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Beauty Pageants, Becoming Bianca Jagger and the American Dream: IRL with Geena Rocero

Geena Rocero interview with Nordstrom.

We’re highlighting the women behind the faces in our fall beauty campaign and trend event video; it’s beauty in real life. First up: Geena Rocero, who sat down with us to chat about growing up in the Philippines, her beauty secrets (including the best mud bath location) and how to turn an airplane into a spa.

Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get to where you are?

I was born and raised in the Philippines. It’s been a long journey from growing up in this tiny little alleyway in the Philippines to moving to New York City. I’ve always dreamed of being a model; I’ve looked at those magazines since I was a kid. I moved in 2001 to San Francisco when I was 17 years old.

Many friends kept telling me that if I really wanna do this right, I need to be in New York City. So, not knowing a lot of people there, I left for the city in 2005. I mean, what does one do with a big dream? You move to New York and you make it happen.

What were you doing when you first got to the U.S.?

I actually started working in cosmetics at a department store downtown in Union Square. Even though I didn’t have professional experience with it, all of the friends I knew here were working cosmetics. Before my interview, I remember going to a salon to have my hair and makeup done. I guess my interviewers thought I had done it myself, which I certainly didn’t! Anyway, I got the job. I learned a lot and had the best time. During slow hours we would do our makeup and create little runway shows down the main aisle—almost like a little beauty pageant. It reminded me a bit of back home—pageant culture is so big in the Philippines.

Tell us more about the pageants.

They were my first real access to makeup. It’s part of our culture. It’s like our national sport, and being a beauty queen in the Philippines is the ultimate goal. There’s a lot of expectation, and it’s like you look at beauty standards through a different lens. There’s something very specific about the look when you’re on stage. I would look up there and see them competing with really bright pink lipstick and their hair all put together looking like real-life Barbies.

Geena Rocero interview with Nordstrom.

What comes to mind when you think of your first makeup memory?

My mom. She was a schoolteacher. And one thing I’ve always loved was the way my mom carried herself—she always was put together. I remember she had this collection of shoulder bags, and her suits were bright and beautiful. I always loved watching her getting ready. She adored this very magenta Estée Lauder lipstick. She just loved it.

And today? How would you describe your relationship with makeup?

It’s changed a bit. I used to like to play around more with different colors and coordinating my outfits with different looks. But when I moved to New York and started my career, I got used to waking up and just putting on some moisturizer, lipstick, gloss and mascara and then heading off to castings. It’s your job to walk in as a canvas for the art director or photographer to work with. But I still like to play around.

Geena Rocero interview with Nordstrom.Speaking of being a canvas. How do you keep your skin so beautiful?

For me, what I love is steaming my skin two or three times a week. Since I travel a lot, I learned how to create my own little steaming process. Certainly I won’t be carrying that steam machine all over, but you do have to have boiling water and a face cloth, which usually I can find, and then I just exfoliate after.

I also do Japanese masks … they’re the most fun. I have a lot of friends who live in Tokyo that send them to me. They’ve also become part of my routine now—especially when I travel on long flights like from New York to Manila or to Hong Kong. So many hours with all that recirculated air guarantees you’re going to have dry lips and skin. So I get on my flight, get settled in and then I start moisturizing, and I do my mask and fall asleep. When I wake up, it’s halfway through the flight, and I feel like the airplane is my own little spa, you know? Although, I can’t count the times I’ve woken up and walked back to the bathroom forgetting that I have my mask on with, like, Sailor Moon characters all over it. People are like, “Who is this crazy person?!” But I don’t care. It’s kind of hilarious.

When you’re at the store, what do you find you always impulse buy?

I love contouring stuff. Especially M•A•C products for contouring, and I love blush. I like to play with going from just a fresh look to a really heavy contour, smoky look, you know? Also, definitely lipstick. I could go to the lipstick counter and spend so long just looking at all those shades.

Do you have any all-time-favorite beauty secrets?

Moisturizer with almond oil—even it it’s like something from the drugstore. There’s something milky about it that gets rid of cracks and makes my skin all over my body feel great. It’s just complete, instant moisture. I put it on right after I get out of the sun or right after I get out of the shower when my skin’s more receptive to the moisturizer.

Are there any trends you wish would come back or are currently loving?

I love the ’70s. Like, sometimes I dream I should be Bianca Jagger. I mean, if I could choose to relive my life, I would totally be Bianca Jagger. All those outfits! And everything was loud with psychedelic patterns and bright colors back then.

Right now, I like to mix and match between really chic, almost minimal eyeshadow and bright red lipstick with heavy contouring and highlights. I also like the really, really dark lipstick; I’m seeing a lot of that juxtaposed with really minimal eyeshadow. Like vampy/punk. Something about it reminds me of when I moved to San Francisco: I had purple, punky highlights in my hair à la Christina Aguilera with bleach blond underneath … just hanging around Haight Street. [Laughs.]

Geena Rocero interview with Nordstrom.

What’s your favorite way to splurge?

A three-hour package at a spa with a full facial, body mask and scrub. I love a good body mask wrap too. My sister lives in California close to Napa Valley, so every time I go there, I go to the mud baths. They’re really, really intense, and it’s really, really nice. My boyfriend’s weird. He won’t do it because he’s like, “It’s disgusting. There are so many people.” But no! They clean that stuff. [Laughs.] And you can have wine while you’re there. It’s the best!

What’s your favorite feature?

My nose. People sometimes ask me, “Did you have your nose done?” No. I like my profile too. I mean, I can talk about it now, but years ago, I was made to feel ashamed about my profile and long neck too. When I turn to the side, I have this very protruding mouth, and when I was growing up, people used to tease me that I looked like a horse or a giraffe. Now I love it, because I’ve learned about myself and I actually think there’s something really elegant about it.

Check back soon for more interviews with the women behind our fall trend campaign; it’s beauty in real life.

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—Jeff Powell