When she turned 13, Raisa Flowers went down the tubes. First it was lipstick — matte plums and satin-finish reds she found at the MAC Cosmetics counter in suburban New York. Then it was tubes of drugstore mascara, lip gloss, "anything I could get my hands on, really," she says. By the end of high school, Flowers — a member of the very first TikTok generation — had amassed a high/low collection of cosmetics and skincare staples but she wasn't quite sure how her coveted beauty stash turned into an actual career. "I grew up watching YouTube tutorials," Flowers says, "and they helped me get infatuated with the beauty industry. But even when I was like, 12, I knew I wanted to do makeup, but not like that. I didn't want to copy everyone else's art, you know? I wanted to make my own."
Flowers says all this from a secret location, where she has been flown to do beauty looks for a secret celebrity, because this is her life now, which means it's safe to say she is indeed making art on her own. The Mount Vernon native began doing makeup for friends and family in high school, then went on to assist other makeup artists, including the legendary Pat McGrath.
Because Flowers has worked consistently since her teens, she's quick to say she "never had one definitive big break." But like most meteoric rises these days, Rihanna had something to do with it. The two began collaborating in 2018, after Flowers — who is over 6 feet tall, with velvet-soft skin and curves — auditioned for a Savage x Fenty lingerie show. ("I grew up in the club scene in New York City," she says, "which definitely did expose me to celebrity stuff early.") Not only was Flowers cast as a model, she became a muse for the power-and-lace line, opening their runway show and sharing the catwalk with Gigi Hadid (whose makeup looks she would later create). The gig led to more modeling work with Calvin Klein, plus beauty commissions from Zendaya, Kim Kardashian's SKIMS line, and an acclaimed Essence cover with Rihanna herself. Even so, Flowers felt the elusive, exclusive ethos of the beauty establishment trying to dampen her flame.
"Some people take one look at my personal Instagram, see the looks I created for myself at clubs, and then love to say I'm 'too much.' They'll say, 'Her look is 'crazy' without knowing anything about my actual portfolio," she sighs. "I want those people to realize that when I'm working, it's a collective! And that even for 'natural' makeup, you might need a little more glam than you think," she laughs.
Flowers notes on her recent New York Magazine cover shoot for Simone Biles, "We tried a few different looks, but ultimately as a team, we wanted it to stay natural. Still, I had to push back a little bit and keep some of the glam touches, because a lot of times, when Black women are shot completely 'natural,' it looks too pared-down for me under the lights. Then you see the reactions from social media about a celeb looking tired or washed out," she laughs. "So I knew that even to be 'natural,' in that photo setup, [Simone] needed some type of boost and elevation in her face. And so we kept the glam touches, and I think the reaction has been amazing."
Beauty can be anything — hard, soft, grungy, glamour, pared-down… This obsession with looking ‘perfect’ is really hard for me, because it’s about being true to yourself not about being ‘flawless.’
Indeed, the actual print cover is completely sold out, while the digital images surfaced everywhere from CNN to Apple News. And yes, social media loved it. "I try not to get caught up in Instagram and all that," Flowers says, "but I can't deny that social media definitely has influenced the way people think beauty is supposed to be. To me, though, beauty can be anything — hard, soft, grungy, glamour, pared-down… this obsession with looking 'perfect' is really hard for me, because it's about being true to yourself not about being 'flawless,' which is just boring." She adds, "It gets me sometimes that people feel they have to conform to everything going on around them, beauty trends included. I don't like to conform. But, you know," she laughs, "I'm an Aquarius."
Raisa Flowers needs to sign off our call — secret celebrities await — but first, one more question: How has her work changed now that she's the one setting trends? "That part is overwhelming," she admits, "because it can feel like my career is suddenly happening so fast. So I try to reflect on how it wasn't that long ago when I didn't think it was possible to be doing what I am actually doing now!"
But it's not as if the success has come by a surprise. "I've worked so hard to self-actualize my dreams, and it's put things in motion: More people are seeing my work. More people are open to working with me and collaborating. They see what my talent can bring to a shoot. And so I try to let that uplift me, and keep me strong about trusting my gut when it comes to my work [and] being true to that vision, and all the different and personal ways beauty can be expressed at a really high, really amazing level. Because that," she says, "is what I'm ultimately here to do."
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