Q&A: Santigold on Her ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ New Makeup Line for Smashbox

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Photo: Mike Coppola/Getty Images

It's been a year since Santigold released her last album, Master of My Make-Believe, but the artist (née Santi White) is now focused on two upcoming projects: a baby ("I feel good!" she says) and a new makeup collaboration with Smashbox Cosmetics.

In a marketplace with lots of celebrity makeup lines, Santigold's collection — which was inspired by her research into the end of the world and features product names like Apocalypse Now and Green Martian — is delightfully nonconformist. ("If you are dealing with elements of Earth and myth," she says, "you’ve got wide-open colors.") In her doomsday-preparedness beauty kit are a pyramid ring with a top that you slide to reveal a well of lipstick, double-ended eyeliner in shades of teal and turquoise, and smokey eye-compacts with snake heads and Mayan pyramid art. She talked to the Cut about how she believes the apocalypse is now, chalky HD makeup, and and the impact of Lupita Nyong'o's Oscar win

So I’ve read that the inspiration for the collection is post-apocalyptic. Where did that come from?

We started working on the collection in 2012, which was leading up to the end of the world. I was reading about Mayan predictions from the Hopi tribe and different mythical stories and theories.

Most of the things I was reading about talked about an era post-2012, which would restore balance, and be a Utopian era where everyone would live in harmony on the Earth. I thought that was a cool idea. Where do we all go afterward? Until that time, it’s crazy, which I think is what we’ve been experiencing. I thought that was interesting, and lent itself to beautiful imagery and a fun, thematic idea. If you are dealing with elements of Earth and myth, you’ve got wide-open colors. And with aliens, you can do anything you want. Like a green Martian! It just becomes fun.

So, post-2012, we’re all still here. What do you see for the apocalypse?

Well, I think we’ve been in the apocalypse for a while. I don’t see the apocalypse as an ending; I see it as a changing point. Either we take the lessons or we don’t. I really believe in free will for individuals. We have communal free will as the inhabitants of the Earth — we are determining our future.

If we continue to mistreat the Earth, we’ll deal with the consequences. I think we’ve seen that with the nuclear spill in California: Our fish are totally have a really hard time. The oil. We’ve really made a mess. This is the apocalypse. It’s what we are doing, but we can change it. The Earth is going to regenerate itself with or without us. For my line, I chose the beautiful side of it. I believe that’s going to happen. But I don’t know what part the humans will have.

So in the apocalypse, are we all going to be wearing golden eyeliner? 

[Laughter.] I think the point is to leave the apocalypse. It’s not geared for the apocalypse. A lot of the things I do and write about encourage people to create their own reality and their own choices. It’s about what they want to be and what they want to look like.

My approach was a collage of creative endeavors, to give all these different bits and pieces to create any look you want. It’s like a play set, to create your own place. I gave all these different options in case people look at these and are like, Oh, I can’t wear these, this is too bright. It’s about giving you ideas to wear gold liner that you never even thought you could. You can do a really light-gold dusting; you don’t have to go around like a clown or something out of the future. But you could if you wanted to. 

What was your objective for the collection?

I wanted to create things I had trouble finding. I wanted to create a line that had vivid and fun colors. I wanted to create products that stayed in place and looked the same as they did in the pot. As a performer, I wanted colors that stand out on the Jumbotron.

I wanted to create a collection that looks good on all skin colors. For me, I’ve found — from working with different makeup artists — that not everyone knows how to approach darker skin tones. I wanted to make one that worked on darker skin tones and lighter ones. At Smashbox, there are people with pale skin, olive skin, L.A.-tan skin, and then, me, who has brown skin. It was great to have a collection that looked good in different ways on everyone.

 What is a perfect beauty day for you?

Um. Hm. It’s a weird question for me. I don’t think about how I look a lot of days. A perfect beauty day is when I wake up, barely do anything, and have to go somewhere and look good without a lot of effort. That would mean I got enough sleep. I would be nice and moisturized, which probably means I haven’t been flying all over the world.

My hair would be perfect, you know like, when your hair was the perfect, sleep-in messy? That’s that day. And then you put on a little bit of liner and shadow. It’s the perfect outfit and sunglasses. You wake up and it’s a miracle! That’s the perfect beauty day: It takes very, very little effort.

What is your day-to-day makeup routine like?

Traveling on airplanes is the worst thing for your skin. I use a light cleanser from Eminence that I love, it’s a really light lemon cleanser that’s really moisturizing, almost like washing with a light lemon oil. I also use Eminence moisturizers. I also love La Mer and the serum. That’s when it’s like, Okay, no time to play around. And I drink water, and I sleep. That’s my main skin-care routine. Oh, and Rosebud Lip Balm. You can’t put on lipstick with cracked lips. They are a no-no.

You've said that you've had difficult finding makeup. Do you feel like there is something that beauty companies should be doing better?

I don’t know if it’s the beauty companies. It might be. I haven’t tried so many. The main problem is they probably don’t make the right colors or not enough. They need to make colors with more skin types in mind.

The other problem I’ve come in contact with is the makeup artist and the people doing lighting for photo shoot not knowing how to work with different skin types. Also, the hair for people of color who don’t have white-people hair. They need to know that there are different ways to apply makeup for people with different skin types. With darker skin, light hits it differently and you have to do the makeup differently. Makeup artists are often taught how to do their thing, and it’s not always based on who is in front of them. Some people have figured it out and some haven’t. I think that’s something that really needs to change.

 Maybe the education process needs to be rounded out more. In the absence of that happening, it’s experience and being aware. Sometimes people are like, I’ve done all different types. I got it. And they’ll slap on the worst color foundation and it’ll be chalky and they’ll be like, It’s good for HD. Like whatever. That is the biggest line. [Laughter.]

Or when I get my makeup professionally done, I end up looking like a …

Tranny! [Laughter.] With me, I cannot wear a lot of makeup. I look like a man. That’s not the look I’m going for! I have strong features; I don’t need that much makeup.

The idea of race and beauty has come up a lot this week, especially in the context of Lupita Nyong'o [who has been vocal about the diversification of beauty ideals]. How do you hope society improves in relation to race and beauty? 

I think there are so many races on the Earth and so many beautiful people and so many standards of beauty. I hope that [the] mainstream continues to open their eyes and recognize that real beauty is so varied and stop streamlining what the definition of it is. It becomes so boring and so negative for all races. Who isn’t cutting their nose to have the same exact nose everyone has? It’s not healthy and not good for the world, and it’s not good for women. I just think it’s so wonderful to be able to celebrate different types of beauty. I hope it continues to be in style. She looked stunning at the Oscars.

This interview has been condensed and edited.