In our monthly series, Self-Directed, we invite influencers in the world of beauty and fashion to direct their own editorial story and create the looks they love with the glam teams they trust. You’ll learn about their best-kept beauty secrets, favorite products, and more.
It’s Election Day, and Cleo Wade arrives at the studio fresh-faced and dressed head to toe in red, white, and blue, a coincidence she laughs off. But her subconscious may have dressed her this morning, as the conversation during hair and makeup isn’t about products and glamour, but rather female empowerment and politics. It’s refreshing and inspiring to listen to the poet and artist speak so confidently and eloquently about her hopes and dreams for society while casually sipping on coffee (a morning must for Wade) and getting her gorgeous curls wound tightly around miniature curling irons.
From the moment she walks in the door, it’s evident that Wade’s style is effortless: cool-girl chic. So much so that she opts for bare nails, since she’s constantly creating art and her digits are often covered in acrylic paint and clay. This laid-back approach to beauty is the goal for today’s three looks, a reflection of Wade’s lifestyle. Wade, a New Orleans native, holds her Southern roots near and dear to her heart, but for the shoot, she’s opted for a New York City theme. Each look will take us through a journey of her favorite spots, from Central Park to Harlem.
Natural Beauty Look
“I love when makeup is very clean. Everyone in the world has their own distinctive beauty, and it’s nice to really see it.” —Wade
Get the Look:
“The first look we did was a natural beauty look inspired by vegging in Central Park and meditating on a spring day and going to MoMA in the afternoon—you’re just having a chill day. She has such beautiful skin, and we wanted to highlight that, so we used a really neutral lip color that was very similar to her actual lip color just to give it a little bit of moisture and a little bit of a pop. So it was all about glowy skin and looking really fresh.” —Mellinger
“Individuality is really important in this. I think her being a woman that younger women can look up to—it’s not about just being beautiful. So keeping her looking like herself was really important in this—just really enhancing what she has. Basically, a better version of what she walked in with is all I did. I used three different, really little curling irons—if you have the time and patience to do that, go for it. I don’t recommend it [laughs]. One is good. When I curled it, I pulled the curls out right off the iron and would stretch the curl and let it cool in an elongated shape so it wasn’t so tight and kinky. And then when I was finished, I took some Bumble and Bumble Brilliantine ($25) in my hands and rubbed that in and really shook the hair out and kind of roughed it up in my hands to keep the texture natural. She said she likes a center part, but I don’t like doing too strong of a parting, so I took the end of a brush and did the parting so that way there wasn’t a hard line—a little bit softer, a little more lived-in. We could have done a change [of hairstyles], but we didn’t think it necessary to change it each time. I think the little changes like moving the hand throughout the hair and changing up the parting a little bit is enough to make a difference. It’s really about the makeup. I’d hate to take away from that.” —Nielsen
Moody Red Lip
“A moody red lip is pretty romantic. I’m a bit of a romantic myself.” —Wade
Get the Look:
“The second look we did was the Lip Moment—something that reminds her of a fun night in NYC, hopping around drinking wine all night. A lip is hard when you’re drinking wine. I definitely would recommend something like a lip primer. Bite makes a really good one [Ed. Note: The primer used today was Bite Beauty Line & Define Lip Primer, $22]. That helps to prevent bleeding, and it also helps retain the shape. The lip color is Marc Jacobs Beauty Le Marc Lip Crème Lipstick ($32) in Miss Scarlet. We added a little bit more blush on the cheeks to even it out and kept the eye the same as in the first look, so even if you’re going from the middle of the day and went to MoMA and just have natural, beautiful skin, you can amp it up by adding a little bit of cream blush and lipstick.” —Mellinger
“Subtle drama—nothing wrong with that.” —Wade
Get the Look:
“For the third look, we did a dewy eye inspired by a night out—something she would do for a jazz club in Harlem. We still worked with neutral tones—you know, very classic beauty, but it’s a cool-girl classic beauty. We took a bronzey-red color on the lid and a little bit of a gold highlight on the inner corners of the eye. Then I put a gloss on top of that. MAC makes a mixing medium called Shine ($23) that will stay better and is easier for day-to-day wear, but I used Lucas’ Papaw Ointment ($8). It looks really beautiful in photos, but you don’t want to put that glossy effect over a powder shadow necessarily, unless you’re mixing it together before you apply it, because it won’t transfer very well. If you put it on top of a cream, it’s fine. But for every day, I recommend MAC Shine.” —Mellinger
Keep scrolling to read our conversation with Wade about her beauty favorites, her art, and how she maintains her cool-girl vibe.
BYRDIE: Walk us through your typical beauty routine. Do you have any rituals that you find yourself doing each time you get ready?
CLEO WADE: The first thing I do before anything else is meditate. It’s a lot easier to take care of your outer self if your inner self is taken care of. I am a longtime lover of flower waters. I spray lavender water and rose water on my face every morning. As for moisturizer, I usually use vitamin E oil, but lately, I have been obsessed with Honest Beauty Younger Face Deep Hydration Cream ($25). I travel so much, which is so dehydrating, so it has been a savior for me. It puts the life back in your skin without covering it in chemicals, which is so important to me, especially for products I use daily.
BYRDIE: What's your secret for maintaining your curls? Do you have any favorite hair products?
CW: I wish I had a favorite product for hair. Having curly hair is such a journey because it changes so much over time. The curly hair I have now is not the same as it was 10 years ago, and the way my hair reacts to products when it’s long is totally different than when it’s short. My one curly-hair trick that always works is after my shower, I keep my hair in braids for a few hours before leaving the house. It helps lock in the moisture from my conditioner. A lot of my friends with straight hair do it too, actually.
BYRDIE: What’s your favorite hairstyle?
CW: My hair has a mind of its own, so I just let it do its thing most of the time.
BYRDIE: You’ve said that you like to keep your skincare routine very simple. Why is this?
CW: The more you do health-wise for the total experience of your life, the less you need to do for your skin. If you eat well, sleep well, and laugh often, your skincare routine demands very little from you.
BYRDIE: Would you say that your background in art coincides with your beauty routine?
CW: Art is usually just a mood executed very carefully. I’d say you could probably apply that to your beauty routine.
BYRDIE: How does your routine differ when you’re in NYC, as opposed to when you’re home in NOLA?
CW: New Orleans is very hot and humid, so you can basically only wear lipstick if you want to wear any makeup at all.
BYRDIE: What’s one product we’ll always find in your handbag?
CW: Definitely 100% pure lavender oil. When you are feeling a little stressed, if you rub it in the palms of your hands and breathe in, it instantly relaxes you. We can never underestimate the toll that stress takes on our body and spirit: It is so important to have go-to's in our lives—and most of us keep our lives in our handbags—that help relax us into the moment so we can reset and take on the rest of our day.
BYRDIE: What are some under-the-radar products and treatments that you love?
CW: Black cumin seed oil—it is an incredible anti-inflammatory oil. It's incredible for skin allergies like eczema. Whenever I am painting a lot, my hands get really dry and sensitive, and this is a huge help. I apply it directly and also put a few drops in my water throughout the day—it is great for the immune system as well.
BYRDIE: Where do you draw inspiration from for your makeup and hair looks?
CW: My travels. I am deeply inspired by seeing the women of the Middle East, India, and Morocco.
BYRDIE: What’s the best beauty tip you've ever received?
CW: I saw a sign in my hometown one day that said: “Until further notice, celebrate everything!” Maybe that’s not a traditional beauty tip from a traditional beauty tip source, but it’s the best one I ever received!
BYRDIE: Lastly—we have to ask—tell us a quick poem about your beauty looks from the shoot.
CW: The sexiest thing you could ever do is be wildly and beautifully unafraid.
Photographer: Sacha Maric; hair: Clay Nielsen; makeup: Katie Mellinger; styling: Jess Roberts.