Red lipstick is a staple of Latinx womxnhood.
My Mami would always put hers on before she headed off to work; it completed her polished look. My older hermana Cynthia used more of a brownish-red shade. When my biggest childhood idol Selena Quintanilla would perform, she always had on her signature red lipstick: Chanel’s now discontinued “Brick.” Lipstick is a part of their identity. These are the womxn I look up to, for their fearlessness, class, and undeniable, brown beauty.
Argentinean-born Gabriela Hernandez created Besame Cosmetics in 2004 in Los Angeles, California. The brand specializes in luxurious vintage makeup, which includes cake mascara, cream rouge, and nostalgic red lipsticks in many shades for all women and femmes. Hernandez has garnered massive success in the last few years, from Besame Cosmetics being sold in Sephora, to having her mascara cake become viral thru social media, and to being chosen as the preferred red lipstick of Agent Peggy Carter in Marvels’ Captain America (she’s wearing ‘Red Velvet’.) I met up with Mrs. Hernandez at her Burbank, CA boutique to discuss makeup, coming up as an immigrant in America, working tons of different jobs as a young artist, and of course, red lipstick.
Eilene Beniquez: Why did you decide to delve into cosmetics?
Gabriela Hernandez: It definitely evolved out of my design because I’m a designer by trade and photographer. I was doing work for other people at the time. I didn’t do anything for myself. So this kind of started as a side project. Because I had a lot of antiques from my grandma that I really like and I really didn’t see any new products that had that same sensibility. So I started to just play with the idea of making my own things. I was theoretical at first until I jumped in and made the first little lipsticks. That was when the internet was just starting out. Then it domino-ed.
EB: Who is your inspiration?
GH: My grandma and my aunts. I grew up in Argentina, I came here when I was 14. So my childhood was over there, obviously I was influenced by their styling. All my aunts were very fashion forward. Because in other countries you do that (dress up) especially in that period of time.
EB: Yes, my mom used to say she would dress up to go to the movies.
GH: Yes exactly! Even if you went downtown or go eat out you’d get dressed up. It was a different gear, more structure with how you present yourself in front of people. Nowadays we’ve kind of lost a lot of that because anything goes.
EB: Even now, I feel as though there's pressure as a Latina from our culture - our mothers especially- to dress up.
GH: Yes exactly I grew up with those kinds of ideas. Dressing like a lady, going out and looking decent. I mean wear what you want but I think it makes you feel good when you look a certain way. It might sound cheesy, but its true. If you look better you could have a positive outlook. Dress for yourself.
EB: As a Latinx immigrant, was it difficult to start a makeup business? There’s not many big Latinx owned makeup brands.
GH: It is very difficult. Whenever you start a business and you happen to be a certain demographic, certain ethnic group, people assume you only make makeup for those people. When I started they were like ‘oh you only make makeup for Latin women then.’ Well, no! I make it for whoever wants to wear it! I have all types of clients. In the business perspective, they assume you design for your own ethnic group.
That’s what business people do, try to put everything in ‘boxes.’ When we first started, our line didn’t fit into any ‘boxes’, it's very different.
So many people didn’t know what to make of it. It was hard to get any credibility or even manufacturing because they just didn’t believe in the concept. Its too ‘off the wall’, its too ‘niche’, nobody would want that.
EB: And now you’re at Sephora!
GH: Yes but actually it took us 10 years to get into Sephora. I didn’t just meet up with them 2 years ago (when the line officially went into Sephora stores). I met with them five to seven years ago, but they weren’t ready for me at the time. It wasn’t big enough for them. So I stopped contacting them. They actually contacted me two years ago. So I had to have it mature, you know, so a business like Sephora would take us seriously. It took a long time.
EB: Prior to creating Besame Cosmetics, you were the senior designer at shoe brand, K Swiss. How did working there help launch your creative endeavors?
GH: I did a lot of different things. I handled the contests, POPs, store displays, so I learned a lot of things from them [K Swiss]. Every company that I've worked with in the past has taught me things that I later used in my own business. That’s why i tell younger people to try all different types of jobs, try different things because you never know what tidbits you’ll pick up and use later on.
I was also a director for an ad agency, and I didn't like it at all. When I first went in there I was like “oh this is my dream job, this is really what i want to do." Then I saw the lifestyle, I said, I can't do this kind of work. So most of the people working that industry are single, and they go out after work, it was a different mindset than me at the time. I was already married and had a young child, I couldn't fit into that environment. It was a man's-man type of mentality, and I couldn't fit into it as a modern woman. So i quit and did other stuff. But I learned a lot.
EB: This is a good point point I didn't expect to make. I think a lot of us millenials are frustrated because we are constantly going from one job to another. The old American way is you work for one company forever and you retire.
GH: Thats gone!
EB: Yes! And it should be! And I want to emphasize to our readers, that it's normal to go through jobs.
GH: Oh yes, especially in the creative field that’s the way it is. Like when I was younger I was doing photography, I worked with several agencies. I did [photographed] food for Bon Appetite, I shot still life. But anytime I went to an ad agency you couldn't keep up with art directors because they would change! Like every six months you would have different people in the accounts; you couldn't keep track of who was working there. And this was 20 years ago. So if you're in anything creative, its normal to try different stuff out.
And also, if you do the same stuff over and over, you get tired of it. For example if you have KFC as an account, that’s all you do, you’ll get sick of it and realize “I want more in my portfolio than chicken” you know? So you change it up. It’s normal to get bored. So people quit and go to another agency.
EB: Yeah I’ve had college professors tell me my passion for photography wasn't going to take me far.
GH: Art is subjective. You have to learn how to take criticism, in any career. I mean, even now I get criticism. They either like what I do or they don’t get it. And that's okay! But also don't let anybody tear you down because really there's room for everything, and what it comes down to is how much talent you have. It doesn't matter what people think of it, it’s really your ability.
EB: I saw your youngest daughter in some videos, how does she inspire you?
GH: She’s really artistic. I think it runs in the family obviously! She draws, paints and designs things. She’s been like that since she was tiny. She sees what her friends are talking about, she gives me a fresh perspective. If I'm thinking of bringing a product back from the past, I'll run it by her to see if she even understands what it is. Does it resonate with her at all? Does it make any sense?
EB: I’m assuming your daughter wears your makeup?
GH: Oh yes! She wears red lipstick almost everyday. She will not go out without it. She started wearing it when she started High School and she never put it down. She keeps it really classic, that’s all she wears. Just simple red lipstick.
EB: My last question for you is about red lipstick. How do you feel when you see women in red lipstick? What does the color mean to you? Especially when they wear your red lipstick?
To be honest red has always been my favorite color. Its just a powerful color, I didn’t like any pictures that didn’t have red in it. I just like red. Even when I was tiny, no matter what red was my favorite. With my grandma and mother, that’s the only I color that I saw as a lip color, and it has stuck.
Check out Gabriella Hernandez's Besame Cosmetics online shop here.
Besame Cosmetics Instagram.