If you’ve turned on the TV recently, you may have noticed a slight deviation in Covergirl’s standard “easy, breezy, beautiful” branding. In a recent company commercial, the new SoLashy! mascara is modeled by … a man. Well, a freckle-faced teenager, really—17-year-old James Charles, the company’s first male representative and aptly named Coverboy.
Charles, who first gained fame on YouTube, was a pioneer and a quick hit; nearly immediately, Maybelline onboarded male ambassador Manny Gutierrez, and other brands have been rolling out lower-profile print ads featuring male models.
In Baltimore, however, the men-in-makeup trend is nothing new. We sat down with three locals who have been painting their faces for years to talk fads, philosophies and feeling comfortable in your own skin.
“I’ve been told that I’m intimidating,” says Kotic Couture with a smile, sipping a Japanese iced coffee at Artifact. It seems absurd; Couture is reserved and friendly and, perhaps even more to the point, currently wearing a rainbow-patterned tunic and mauve liquid lipstick.
We’re talking about whether he’s ever been harassed for his appearance in Baltimore, particularly within what he calls the “completely homophobic” hip-hop community. (Couture is something of a rising star in the local rap scene, with a newly released EP and a spot on City Paper’s top 10 singles list—you may have caught him in STYLE’s music issue last spring.)
Fortunately, he says he’s never felt endangered, but owes that largely to his stature: “I’m 6-foot-2 and not small, so I’m the last person someone’s going to try something with. But as a queer person of color, my senses are always heightened. I see the way people react to how I look. I have to assess where I’m going, how I’m getting there, who I’m with.”
Careful, but in no way cowardly. Couture, who has been wearing makeup since he began raiding his mother’s drawers in middle school, refuses to allow others to dictate the way he presents himself to the world.
“Makeup to me is an artistic outlet,” he says. “It has become part of my [musical] persona, but I’m still wearing it when I’m not onstage. I honestly don’t care what anyone says or feels; I’m just going to do what makes me comfortable. I never thought it was anything groundbreaking or cool. I just like playing with different looks.”
So much so, in fact, that he’s just as likely to appear onstage with his face fully “beat” as he is with it completely bare.
“Sometimes I like to mess with people’s heads and come to a show with no makeup on at all. I don’t ever want people to expect something from me.”
He smiles again, eyes glinting under long, mascaraed lashes. “I guess my gimmick is not having a gimmick.”
To longtime makeup artist Owen O’Donnell, men in makeup isn’t so much a trend as a long-held secret.
“If I started rattling off the list of more conservative men I know who wear it in Baltimore, people would be very surprised,” he says. “CEOs, politicians, guys who are married with kids … you name it.”
These men, however, aren’t the full-faced Coverboys of the world—and nor is Owen himself. While he used to wear an “absolutely ridiculous” amount of cosmetics when he was younger, he says he’s since toned things down considerably.
“By the time I hit 30, I realized I just didn’t want to take that much time in the morning anymore,” he says. “I didn’t want to be known as ‘that guy.’ Even if I wanted to look different, I just thought it looked kind of stupid, like an old woman putting on too much makeup.”
Now, he advocates a more natural look, both in his personal life and for his clients: some concealer to cover up tired eyes or imperfections, brightening bronzer, tinted lashes or clear mascara. He even has ties to a D.C.-based gender-neutral makeup line, FoM, which stands for Female or Male and is growing in popularity—especially among men (and, surprisingly, for grooms, who O’Donnell says are often covering up “a rough bachelor party the night before”).
While O’Donnell appreciates the movement to make makeup more socially acceptable for men, he still sees men’s and women’s beauty as two very different things, while recognizing, of course, that people should feel free to wear whatever they want.
“I’d like to see it more as an enhancement or a way to feel more comfortable,” he says. “With the Covergirl and Maybelline ads, those guys have a lot on their faces. I have to wonder where that leaves the people in between—the guys that borrow their girlfriend’s concealer to cover up a zit and then go play baseball.”
“I’m constantly rebranding,” says Tim “Chyno” Chin, aka Chyno Futuristic, aka The Boy With the Blue Beard, “so half the time I don’t know who’s who or what’s what!”
He’s kidding, of course—if there’s one word to describe Chin’s personality, it’s distinct. Almost as distinct, in fact, as his trademark teal chinstrap, but that’s not why he’s here.
“My beard doesn’t count as makeup because it’s part of my face,” he says. In fairness, he’s only been dying it for three years, while he’s been perfecting his makeup routine since he became involved with Baltimore’s gay ballroom scene at 17.
“I’d put on my makeup in the cloak of night and go to the clubs, then wipe it off in the bathroom and go home,” he says. “But when I got to college, it was no holds barred. I thought, ‘You’re an adult now. If you’re going to do this, fuck it. Live your life the way you’re going to do it.’’’
Now, he’s rarely seen without it (except on “No Makeup Mondays”—one must, as he says, take time to let one’s pores breathe). As we’re talking, he pulls out his phone to show me pictures from his time working disaster relief after Hurricane Sandy—with his face in full makeup.
“I was in 2 feet of water and sludge, out there doing the work that FEMA wasn’t doing, in a Burberry trench coat with my face beat,” he laughs. “But the people would say to me, ‘You’re such a beautiful thing for us to look at in this crazy zone.’ I only had to hear that once before I could justify it, like, ‘I’m doing this for you.’”
In all seriousness, Chin hopes to advance the future of Charm City by encouraging Baltimoreans to embrace themselves as fully as he has.
“I hope I inspire people to live and walk comfortably in their own skin,” he says. “Be who you are—unreservedly so.”