Jessica Chia was born with an innate knack for beauty. As a 9-year-old, she begged her parents for a makeup kit and later would ask them to take her to the local library to check out books about makeup artistry. It’s no wonder Chia ended up as Allure Magazine‘s Executive Beauty Editor.
Today, she’s a formidable beauty expert. At Allure, her role is more significant, though. As the daughter of a Singaporean father and a Mexican and Puerto Rican mother, Chia has a unique heritage she brings to the table, resulting in stories about both all-female mariachi bands and how to apply shadow for monolids.
Chia spoke to Emperifollá‘s team at the Allure Magazine offices in Manhattan, New York on her beauty icons, her Asian Latina identity and why she enjoys transforming herself with makeup every day.
On Her Beauty Philosophy
I think beauty to me is about sort of renewal. I think that’s why we appreciate it as humans. I just think there is this really ancient appeal of sort of being your best shiniest self. And I think beauty products allow us to feel that way.
Bianca Brandolini is one of my beauty icons. She’s an Italian socialite. She’s so glamorous with this gorgeous chestnut hair and these great brows and it doesn’t really look like she’s wearing a ton of makeup. But her eyes always look smolder-y and neutral and sexy. I just sort of imagine her living in Capri all the time. That’s something I’d love to emulate.
In the mornings when I do my makeup, I look at some of the work that Hung Vanngo has done because he works with a lot of interesting color combinations. He’ll do a plum lip with a peachy cheek. I love how he plays with color on the face. Other times I’ll actually pull a picture of somebody. Lily Aldridge is another one favorite of mine because I feel like her eyes are similarly shaped to mine so I’ll look at the eye makeup someone has done on her and recreate it.
Your face changes every day. Sometimes you look super snatched, sometimes you look super tired. It’s through the month that you notice those changes. It’s fun to kind of look at my face, my skin, and my features and say, “What do you need today?”
On Her Love of Makeup
I was maybe like 9 or 10. I was very interested in makeup always. I asked for Christmas for this big makeup set. It was by this random company Markwins or something. I had my parents take me to the library so I could check out books on makeup artistry and I would practice with my makeup kit and I also taught myself to draw faces really well so I that I could color them with their makeup. My mom would let me practice on her too. I would also curl my mom’s hair. She has really curly hair and I would fix her curls with a pencil. I had so much time. I would literally go one by one. I would wrap it around the pencil, I would smooth it with my hand. That’s crazy to me.
On Being Asian + Latina
I always really identified as Latina. I’m the only person on the Asian side of my family who grew up in the United States so I didn’t grow up close geographically to that family. With my mom’s family, it was the opposite. I had like 11 tíos abuelos and tías abuelas. We were all really close. There’s always so much family. We are particularly close with the Puerto Rican side of my family– my grandfather’s family. I’m not fluent in Spanish but that’s what we spoke when I was little.
I distinctly felt like I always had to assert what I felt was my identity because when people look at me, a lot of times they look at my eyes, they assume I’m Asian. I always have to explain that I’m Mexican and Puerto Rican too. But sometimes it was not enough for people, which is a weird feeling. In a lot of ways, if someone doesn’t agree with you or don’t see that, it’s interesting because then you feel like you’re not enough.
On Representation in Beauty
I haven’t found ever a way to really fuse both, but I love to highlight both of my cultures with the stuff that I pitch. I pitched a story on an all-female mariachi band in San Antonio and got to go to follow them around to a quinceañera and a performance. That was a really cool story that never would have been done if I weren’t here. I’m the only Latina in the print editorial staff, but we do have many Puerto Ricans and Dominicans on staff. I’m very proud of that. I also love to highlight Latina entrepreneurs. I think also pitching different talents that probably wouldn’t be pitched in the magazine. We did a whole page on Sofía Reyes, that was super cool. That’s the kind of stuff that doesn’t happen if you don’t have representation in a magazine because it’s just not on the radar. If I go in, because I have my position, and say this is cool and important, everyone respects it. It’s not that there is resistance because people are open to these ideas, but it does take someone who has earned that title that can walk in the room and present the idea.
I’ve also done stories on how to do makeup when you have monolids, which is super common in Asian countries. One of my sisters has monolids. My editor-in-chief Michelle Lee, her daughter has one monolid and one has a crease. It is such an honor to be able to address the stories that deal with beauty in a way that the women that we know deal with it. That’s one of the most important things I think about with me and my work.
I like my style to be very feminine. I’m not a very curvy person so I love to add ruffles or wear something that’s form-fitting because for me I’m like otherwise you’re not going to see anything. I love a feminine edge. I also love finding ways to wear pieces that are meaningful to me. If it’s a belt that I got in the Riverwalk in San Antonio or if it’s my favorite soccer team shirt. I have a Mi selección t-shirt that I love to wear to work and I’ll just pair it with a blazer and jeans. I think I love to find ways to express who I am in my clothing.
-As told to Frances Solá-Santiago. Photographed by Maridelis Morales Rosado. Video by Stephanie Stoddard Cortés.