Traditionally, the "B-side" refers to the flip-side of a record. The A-side contains the more front-facing hits—the singles—but on the B-side, you can get in a bit deeper with the artist. And quite honestly, there's no better metaphor we can think of for the creative team behind a beauty look. They pull the references, scour the archives, and paint the picture you see on the big screen. The celebrity, model, or actor is the single with the most air time. But the glam team? They're the producers, conductors, friends, and family. For lack of a less ubiquitous phrase, they make it work.
It has always been our mission to shine a light on the BTS of beauty, as the artistry of hair and makeup is an intricate, detailed exploration at the cross-section of aesthetics and culture. Why? Because the origin of a look is just as important as the look itself. The backstory deserves its own hard-earned glory.
This time around, we're introducing you to Kahh Spence and Troye Antonio, the masterminds behind the hair and makeup looks for Byrdie's sixth cover—The Reflection Issue—featuring Kehlani. Below, join us in taking a peek behind the curtain, as their words are empowering and beautiful in equal measure.
Hair: Kahh Spence
"Our most recent inspiration is a modern-day Cruella de Vil," Spence tells me as brushing through Kehlani's first look—an updo showcasing their half black, half white dye-job. "Few people can pull off such a daring style, yet Kehlani does so with ease," he says. And it's true. The entire day felt easy. There's a lightness to Kehlani that translates in their beauty choices. Spence used their natural texture in the first look for that reason. "It was super natural and kept the look in Kehlani's element," he explains.
There's something to be said for having an inside look at an artist and her team. Kehlani had been traveling with the same group for weeks prior to our shoot—Spence and Antonio on hair and makeup, as well as her stylist, reps, and adorable young daughter. It felt like family; comfortable, quiet, and, here's that word again: easy. "Kehlani is such a sweetheart," Spence says of his longtime friend and client, "and she allows me to be as creative as possible. It’s always a great experience."
Spence grew up in Brooklyn, NY and spent a lot of that time in the salon or barbershop with his family. "I was exposed to the beauty space at such a young age," he tells me. "I styled my mother’s hair and that sealed the deal for me. She was very particular about who touched her hair, so I knew I had done something right!" Now, he routinely works with celebrity clients including Kehlani, Winnie Harlow, Cardi B, and Kelly Rowland—and he launched his namesake fragrance brand Kahh Spence Beauty in 2019. "It's made for everyone of every shape, size, and color all over the world," the brand's website reads.
Kehlani's second hairstyle, "clean and smooth," as Spence describes it, showcased that Cruella de Vil-inspired color yet again. It was meant to play off the shine from their rhinestone freckles. The third and final look was more structural, where Spence created two separate braids and looped them together in a U-shape. He styled their baby hairs for each look, a signature for Kehlani, and used OGX's Beauty Multi-Benefit Hairspray between takes.
"Beauty isn't skin deep; it is a state of mind," Spence asserts when I ask what it all means to him. "I've learned when your inner beauty is genuine and sincere, you'll shine no matter what." With that in mind, I ask for his beauty icons. "Rihanna and Pat McGrath," he says without pause. "And I lookup to Kim Kimble and Chris Appleton."
His ascendance into celebrity beauty has been quick—Spence is only 26 years-old and has the fresh, unwearied skin to prove it—but doesn't have just one turning point to speak of. His career has been an amalgamation of proud moments and hard work. His favorite on-set memory was a video shoot, one where he had to create four completely different hair looks in very little time. "I wowed myself and it taught me so much about my work ethic." He continues, "There’s no one specific highlight as everything is a big moment for me. Waking up every day doing what I love and making a living off of that is the real highlight for me."
As for advice, Spence says to focus on the craft before anything. "As your craft progresses, so will your career. Stay ready so you never have to get ready."
Makeup: Troye Antonio
"Kehlani is always a good time," Antonio says with a grin. Doing their makeup for the 2021 Met Gala is high up on his list of highlights. "We always laugh and joke during glam. They're always down to let me have fun with makeup looks." He's not wrong—Kehlani was instrumental in the makeup looks on set, shifting and molding each one to fit their personality best. The first was "inspired by Kehlani's natural beauty," Antonio says. He wanted to keep it all looking fresh-faced and clean, so he enhanced their freckles with Freck Beauty's Freck OG Freckle Pen ($22) and applied a wash of clear gloss to her lips.
Freckles became a bit of a theme for this shoot, as the second look used rhinestones across Kehlani's cheeks to accentuate each one. "I thought it was so cool, so we went for it," Antonio describes. "Beauty to me will always be a world of self expression," he adds. "It has empowered me to challenge myself. As makeup trends change, or if I see a look I think is cool, I challenge myself to recreate it. It will forever be the reason I love what I do."
Antonio grew up in Richmond, VA and worked in retail during the early years of his career. "I started at Nars, then went to MAC. Before leaving retail, I was a beauty stylist for Nordstrom," he shares. First, he broke into the beauty industry in 2012 doing prosthetic makeup. His aha moment came later, when he created his first glamorous makeup style and it came really naturally to him. "I never looked back since," he tells me.
"I can’t narrow it down to one," he says when I ask for his favorite on-set memory since his career took off. "The best memories always tend to be the most creative makeup looks," he continues. Antonio's beauty icon and personal mentor is Mali Thomas, a Bobbi Brown Cosmetics artist in residence, the founder of Mali Magic LLC, and a veteran makeup artist in the space. "When I decided to leave retail, she gave me the push, encouragement, and opportunities that have built who I am today. "I will forever be grateful to her," he shares with genuine sincerity.
The third look was a play on a traditional cat eye, with liner across the lid of one eye and along the lash line of the other. "Kehlani has the best eye shape, so this technique was amazing on her," Antonio explains.
Before we finish up for the day, I ask if he has any advice for aspiring artists—as this business is a hard one to break into. "Stay patient," he says. "Stay patient with your skills and stay patient on your journey." Antonio expands, "Skills will always come with time and consistency, and your journey creates your personal story. You can use your story to inspire and encourage others."