.

"She came up to me and said, 'Oh my God, I love your hair. You're so cool.' My hair was blonde and spike-y," Ono tells Bustle. "I smiled and tried to be chill about it when I was really freaking the f*ck out inside."

Director Melina Matsoukas then approached Ono and said Rihanna wanted her in the video. "So I was in the 'S&M' music video, and we became friends after that," she says.

Fast forward to 2017 when Rihanna was developing Fenty Beauty, Ono auditioned to be one of the brand's global makeup artists and landed the job.

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"We launched in such a big way when it came to setting the standard for inclusivity (50 foundation shades!) in makeup," Ono says. "It brings so much joy to me as an artist because it makes me feel like I'm part of history."

Below, the self-taught makeup pro shares how she recharges, what she'd tell her younger self, and the surprising story behind Rihanna's 2018 Met Gala look.

What fuels you as a makeup artist?

PO: My grandmother worked long hours and was always tired because she had to cook, clean, and take care of her kids plus her grandkids. But when she would put on makeup, I’d see her go from not feeling her best to transforming into this stunning powerhouse.

The transformation is what inspires me — 100%. I love being able to give someone the confidence to feel their best.

I've been plus-sized my whole life and growing up, it wasn't as body positive as it is today. Makeup was an escape for me to feel good about myself. I was my first muse, my first canvas — that's still something that plays so hard in my makeup artist DNA.

How do you prepare for a red carpet event?

PO: Part of being a great makeup artist is being a great problem solver and being able to react quickly if and when something goes wrong. Leading up to a big event, I like to meditate. I need that time alone to gather my thoughts, so that when those hiccups happen, my reactions are quick and they're right.

What's been the biggest mishap?

PO: When Rihanna dressed as the Pope at the 2018 Met Gala, I contracted a friend to bleach her eyebrows because I wanted them to match her skin tone. Because her brows were bleached the day of, it left some residue underneath, so her eyeshadow started to separate 15 minutes before the event.

I grabbed a brush, lightly swept over her lids, applied primer that I used for her eyes, and lightly layered the shadow on top, and it worked instantly. Because [Rihanna] was hosting that year, she was so nervous. Even though I was freaking out on the inside, I had to stay poker-faced and react as quick as possible.

I always think back to that moment and say to myself, "You handled it perfectly, you did what you had to do."

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How do you turn off your brain and recharge?

PO: Everyone's freaking out about quarantine — and I totally get it because we all wish that we could be with the people we love right now — but I spend a lot of time in quarantine to be honest. [Laughs]. I love music, every Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe film, and I Love Lucy reruns. Before quarantine, I loved chilling with my friends and family and going out to nice dinners. That’s how I recharge, but I'm also kind of obsessed with my job, so I also find comfort through researching makeup looks and creating mood boards on Pinterest.

What's the best advice you've ever received?

PO: My grandmother instilled in me that I had to work harder because I was Latina and a woman. I think that pressure helped me to become the beast that I am today. Even when I’m on set and we're working 20-hour days, I'm never sitting down, I never get sluggish, I keep pushing, because the photographers, the directors, and the clients notice passion and hard work.

What would you tell your younger self to do differently?

PO: To not stress out so much. If an opportunity falls through, it's because you're not ready at that time. I’d go back and tell myself to enjoy the moment, learn as you go, and then when the time is right, it's going to happen. I teach as well, so I tell my students that it took me 15 years to get to where I am, and I still don't feel like I'm 100% where I want to be. I came close to quitting so many times, but I'm glad that I never stopped. Success doesn’t happen overnight.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.