How Selena Gomez’s Makeup Artist Went From
Living In A Refugee Camp To Becoming One Of
The World’s Top Makeup Artists

Posted in Interviews, Makeup on August 14, 2017 by


If there is one word that sums up Hung Vanngo, celebrity makeup artist and Marc Jacobs Beauty Global Artistry Ambassador, it is humble.

Born in Vietnam, Vanngo reveals, “For me, success is no longer living in a refugee camp.”

When Vanngo tells me this, I’m moved deeply. Truth be told, I knew of Vanngo (what beauty geek doesn’t?) but I didn’t know this. When he reveals this intimate detail to me, I can’t even begin to comprehend what his childhood was like… so I very gently ask him. Vanngo, who is honest and warm, tells me that together with his brother, sister and mother, they escaped Vietnam in 1987. His mother hoped for a better life for children so they fled in an overcrowded boat to try and escape.

“I was six. We got as far as Thailand; and they put us in a refugee camp for three years,” says Vanngo. “At that time, we only knew of America, so that’s where we wanted to go.” Vanngo explains a lot of countries didn’t accept them so they waited until a country allowed them to resettle. “If you’ve never lived in a refugee camp or grown up in a third world country, you will never understand. I can’t explain it. For me, any opportunity I could’ve possibly encountered was better than what I grew up in. Anything.

After three years living in unimaginable conditions, Canada finally accepted Vanngo and his family. “We immigrated to Canada [in 1990] when I was 9 years old, and the rest was history.” His childhood is undoubtedly a stark contrast to the current life he finds himself livingsplitting is time between L.A and NYC and regularly painting the faces of Selena Gomez, Gisele Bündchen, Kate Bosworth and Katy Perry to name a few. Vanngo’s brother has a PhD; he’s a professor at a university in Calgary. “My sister is working and is married with two kids. And I think I’m doing very fine with makeup.”

And, fine he certainly is. Vanngo, who is in Sydney to celebrate the launch of Marc Jacobs Eye-Conic Multi-Finish Eyeshadow Palette (Scandalust is his favourite), says, “I never moved to New York and thought, “I’m going to be a star.” When I left Canada to move to New York, I actually couldn’t get an agent. No agency would sign me so I had to keep flying back to Toronto to earn some money. Once I saved some, I’d travel back to New York and try again. I knew I had to start from the bottom and slowly, over time, I worked my way up. Nothing happens overnight.”

It’s this humble attitude (and his disinclination of beauty trends but rather favouring classics) that has put Vanngo on the mapand on speed dial of major celebrities.

When I ask how Vanngo came to work with Selena Gomez, he reveals, “I actually met Selena through working with Miranda Kerr. Miranda and I were working together a lot on shoots. She was represented by the same agency as Selena. Miranda’s agent was on set one day; he would always watch the way I worked. He was pulling together a new team for Selena and he thought of me. I met Selena and that was kind of it. We’ve worked together ever since.”

“For Selena’s recent film clip, Fetish, she wanted to look really fresh, natural and healthy. It’s very simple.” I quiz the man on how exactly he did this: “I prepped Selena’s skin first by mixing a small amount of Marc Jacobs Beauty Dew Drops Coconut Gel Highlighter into face moisturiser and massaging it onto her skin. In the opening scene, Selena’s skin is sparkling. To create this, I filled in her brows slightly, curled her lashes and no mascara. I popped on a little concealer – no foundation – and to give that extra glow, I applied Marc Jacobs Glow Stick Glistening Illuminator onto the high points of Selena’s face. To finish, I applied Marc Jacobs Enamored Hi-Shine Gloss Lip Lacquer Lipgloss in French Tickler.”

So, if you’re a budding makeup artist looking to making it BIG, take Vanngo’s advice:  “Embrace everything and appreciate everything. Nothing happens overnight. Do any makeup jobs you can – you have to start somewhere and the industry is small; people move around and change jobs. It’s important to start from somewhere.”

True that.

i-D magazine winter 2009 | Eva Herzigova, Helena Christensen and Claudia Schiffer
Makeup by Hung Vanngo

Vogue Australia January 2015 | Gisele Bündchen
Makeup by Hung Vanngo

LOVE magazine #18 | Kesewa Aboah and Kate Moss
Makeup by Hung Vanngo

InStyle magazine September 2017 | Selena Gomez
Makeup by Hung Vanngo