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How Symone Developed Her Glowing, Glamorous, Graceful Drag Persona

The RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13 winner reveals the formula to drag success: a dollop of Rihanna, a dash of Lil' Kim, and a big helping of Naomi Campbell. And, of course, mad makeup skills.

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My mom, she always loved to dress up, and she was a very big proponent of if you leave the house, you try to look your best. We would always end up being late because she spent so much time getting ready. I started paying attention when I was six or seven years old. I remember she would put on foundation and she'd always look so beautiful. That carried over when I started doing drag because I always focus on the skin the most.

Becoming Symone took a while because when I started doing makeup at about 16 years old, I didn't really know what I was doing. There wasn't YouTube. Well, there was YouTube, but it was nowhere near what it would be a couple of years later, as far as beauty goes. I would watch people put makeup on, but it was a lot of white people. There were nowhere near as many Black creators. At the time, there were, like, two or three foundation colors that worked for my skin.

I wouldn't say I had a mastery of developing a character until well into college [at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock]. At the time, RuPaul's Drag Race was a big thing, but I was surrounded by pageantry, so I thought that was the lane I had to go down. I didn't realize until my sophomore year that I could forge my own thing and carve out what I enjoyed, which is more of the fashion side. At this point, I was performing at the club. I was, as we called it, "in rotation." I would practice almost every weekend and watch the other girls get ready behind the stage. I wouldn't ask questions, but I would observe everyone and see, OK, she's doing that. That's the product she's using. Let me go get that. Let me look that up on the internet. I can remember one time thinking, Oh, my God! I'm actually making progress... I am beautiful! This is the face. We're on the right path here.

To create a similar makeup look: Face Gems in Iridescent Sparkle and Mouth Cloud in Edward’s Fantasy by Half Magic. Fashion stylist: Ian McRae. Hair: Malcolm Marquez. Makeup: Cedric Jolivet. On-set producer: Aiden Lee.

I didn’t put too much pressure on myself when I first started because I realized there was no one around who looked like me. I knew I wasn't going to look like the other girls. I knew my face wasn't built to have the dramatic, heavy contour and big eyes. Instead of looking at queens, I would look at people in pop culture and ask, "What can I take from them and learn in terms of developing my own character?"

People always ask me, "Who is Symone?" I give them a little bit of the recipe: There's one part Rihanna; there's Lil' Kim in there; there's Diana Ross. Whitney Houston, of course. Tina Turner is in there. The big one, Naomi Campbell. And RuPaul, obviously. She's the one I saw first. All of those people mixed together make up who I am, and I hold them in very high regard. If I'm ever at a loss I'm like, Let me look up at one of my people and see what they've done.

I used to say Symone is who I really am, and Reggie [Gavin] is the guard, but lately, I've been able to have more confidence out of drag. I started drag partly because it helped me have a voice and express myself. I learned to take that and use it outside of drag, to be more confident in my decisions, and be able to say how I feel. It ebbs and flows. You sometimes go back into old habits. It's just life. But Symone has taught me to be okay with myself outside of drag, allow people to get to know me, and let down the walls, so to speak. Some people use the makeup as a mask and some people use it to reveal themselves. For me, it's definitely a pulling back and standing in the light. Key aspects of the Symone face? Stunning skin. Lips are huge. And the cheekbones, darling.

Marc Jacobs wrap, sweater, jumpsuit, skirt, and shoes. To create a similar makeup look: Shimmer Brick Compact in Bronze and Luxe Lipstick in Soho Sizzle by Bobbi Brown.

I have to take a shower before I get in drag. It's my decompression. I shave, and I always, no matter what, use some type of lotion. I get out, dry off, and put on all of my skin care, which is at least six products. It can go up to eight or 10, but at least six products. Sometimes I'll do a mask, just depends on how much time I have. I'll tone my skin; I'll go in with a moisturizer, sometimes two, then I'll apply an oil to really get the hydration going before I put on makeup. I tried a new face oil from Elemis called the Superfood Facial Oil. It's a 10/10 recommendation from me. I like to look as dewy as possible. After skin care, I put in my colored contacts. That's very important because I feel like it softens the makeup.

Then I'll go in with a primer and start my face makeup. I always start with foundation because it helps me map out my face. Foundations? I have tried many. Nars Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation is my tried-and-true. Then concealer and contour, which is usually cream. For me, it's cheekbones, cheekbones, cheekbones! Lower the forehead, accentuate the cheekbones. I'll set my face with powder — Laura Mercier Translucent Powder is what I use.

Then, I draw on my eyebrows frantically. And then, patiently, eye makeup. I go back and wipe away the powders. I put on my blush and highlight. Then, finally — this is my favorite part — I do my lips. I overdraw the top because I love big, luscious lips. I'll put on gloss to make them really shine and pop. The OG Fenty Gloss Bomb, that's always on my lips. If I'm feeling real cute and fancy, I'll put on a plumper to make them really big.

Nars Natural Radiant Longwear Foundation

Laura Mercier Translucent Powder

Fenty Beauty Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer

Elemis Superfood Facial Oil

Johnson & Johnson Baby Oil

Tata Harper Revitalizing Body Oil

Fenty Eau de Parfum

I set everything, then I put on the wig, body oils, clothes, heels. Then I douse myself in perfume, whatever is closest, and sometimes it depends on my mood. But my go-to is the Fenty Eau de Parfum, and I'll walk out the door. I always, always have on a baby oil or body oil, especially if I'm showing skin; I want to look like I'm glowing. It's always Johnson & Johnson's Baby Oil. That's what I grew up with; that was always what was in the house. I also use the body oil from Tata Harper.

Girls have told me how I've helped them be okay with the kind of drag they want to do, be confident in what they want to do. I've gotten to see my influence. It feels amazing and very humbling because when I went into drag, that's not what I was thinking about. I was thinking, "do your best and have a good time." So when people come up to me and say, "Seeing you has helped me and has inspired my drag," that is one of the best compliments ever. I cry now thinking about it because what an honor.

Going on Drag Race, I didn't know if I was going to be liked. Through the process, it was just me. I couldn't call anyone. I couldn't ask anyone outside of who was on set or the girls around for help. I had to rely on myself and trust my decisions, so there was a lot of self-evaluation and self-confidence that had to be built. Being put through that really helped me be like, I got this. And after this, I can put the mindset that I have here and apply it to the rest of my life.

Balenciaga coat, pantaleggings, boot bag, and gloves. Laura Lombardi earrings. Saint Laurent rings.

Artistically, I pretty much knew what I wanted to do on the show. After that, I trusted myself to say, "Going forward, do what you want to do." I've really wanted to start getting into acting. I have a movie that came out called Bros. My character's name is Marty [not in drag] and I'm in a throuple. Yes, you read it right! A throuple! I want to do television and more film. I want to put together my own tour with visuals and tracks and a whole concept.

I think the message I want to convey with Symone is to be yourself. For a long time, that was a hard thing for me, being OK with who I am and being unapologetic about it. I used Symone to get there. And have fun! Do what you want to do. It doesn't necessarily have to be drag. Just be the person you want to be. Be inspired by people, of course, and learn from other people around you, but don’t feel like you have to be that person. Take that and make it individualistic.

Lead image: Saint Laurent dress, shoes, and jewelry. To create a similar makeup look: Eye Shadow in If It Ain’t Baroque, Powder Blush in Burnt Pepper, and Retro Matte Liquid Lipcolour in Burnt Spice by MAC.

Fashion stylist: Ian McRae. Hair: Malcolm Marquez. Makeup: Cedric Jolivet. On-set producer: Aiden Lee. Location: Mr. C Beverly Hills.

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