Picture this: you are a successful lawyer with a degree from Yale and one day you decide to leave this career to create your own makeup brand. Regina Merson knew this was risky. But it’s exactly what happened when she decided to change her life completely by creating Reina Rebelde, a beauty line inspired by Latinx heritage.
Yet, the move wasn’t entirely unexpected. Merson had been a makeup collector since she was a teenager, when she negotiated with her mom on how early she could start wearing mascara and eyeliner. Her deep love for the rituals of beauty came from her upbringing in Guadalajara, México, where Merson grew up surrounded by women who adored makeup.
At 38, the entrepreneur reflects on the memories of her Guadalajaran childhood and how they inspired what came to be Reina Rebelde:
“Growing up in Mexico, I had everyone around me. My parents got divorced when I was very young. My mom was in her mid-30s. I’m about to be 39 and I think back to my mom in her mid-30s and I totally get it. She would spend hours getting ready to go to the disco because she was a single mom and she went out with her friends. I would sit at her feet. It was all about the makeup, but also about the ritual. I was a little kid watching her go through all of the steps in a laborious way. But it brought her a lot of joy. She would do her eyes first and then her face and then her hair and then she powdered herself. I just saw how methodical she was about things. It always also felt like an event. I just thought she was so beautiful. My grandmother was the same way. She wouldn’t even leave her house without having lipstick on, her eyes done, her nails done and her pearls. She just wouldn’t leave the house. So watching her when I was growing up always getting ready, it was so crazy to me.
At the same time, I was falling in love with telenovelas because, in Mexico, they’re big. I loved Rosa Salvaje. I now have a lipstick called Rosa Salvaje. It was so dramatic and the way they would cry and their mascara wouldn’t run. I just remember sitting with my friends watching telenovelas. I was so invested in it. It was all this femme power, which for me I think really informed my notion of what it was to be a woman before I even understood that I was Latina, that there were women who weren’t Latina. I had never left Mexico, so I didn’t know what was out there.
Having your hair done and all of these things were just part of what women did and that was so powerful because it was noticeable. I don’t remember anything the men did. It’s almost like this black box but I remember so clearly all the rituals. For whatever reason, as a little girl, I was just tuned in to how women took care of themselves.
My mom wore a lot of green eyeliner. It was the 80s. My mom has this crazy, helmet head of hair. It was green eyeliner and she’d wear red or pink lipstick, a lot of blush sort of contoured. But the green eyeliner I’ll never forget because it was the time when Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were coming on board and it was a lot of visual cues about the time that I remember specifically.
I remember playing with perfume a lot when I was little. I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup until I was older. When we moved to the United States, I had a friend who was allowed to wear lip gloss. I remember going to a party and I snuck a little lip gloss on. My mom showed up early to pick me up that night. She never showed up on time to pick me up and there she was. I was like, “What the hell? She showed up early on the day that I snuck into the bathroom to wear lip gloss!” I remember pursing my lips thinking I was going to get caught. After that, I couldn’t wait, I was always asking when I’d be allowed to wear certain things. I started negotiating with my mom and we reached a conclusion that by the time I was 15, I’d be allowed to wear mascara and eyeliner.
Then, my eyebrows… I was allowed to wax my eyebrows when I was 13. I became obsessed with the whole brow thing. It was the 90s so it was this really annoying pencil-thin brow situation. I remember the first time I got my brows done my mom was like, “Why do you look so different?” It’s such a noticeable thing.
It just snowballed into this hoarder obsession I have as an adult. I have rooms with what I call samples. It’s market research. But it’s just my obsession.”
-As told to Frances Solá-Santiago.