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Meet Nicole Chew

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Chew.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Nicole. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Starting at a young age, I always had an affinity for the arts. I left my hometown of San Francisco to experience life independently, in Los Angeles. I stumbled into the beauty industry quite accidentally.

I received a B.A. from University of California, Irvine in studio arts and minored in digital arts and business. After graduating from college, I still wanted to pursue a career in the arts. Coming from a Chinese family, I knew I was expected to pursue a substantial career and income. Subconsciously there was pressure coming from a family lineage of health professionals, educators, and a court official.

After completing college, I worked for a cosmetic line; partly because of the necessity to make money and partly due to my curiosity of the beauty industry. I actually became good at selling products. I found I could turn a $10 sale into a $500 sale. I wasn’t necessarily driven for the added commission. I loved the time spent with the customers and educating them in the application of makeup. I had worked for a cosmetic company a little less than a year when my grandmother suddenly passed away from a stroke. The cosmetic company was unsympathetic to the death of my grandmother and to my need to take a few days to spend with the family, so I decided to leave the company.

After spending a couple of months in San Francisco (regrouping after the death of my grandmother), I returned to Los Angeles. I decided to freelance as a makeup artist. I was very fortunate to meet a variety of people in the industry. I worked a couple of freelance jobs and I had so much fun working on photoshoots! I attended Makeup Designory school and enrolled in their character course. After taking the makeup course, I wanted to expand my skill in hairstyling.

I attended Vidal Sassoon’s cosmetology course as soon as enrollment was open. I appreciated learning the precise techniques of Sassoon’s haircuts and their application of color. After graduating from Vidal Sassoon, I apprenticed at a salon in Santa Monica. Working as an apprentice for the salon was probably one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever had. There were times I worked seven days a week at the salon; 5 days consisted of being an assistant at the salon and then two days consisted of education and bringing in models. I was committed to “getting on the floor” which meant becoming a full-time stylist. I remember spending 6 hours at the Santa Monica Promenade searching for the perfect haircut model to pass my test at the salon.

During these years working in the salon, my health began to deteriorate. I became allergic to the chemicals in the salon and my eczema was at its worst. My doctor insisted that I change my job in order for my health to improve. Things happen for a reason and I truly feel life leads you in certain directions. I was unhappy with my career situation and I needed to take better care of myself. Considering the advice of my doctor, I contemplated the career choices I had as a career. I still loved doing makeup and hair.

One of my goals had been to be represented by a makeup and hair agency. I remember in makeup school, we learned about agencies and that only the top artists were represented. I met a photographer named Gari Askew and we began to set up photoshoots together, developing our portfolios. He was a great mentor. He gave me great insight in how to approach my goal of being represented by an agency.

I was fearful of starting a new career at age 30. However, I was determined and set myself a goal to be signed by an agency within two years. If I failed, I would have to be more practical about my job choices. During these two years, I felt excited, scared, stressed, driven, and at times uncertain. I remember expressing to my mom the fear of entering the uncertainties of the beauty industry. She wisely advised me that if I didn’t have fear, I would not be pushed to do anything new.

During the next two years, I developed and perfected my portfolio and worked with talented teams (that consisted of photographers, makeup artists, hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, and models). I assisted as many makeup and hair artists as I could to learn what they knew. When I was an assistant, I always jumped at any opportunity to be on set. If my job was to hold a pin box all day, I was glad to do it in order to experience the exciting life of photoshoots and film sets. Today I think it is so important to have had the experience of assisting.

On the anniversary of my two years goal, I was signed by Art Department LA.

I definitely love my career! It has not been an easy road and not glamorous at times, however this career can be rewarding. What is rewarding is seeing your work published, working with talented crews, meeting people and listening to their stories, visiting new locations, being creative, and constantly learning.

My work has been published in Elle, Elle Mexico, Elle Vietnam, Interview, Refinery 29, Nylon, Colourpop and The Hollywood Reporter, in ads for Puma, Guess, Nike, and Target to name a few.

I have always had a great passion for my career and for helping others. I love to create and I’m currently working on a new project in self-care and bringing community together.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Since working for the salon, I’ve struggled with my eczema. Primarily my eczema appeared on my hands. At times my eczema was painful and aesthetically unpleasant. Early in my career, I was embarrassed by the appearance of my eczema. I didn’t want people to feel like I had a contagious disease. I tried my best to care for my eczema. I went to endless dermatology appointments and was prescribed countless steroid creams and allergy medications. However, the steroid creams were like putting a band-aid on the problem and eventually they would stop working.

I remember working on the set of Germany’s Next Top Model and one of the production crew members had beautiful skin. I told her that I admired her beautiful skin. She expressed that not too long before she’d had a growth on her face that was abnormal. For two years, she went to doctors (in her hometown in Germany) trying to figure out what was wrong; no one could find an answer for her. When she came to Los Angeles for work, she was referred to an acupuncturist name Stephanie.

I’ve been seeing Stephanie for the past few years now to treat my eczema. She has been a godsend. She has suggested a different way of life in how to live with my eczema. She suggested a change in diet and taking time for myself. I no longer use any steroid creams or allergy medications. She has made my quality of life better! If I have an eczema flare up, it is a good indication that I need to slow down and take care of myself.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
I am a makeup artist and hairstylist represented by Art Department Agency, Los Angeles. People ask me all the time, what do I prefer between makeup and hair. It’s tough to make a choice. Coming from an arts background, I associate makeup with painting and hair with sculpture. I enjoy doing both.

I think I’m known for my beauty and creative work. In my beauty work, I don’t necessarily change people’s faces through contouring but enhance their natural features. I believe we need to appreciate our features that we are born with. Sometimes social media forums pressure audiences to believe that there is one type of beauty. I would like to instill confidence that all people are beautiful with the features that they were born with.

In my creative work, I draw heavily on my arts background in designing my creations. I assimilate brush strokes in my work. In painting, we had to create subtle colors from primary colors. Being able to be flexible and create colors and textures with my kit has greatly enhanced my business.

What I am most proud of as a company is doing beautiful work that people enjoy seeing. It is gratifying when clients are happy with their makeup and hair. I think what sets me apart from others is that I see it as an art form rather than just beauty application.

What were you like growing up?
I was always driven. In elementary school, I always strived to get straight A’s. I don’t think I was smart, maybe street smart, but I always worked hard. I felt that as long as I put my mind to it, I could accomplish my goals.

I am loyal to a fault. My family always comes first. When I was growing up every Sunday was reserved for family dinner.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Photographers: Benjo Arwas, Samantha Annis, Sami Drasin, Randy Tran, Ari Abramczyk and Neil Sharum, Mathilde Bresson, Hairstylist: Whitney Shield (only for image with flowers & pearls on face), Stylists: Shalev Lavan, Abby Sumner Francis, Tara Nichols, Manicurist: Sarah Chue

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