After featuring Paola Mathé in this wedding post, we got countless requests for her beauty uniform. So, here we are! Paola lives in New York City, where she founded of Fanm Djanm, a head wrap brand that celebrates women’s strength (Fanm Djanm translates to “strong woman” in Paola’s native Haitian Kreyòl.) Here, she talks about why she loves short hair, how she calmed her nerves on her wedding day and the trick to making lipstick last…
When did you move to move to the U.S. from Haiti?
I moved from Haiti to Newark, New Jersey, right before high school. It was a total culture shock. I went from wearing a uniform at an all-girls school with everyone listening to their teachers, to going through a metal detector and seeing fights in the halls. I remember being teased in high school because I dressed so colorfully. I was once called “Skittles,” but that’s all right by me. I come from a colorful culture. Our laughter is colorful. Our food is colorful. Hell, even our sneezes are colorful! I always say that my dream is to share these colors with the world.
Color is definitely part of your beauty look, too.
Yeah, I feel naked without color — I use it to express myself. I love a bold lip. I’ve been into Sad Girl by Anastasia lately. On my skin, it’s a combination of brown and pink with shimmer! I also love Gold Label Cosmetics lipstick in First Class and Dark Children.
Do you like any drugstore lipsticks?
I recently purchased Revlon’s Cocoa Craving, and it’s amazing!
Do you have any tricks for making lipstick last?
My lips get dry easily, and to avoid peeling, I exfoliate with coconut oil and a warm washcloth. Then I always apply a basic lip moisturizer like Carmex or Blistex before lipstick.
You have incredible style. Has living in New York affected it?
I moved to New York City after college, and it was a breath of fresh air! There is so much style inspiration. I live in Harlem, and I’m in love with the traditional attire worn by the West African ladies. I love watching the old-school men with the cool hats, the older ladies with their church hats, and the young professionals all dressed up for brunch. New York is the place I found myself; it challenges me to step outside of the box. I started wearing things like a sequined skirt, Nike sneakers and a head wrap without thinking too much about it because it’s New York, and why not? Now I take that mentality and do the same anywhere.
When did you start wearing head wraps?
When I was around 10 years old, I tied a scarf around my head, and it grabbed my attention in the mirror. It was the first time I felt beautiful. After that, I went through phases with my hair — I relaxed it, I wore extensions, I had braids, I had an Afro — it’s all part of my culture, we love wearing our hair differently. But I started wearing head wraps more when I moved to New York. At first, I just wore them on weekends. But one day I decided to wear one to the hotel where I worked in marketing department. I was terrified that my boss was going to say something because it had never been done and we had a pretty strict dress code. But when I walked in, she just stared at me and said, “Cool look.”
What do you like about wearing a head wrap?
It’s a celebration of who I am — my culture, my colors, my struggles. They make me stand taller and feel more confident. I love the act of wrapping them in various styles, too. That in itself, symbolizes creativity, patience and love.
So how did Fanm Djanm come about?
People around town started asking me where I got my head wraps, but I was just buying fabric or using scarves. Black women have been wrapping their hair forever, but there wasn’t a head wrap store you could just walk into. We were just getting creative with random things. So, in 2014, I launched the line at a pop-up shop, and to my total surprise, everything sold out.
Is there any feature you weren’t into when you were growing up that you’ve now made peace with?
I was a very awkward child. I remember my mom saying things like “Stop slouching, make eye contact, smile more.” She wanted a better life for me, I can tell; that’s why she was so tough. At my school in Haiti, the European standard of beauty was big. Even when I was four years old, women would constantly ask my mother, “What are you going to do with this child’s hair? You need to relax it.” People would tell her to put clothespins on my nose to make it straighter, or say, “She is so dark, she needs to bathe more.” I used to cry as a five-year-old because the chemicals on my head were burning my scalp. Nothing made me feel uglier because I had to do so much to be considered normal. But now that I’ve grown up, I love every inch of my body. And the natural hair revolution that has happened recently is just amazing.
How long have you had short hair?
I grew an Afro after college, then shaved it all off a few years later and never looked back. I don’t have to worry about my short hair, and I can color it without worrying about it breaking off. I’d like to dye it teal soon, even if that only lasts two days. I love the freedom of short hair — it’s like telling the world, “Here I am!”
What do you do to style it?
I go to a barber shop every three to four weeks, and buzz, buzz, buzz! I have short hair so I just use my husband’s shampoo. I use the same oil I use on my skin on my hair and scalp when I need to.
What parts of your Haitian culture have brought to the U.S.?
I listen to Haitian music, and there’s a Haitian restaurant in Brooklyn — La Caye — where I love to bring my non-Haitian friends. My husband is a great cook and does most of the cooking in our home, but I like making pikliz (a Haitian condiment with shredded cabbage and spicy peppers) and fried plantains.
What’s your daily facial skincare routine?
I wash my face with Clinique liquid facial soap or First Aid Beauty face cleanser in the morning and evening. They are my favorites because they wash away a good amount of makeup, oil and dirt. I love using a washcloth when I wash my face at night to get rid of as much makeup as possible, but I’m always cautious around the eye area. After I wash my face, I follow with Clinique Clarifying Lotion 2. I love that it cleans off whatever the cleanser left behind. There is a slight tingling sensation for the first few seconds, and then it leaves my face feeling fresh. In the morning, I apply the Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion to start the day. And in the evening, I go with FIRST AID BEAUTY Ultra Repair Hydrating Sleeping Cream to get some major hydration going!
Your skin is so glow-y! What is your secret?
Scrubbing my skin with a washcloth! And I spend time moisturizing my body. It’s my gift to myself. I try to not think about work during that time, and massage the lotion and oil into my skin as I get ready in the morning. I use a super moisturizing lotion, topped with coconut, or sweet almond oil, and in the winter castor oil. I have really dry skin, so if I don’t moisturize, I’m in big trouble.
Do you wear makeup every day?
Most of my days are not very glamorous — they’re mostly just answering emails and going to meetings — so it’s sometimes easier to skip makeup. But I will wear makeup if I’m taking photos or going to an event. Then it’s one pump of Lancôme Teint Idole Ultra foundation, and three dots of NARS concealer under my eyes. I set with COVER FX Illuminating Setting Powder. I fill in my eyebrows with Anastasia brow pencil and swipe on a good bold lipstick.
Do you change things up for special occasions?
I’ll add some winged eyeliner, and I do some very basic contouring on my cheeks. I use any gold eyeshadow as a highlighter, blush and just some Sephora dark brown eyeshadow, nothing too fancy.
You recently got married and looked gorgeous. Tell us about your wedding beauty routine.
We got married in Vermont, and I got a great facial from Stowe Mountain Lodge Spa the day before the wedding. It was only the second facial I’ve had, but I think that should change! I also brought my amazing makeup artist and friend, Lanea Singleton, to Vermont because I knew I couldn’t trust my shaky hands that day. I sat facing the mountains, and every time I started speaking about things that worried me, she would tell me to listen to the wind. It was so special and therapeutic.
Do you ever do any other beauty treatments?
I just recently started getting my eyebrows threaded and tinted a dark brown shade every four weeks. I treat myself to a pedicure once a month, and I wear Formula X nail polishes religiously for my mani/pedis. They last a while, and I love the richness of their colors.
Who’s your celebrity crush?
I have a lot of celebrity girl crushes: Grace Jones, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Eartha Kitt.
What is your beauty philosophy?
Beauty is when you’re comfortable with yourself without apologies — it’s about feeling good. Feeling good comes from treating yourself and those around you with care and love.
Thank you so much, Paola!