She’s got the most perfect skin we—or Hollywood, for that matter—have ever seen, skin that makes such an impression that it’s easy to imagine she’s a no-makeup sort of person at heart. But Lupita Nyong’o is unabashed in her makeup-person-ness. “My mother never wore it, so makeup always fascinated me,” she says. “I was always trying to add more! I started experimenting—brows were first, and it hurt—at 16.” It’s late afternoon in an airy Tribeca penthouse, and the Oscar winner/new face of Lancôme is coolly elegant in a brilliant yellow Rolando Santana dress (and, yes, impeccable brows).
“From brows I moved on to black lipstick, which I still wear,” she says. “I’ve had a black lipstick in my bag literally since I was 17—I’ve even worn it on the red carpet. I’d tell my mother, ‘It’s for the play!’ ” Nyong’o shakes her head. “We’re a big performative family, so we were always putting up shows for each other, make-believe. Black lipstick is just instant drama. I always sought out drama—I played Juliet at 14—though I don’t like it in my personal life.” She smiles. “It’s more for the stage and screen.”
The screen—think Star Wars: Episode VII, coming next year—is loving Nyong’o, as is the red carpet, where she’s returned in force lately, exhibiting her trademark balance between drama and restraint. She wears wild color on her nails (“I get bored easily”) but is faithful to Lancôme’s Blush Subtil in Aplum, which makeup artist Nick Barose introduced her to: “It makes my cheeks look healthy but not flushed,” she says. “Makeup should be an adornment, not a mask.” Her close-cropped hair is the work of a barber named Jay Johnson in Brooklyn. “He cut a friend’s hair, and I was coveting it,” she says. “I love those visits. A barber … it’s like dating—you choose your man! He understands how my hair works.” The regime is beyond simple: “I use Miss Jessie’s Baby Buttercreme when my hair is still damp, Afro-pick my hair and that’s it.”
Nyong’o favors a similar elegance in fashion. “My mother raised us always to dress as a sign of respect,” she says. “Like, no ball gowns to the ball game. That’s still how I approach dressing.” The ice blue Prada at the Oscars set a new bar for ball gowns; for ball games, she loves J Brand jeans (“They totally work with my body”) and T-shirts from Urban Outfitters. “At Yale [School of Drama], I was three years in slacks, so then, any excuse to dress up, I took. Now I’m the opposite.” Her latest discoveries: “Osman makes really good pants for my legs, and I love Jonathan Cohen. And Suno!” Her style icons—Elizabeth Taylor, Cate Blanchett, Iman—reflect the same thoughtful, pared-down aesthetic.
Simplicity is also the rule for her other signature, the beautiful skin. “I experiment with skincare gradually, so I learn the effects,” she says. “I love Génifique serum and eye cream, and avocado and kukui nut oil—when your skin feels good, you feel good.”