Celebrity makeup artist Hung Vanngo’s work speaks for itself. Although he’s worked on some of the most famous faces in the past decade, including Taraji P. Henson for her Allure cover, Gisele Bündchen, Cindy Crawford in Vogue’s September issue, and practically every single Victoria’s Secret Angel, the makeup artist isn’t a household name yet — and he prefers to stay that way, doing relatively few interviews. Vanngo is known for blending makeup so finely that you can’t even see an eyeliner line, creating a lived-in radiance that has people like celebrity hairstylist Mark Townsend nicknaming him Hung “Van Glow.” Here, the Cut talked to Vanngo in a rare interview to learn more about his career, what Helena Christensen taught him about eyeliner, and his favorite products, which you can find in the slideshow.
How did you start your career?
I came from Vietnam and was a refugee in Thailand. I came to Calgary in high school and originally wanted to be a hairstylist. Two days after graduating, I went to hairdressing school. But I didn’t really graduate. I have a bit of a stubborn, strong mind. They asked me to enter this Fantasy Hair contest in school about four months in and they showed me a picture of the hair they wanted me to do. And I said, “Shouldn’t it be my fantasy of what I wanted to do?” My teacher said, “No.” So I got frustrated and dropped out of the course.
I got a job at the hairdressing salon, but in my heart, I really wanted to do makeup. I started to contact local modeling agencies and offer my services for testing models. In Calgary, I would do both hair and makeup. Then the owner of Kelly Streit, a modeling agency, suggested I get out of the city to expand my portfolio. I went to New York with the agency owner and knew that this is where I wanted to be. But I had nothing in my hand but local tests, no visa or working sponsor. He saw the talent in me and said, “Let’s move to another step.” So I moved to Toronto, which is like the New York of Canada. I was freelancing full-time, did a lot of magazines, and got a really good book, and eventually got a working visa for the U.S. I moved here in 2006. But I started over two times, really. Every time you move to a new city, you start over.
You’re known for your airbrushedlike effect with skin. How do you make skin look so good?
I don’t use a brush or a usual face sponge, but a body sponge for the face. I came across it about seven years ago by accident when I didn’t have my brush. I love how it blends into the skin but people tell me when they try using it, they hate it [laughs]. You have to work with your hands, modeling the gigantic sponge into the shape of the face. Sometimes for camera, I will use a foundation brush. But personally, I love the body sponge.