Willow Smith has a lot to be excited about. In anticipation of her new album (an ode to the pop-punk music she grew up listening to), she’s stepping into the nouveau-punk persona of her dreams. The vision is clear, and in fact, you saw it represented in the singer’s Who What Wear May cover shoot. She wasn’t your typical model on set, either. Smith contributed in a major way to the creative direction of the shoot, sharing her own personal mood boards and points of inspiration. Keep scrolling to see how Smith collaborated with hairstylist Vernon François and makeup artist Francie Tomalonis to bring all the epic beauty moments to life.
It can’t be overstated that on a day-to-day basis, Smith is super casual about her hair and makeup. When she’s working, though, there’s pretty much nothing that’s off-limits. “We’ve been working together for some time now, and it’s always exciting because Willow is such a creative tour de force,” François says. Where her hair is concerned, Smith has undergone a metamorphosis that started in her younger years, when she really wasn’t a fan of her natural texture. Like many Black girls, learning to care for her coils has been a journey. “That kind of strained relationship with my hair pushed me to do a lot with it—cut it, dye it, perm it, put zippers in it… whatever I could do, just do something different,” she tells me. But now, Smith is embracing her hair and learning to appreciate everything about it. “Just watching it grow and really figuring out what it needs, what it likes, and what it doesn’t like is like growing a real relationship,” she says.
“Creating hairstyles with Willow is a collaborative process because she always has a clear vision of the look she wants to achieve, and I bring that to life,” François adds. “Sometimes Willow likes to wear her hair long, wavy, and curly. Other times, it’s kinky with big, voluptuous volume.” And flowing waves are exactly what we saw for this shoot. “This hairstyle evokes the feeling of a soft, simple, effortless work of art, that works in perfect harmony with the makeup,” François explains. “Conditioning and protecting the scalp is always our number one priority, especially when hair extensions are worn as is the case here. First, I used Nairobi’s Moisturizing Scalp Balm ($5), which has soothing castor oil.” Next up, he added the Vernon François Scalp Nourish-Ment Braid & Loc Spray ($18), which features a blend of dry finishing oils to really amp up the shine. “The curls and waves were moisturized with my Vernon François Leave-In Conditioner ($18), manipulated into shape using my fingers, and set in place naturally with no heat—only touching as much as needed to preserve the curl pattern.” The result? A waist-grazing punk-rock mermaid look complete with the coolest micro bangs.
“We decided the theme was ‘Punk Picasso,’” Tomalonis remarks about the edgy and artful makeup looks. “Our inspiration was drawn from ’80s punk and art.” For the first makeup look, which centers on a vibrant red lower-eyeliner look complemented by bold, glossy red lips and glossy lids, the artist employed some classic makeup staples to get that rich color payoff, starting with MAC Cosmetics Acrylic Paint ($23) in Primary Red. “It is long-wearing and easy to use. I recommend a skinny brush like the Bdellium 706 ($8) or the Make Up For Ever 260 Bent Liner Brush ($24) to do a graphic eye,” she instructs. “I recently discovered nail-art brushes are super nifty in creating precision lines, too, which you can order on Amazon.” Smith’s epic red-apple lip comes courtesy of Fenty Beauty Stunna Lip Paint ($25) in Uncensored, and that gorgeous glossy eye was created with a swipe of Danessa Myricks Colorfix Eye, Cheek & Lip Cream Pigment ($18) in Clear Glaze.
“Skin prep is so important before makeup. It’s like priming a canvas before painting,” Tomalonis says. “I focus on hydrating and refreshing the skin before makeup. I learned about the seven-layer method of Korean skincare several years ago. You pat in a layer of hydrating toner or essence on the skin seven times. I usually do about four to five layers, and I truly notice a difference in the skin becoming less dehydrated on long days,” she adds. “Currently in my kit is Blithe’s Vital Treatment 9 Essential Seeds Essence ($41). I’m also a fan of the Charlotte Tilbury Magic Cream ($100) and Le Mieux’s Sheer Hydration ($38). They play very nicely with makeup and are not irritating to the skin.”
In line with Smith’s love of drawing geometric shapes, lines, or dots on her face when she’s experimenting with makeup on her own, the next look truly represents that artistic flair. “Willow is such an artistic visionary with makeup ideas, and our creativity just flowed together,” Tomalonis says. “I used MAC Cosmetics’ Pro Palette Paintstick ($70) to paint the triangle shape over Willow’s eye and set it with Viseart’s Editorial Brights Eyeshadow Palette ($80). Then I used Make Up For Ever’s Artist Colour Pencils ($18) in Boundless Blue and All Around White to outline the makeup before filling in the color. Using a white base before you use colorful eye shadow greatly helps the colors pop more,” the artist explains.
And if you’re wondering how to make a look like either of the ones in this shoot actually last IRL, Tomalonis says it’s all about the base. “Doing a full skin prep makes a big difference in the longevity and look of the makeup,” she says. “I’m a fan of using Heir Atelier’s Face Primer ($42) to help with long wear. I used Make Up For Ever’s 24HR Reboot Foundation ($39) on Willow for a beautiful radiant glow.” Tomalonis also recommends lightly pressing a matte powder like the TikTok-famous Givenchy Prisme Libre Loose Powder ($58) into areas that tend to get oily. “For a 24-hour liner look, try using Inglot’s AMC Eyeliner ($21) mixed with a bit of Inglot’s Duraline ($18) for a smudge-proof look.” Well, looks like I’ll be saving that tip for my next night out!
Read the full May cover story with Willow Smith here.