I first met Brooke Williams—a photographer and blogger—when she was an editor at the original Domino Magazine. She’s funny and talented with a seriously amazing head of hair, and has been one of my style icons for years. Here, she talks about the magic of oil, wonderful advice for little girls, and what it’s like to be taller than her husband…
First off, what’s your daily beauty routine?
I am a total creature of habit and have been doing roughly the same thing for as long as I can remember. Every morning, before anybody else is awake, I do a short (5- to 7-minute) meditation to start my day with my feet planted firmly on the ground. I like the cleansers from the organic line Red Flower. You absorb so much through the skin, so it really pays to be mindful of what you’re spreading on your body. Ingredients are so important! I already use their ionizing flower mist and I’ve recently gotten hooked on their new serum. I use just a couple of drops instead of a moisturizer and my skin feels great.
Do you wear any makeup?
Not much, but I’ll put on lipstick if I need a pick-me-up or want to look like a grown-up (I like YSL no 54 Prune Avenue—I’m a sucker for that gold packaging) and a bit of mascara when I’m going out. I keep my fingernails neutral, but I love a splash of color on my toes—right now I’m feeling Blagger, a vibrant cobalt blue from Butter. It reminds me of Legos!
When in your life have you felt most beautiful?
I feel most beautiful when I’m underwater—perhaps that’s the Pisces in me. Other than that, I’d have to say my wedding day. I was happy in the same way that I was when Ada was born, but I had my hair and makeup done and was wearing a beautiful long dress and carrying flowers. My makeup was super minimal, but I did have a pro apply it, so at least for that one evening, I looked all nice and polished-like. Oh, and I had my toenails painted white with red flowers on the big toes. I figured I may as well go whole hog on my wedding day!
Have you always felt comfortable being taller than your husband?
I never ever thought I’d marry someone shorter than me, though at 5’11”, I’m not sure why the possibility had never crossed my mind. But then I met Josh, and all relative height considerations flew right out the window! I don’t remember ever being bothered by it or even thinking about it at all. Though every once in awhile when I see us in the mirror I am taken aback by how much I loom over him. Plus my hair doesn’t help! Just because I am now committed to spending the rest of my life with a man whose eyes come up to my chin doesn’t mean I’m willing to give up the collection of heels I’ve amassed in my 35-some-odd years of being single in NYC. I wear them when I’m going out on the town.
Do you have any funny beauty tricks?
Ok, this is embarrassing, but I’ve started using Bag Balm on my feet at night before I go to bed. It’s a thick lanolin-based rub used by farmers to keep cow udders soft. My heels, which are traditionally like sandpaper, are now all smooth—like I’ve just had a pedicure!
What’s your most regrettable beauty moment? (We all have one!)
In college (why is it always in college?) I experimented with wearing a fake long ponytail. I wanted to look like Sade. I also wore pinstriped pleat-front pants. The whole thing was a horrible mistake.
What’s your favorite part of your overall look?
I suppose my favorite part of my look is my hair. For most of my childhood, I went to beauty parlors and had my hair straightened with chemicals, which was horrible for all sorts of reasons. When I finished school and struck out on my own, I cut off all the processed hair and started from scratch. I’ve been wearing this kind of crazy natural afro ever since. I really can’t imagine ever changing it!
Is there a beauty product that has more-or-less changed your life?
I have two—both of them oils. First up is plain old organic coconut oil. At the end of every shower I rub a bit of this rich oil all over my skin. It’s got almost no scent, has all sorts of healing properties and is really inexpensive. My skin is quite dry, but this is the most effective moisturizer I’ve ever used. The second product is Dr. Alkaitis Treatment Oil. It’s billed as a skin product, but I use it on my hair and let me tell you, my hair has NEVER felt so soft. The ingredient list reads like an amazing garden salad which of course appeals to the naturalist in me! It’s pricey, but a little goes a long way. Then I just shape my hair with my fingers and hope I don’t look too insane when I leave my house.
What’s your bedtime routine?
My fantasy self goes to sleep at ten, after having done an evening meditation, washed my face, used some kind of wondrous lotion or night cream, checked in on my peacefully sleeping daughter and then hung out in bed with my husband for a little while sharing bits of news from our day. The real me is lucky her teeth get brushed before diving under the covers in a panic because it is past midnight and tomorrow begins at 6am.
What have the women in your family taught you about beauty?
My mother taught me the importance of getting enough sleep (she can sleep till 11am…I’m so jealous!) and of sunscreen. She made us wear sunblock back in the day, when everybody else was wearing baby oil and tin foil and trying to get that savage tan. And I also remember as a kid watching my paternal grandmother [pictured above] do sun salutations on her porch in the summer. I had no idea what yoga even was then, but I was fascinated. She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen. She was a force.
How do you talk to your daughter Ada about beauty? What lessons do you hope she learns from you?
Ada is one of those kids who is constantly being told she is beautiful by strangers. My biggest fear is that it goes to her head and she starts to think she can get away with all sorts of stuff just because she’s cute. So what I’ve tried to do is define beauty as a holistic state, rather than a set of physical features. Beauty comes from the inside, from how you treat people, from your attitude towards the world around you. From being strong and confident and generous. That’s what I hope she takes in. But also, I’m not against playing around with your look, trying fun new hairstyles or getting your nails done or putting on makeup, as long as it’s seen as dress up and a game. Also, Ada inherited my grandmother’s eye shadow kit and she’s much better at doing a fancy eyelid than I could ever hope to be!
(Photo of Brooke in the pink dress by Kava Gorna. Photo of Brooke on her bicycle by Anna Wolf for Cup of Jo. Striped tights photo by Jill Platner. All other photos courtesy of Brooke Williams. Interview by Caroline Donofrio.)