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Awkwafina’s Makeup Revelation in the Subway: ‘I Looked Insane’

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Forget demure ingénue. The actress-rapper Awkwafina has found success in Hollywood through her sharp comedic timing and bold personality. Fresh off a heady “Crazy Rich Asians” run (in which she nearly stole the show as the best friend Peik Lin Goh), she is now trying her hand at indie drama, with “The Farewell,” out July 12.

Before she was Awkwafina — a name she chose for herself as a teenager — she was Nora Lum, a native of the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens. In addition to “The Farewell,” she has a voice part in “The Angry Birds Movie 2,” scheduled for theaters in August. And a Comedy Central show is in the works.

With that kind of schedule, who wouldn’t need some pampering?

I was never into a strict skin-care routine. But in the past couple of years, I started to discover that world. There are things I never used before, and now I don’t feel right if I don’t have them on.

For face washing, I stick to the Dermalogica Cleansing Gel. Sometimes, if I have a lot of makeup on, I also use the PreCleanse. I never really knew what toners or essences or any of that stuff was. I had all of these products but didn’t know how to use them.

Then Jenn Im, she came over one night, and she explained it all to me. I also met the Allure editor Michelle Lee when I did a podcast for Allure, and she taught me a lot of stuff, too.

Before, I hadn’t tried a lot of brands. Recently I was able to try La Mer. I’d seen it and knew it was insanely luxurious. Now I dabble in the cleanser. It smells really good.

I also love Joanna Vargas. I started going to her for facials and using her products, like, a year ago. After I wash my face, I put her serum on. For moisturizer — I have really dry skin — I have to go for something concentrated. I once got one by this brand Belif in a goody bag. It was the Moisturizing Bomb cream, and I like that one a lot. But honestly, the normal Neutrogena Water Gel works, too.

I’m into eye treatments. I walked into Neiman Marcus in Atlanta recently, and this salesperson at the Sisley counter, she talked a sick game. She totally sold me on this eye cream. The one I bought even comes with this little roller. I got started on rollers because of my makeup artist Kirin Bhatty. She gave me one that’s real quartz. I started doing it so much that I actually broke it. So I’m on my second quartz roller. I keep it with me on the plane.

Sure, I’ll put a bit of makeup on. I’m really open to everything. I’m always changing foundations. Currently I’m using KohGenDo. I actually mix Koh Gen Do with Charlotte Tilbury, and then I throw a little Tarte in there. Isn’t that weird? I’m sure I’m doing it wrong. And also I’ve learned I have to be careful with mixing some things because then the formula pills.

I used to be one of those eyeliner people. I didn’t put on anything but eyeliner. I was heavy into that. I was probably 20, and one friend, when we were in China, remarked to me, “Why do you wear eyeliner only there?” That’s because I would just put a line on the bottom, and that was it. Why didn’t anyone else say anything?

Now I take a thin brush and use one of the colors in the Charlotte Tilbury palette as an impromptu eyeliner on my upper lash line. Then I do some nude eye shadows from the same palette. I don’t wear mascara because I don’t have a lot of eyelashes. It’s pointless — like painting nail polish on your pinkie toe.

Asian eyes are difficult to do makeup on because of the lid. Some days I have a monolid, and some days I don’t. Some days only one is a monolid, and the other one isn’t. When that happens, I still don’t know what to do. But YouTube is fire for Asian-girl makeup tutorials. I’ve learned not to do too much on my eyes now.

For a long time, I had a habit of laying on the blush really hard. I’d look like a pageant girl but have no other makeup on. One day I was riding the subway and saw my reflection in the window, and it was a moment. I looked insane.

From that day onward, I stopped using a lot of blush. Instead I started using bronzer. I had a Nars stick with a highlighter on one side and a bronzer on the other, but I can’t find it now. So now I use a Charlotte Tilbury bronzer.

I think there’s this idea that all Asian hair is stick straight. I’ve yearned for that hair so much. My hair, after I shower, it’s a little frizzy. So when I was in Singapore, I got it relaxed. I was shooting “Crazy Rich Asians,” and I was wearing a wig, so I could pretty much do what I wanted with my hair. I went and got the treatment, and it was way too relaxed. I really wished it was more lively. I missed its life.

After I came back to the U.S., somebody said, you should go blond. So I went to this fancy salon in downtown L.A. I never told them I’d just had my hair relaxed. When we did the strand test, my hair literally fried. It looked like pubic hair! Now all of that is growing out. My hair does grow fast, which I never like to admit because it seems like I’m bragging.

I wore Le Labo Santal for a long, long time. Then I did a movie with Emma Roberts, and I asked her about her perfume. She always smelled really good. It was Molecule 01 by Escentric Molecules. It’s like pheromones — I’m so dedicated to it.

I’ve been wearing it for a year or two. It’s good that I asked Emma because left to my own devices, I’d choose something crazy fruity, and everyone would hate it. I’m talking a full papaya. I don’t know subtlety.

Before I moved to L.A., I thought I would go to the Korean spas all the time. Nope, that has not happened. The only thing I have done is go see Joanna Vargas for facials. She’s based in New York, but she has this spa in the Sunset Tower. The skin-care thing is really addictive.

I’m in that boat where I’m like every other woman in 2019. I want to eat well and live that healthy life, but inevitably it doesn’t happen. I wish I could follow one method, but when you travel a lot, it really messes with that routine.

I have one friend who will do meal prep and lay it all out for a week. It seems so industrious, or great. I’ve never been like that. It took having to date a vegetarian to understand how hard it is. I also don’t cook, so that’s an issue. I’ll eat anything.

I have worked with trainers. They are often very hard-core, so it doesn’t really last long with me. I try to do stuff at home. I’ll do nighttime yoga. It’s basically lying down and putting a leg in the air, you know. I really don’t do much.

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Editorial

Drawn From Poverty: Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t.

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“When I think about living how our grandparents did, it seems exhausting,” said Ms. Saila, heading to the freezer, where plastic bags of “country food” — caribou, seal, beluga — bumped up against frozen waffles and Cool Whip.

Ms. Saila comes from a line of artists. Her great-grandfather, Pauta Saila, was an acclaimed carver, and her grandfather, Mikisiti Saila, followed his footsteps.

Mikisiti made enough money to buy a snowmobile, and on spring evenings he would hook it up to a qamutik — a homemade sled — and take his family to nearby lakes to ice-fish. In the summer, they would set out in his boat for weeks and pitch canvas tents on a rocky island, where Ms. Saila learned to pluck sea gull eggs, pick orange cloudberries and hunt.

The Inuit call this being “on the land.” Hunting and foraging are an essential part of their identity, even for those to whom it’s a distant memory.

“It was family time,” Ms. Saila said. “When you are out on the land, it’s peaceful.”

In 2008, her grandfather died of tuberculosis, leaving no savings for his family. (There are no banks in Cape Dorset.) Every one of his valuable carvings had been sold. His boat went to an uncle, Ms. Saila said. The snowmobile broke down, then disappeared.

The trips on the land became more infrequent.

When Ms. Saila was in the 11th grade, she became pregnant. She dropped out of school and got a job working at the co-op’s late-night convenience store. Residents still recount her confrontation with a drunk customer.

“I got mad — I head-butted her,” she said, giggling at the memory. She says she quit.

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Editorial

J.D. Salinger, Unbound

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When J.D. Salinger was 18, unpublished and spending long hours at his typewriter, he received an encouraging letter from an admirer.

“I accept your story. Consider it a masterpiece. Check for $1,000 in the mail. Curtis Publishing Co.”

It wasn’t really from a publisher — those notices wouldn’t arrive for years. It was from Salinger’s mother, who slipped it under his bedroom door one night when she heard him typing. He kept the note for 73 years, until his death in 2010.

The handwritten note is now on display at the New York Public Library, in the first public exhibition from Salinger’s personal archives.

The exhibit, which opened Friday and runs through Jan. 19, includes more than 200 items on loan from the J.D. Salinger Literary Trust, including photographs from Salinger’s life; a meticulously hammered metal bowl he made when he was a boy; his correspondence with friends, family, fans and prominent writers and editors, including Ernest Hemingway and William Maxwell; and the original typescripts of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “Franny and Zooey,” with the author’s notes and revisions.

Some items give new insights into Salinger’s creative process. Others offer a rare window into his private life. There are notebooks where he jotted down passages from spiritual texts he was studying. There are shelves of books that he kept in his bedroom at the end of his life because he wanted them to be close at hand: titles about Eastern medicine and acupuncture; books by Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Michael Gilbert, Ivan Turgenev, Penelope Fitzgerald and Anton Chekhov; and spiritual tomes from Hindu, Taoist, Christian Science and Zen Buddhist traditions. There are photos of him beaming at his grandchildren, and heartfelt letters to his son Matt Salinger, who helped organize the exhibit.

J.D. Salinger, who was fiercely protective of his private life and abhorred the spotlight, would likely have objected to having aspects of personal life on display. But his son said he wanted to show sides of his father that have long been overlooked or misrepresented.

“It ended up being a little more personal than I thought it would be,” said Matt Salinger. During a tour, he explained what some of the items meant to his father and their family.

One of the items on display is an addendum for an affidavit from Salinger’s 1982 lawsuit against Steven Kunes, a con artist who attempted to sell People magazine a fake interview with Salinger. (It was never published.)

“It was important to me that I not only present the warm and fuzzy stuff,” his son said. “This shows his very principled, prickly nature. He could be prickly as hell with people, professionally. He was fiercely protective of his work. Having some letters like that was important, to have that balance.

“Each one of these entanglements took a toll on him. As much as spiritually he was detached from the world, these things would yank him back into it.”

Salinger detested representational cover art on his books and preferred plain, abstract designs. So he created his own minimalist one and sent it to his agent, Phyllis Westberg, and requested it be used for all four of his books.

“He sat down in his leather chair in the living room. I remember it was winter time. And he sketched it out. He was focused,” Matt Salinger said. “He writes about distrusting the word ‘creativity.’ He always thought it was a space you’re allowed to enter. You’re given things to share by whatever God you think is operative. There’s a release in that, and an ease. It’s not the tortured artist, pounding things out. That was not his affect at all when he was writing. There was joy in it.”

“I debated whether to include these for a while, just because it’s certainly something he would not have included,” Matt Salinger said. “But this exhibit is to show sides of him that have not been shown, or that have been misrepresented. I think the best way to do it was to present factual pieces. He was loving and humorous and thoughtful.”

“He always had a couple of these tucked away in his pocket. He kept passages from whatever spiritual text he was reading,” Matt Salinger said. “He’d write them in bed by hand and he’d then go back to them and highlight things that jumped out at him. He had about 20. I would love to do something with them one day. He thought they would be particularly useful in prisons where people can’t have a normal life, so where can they go, but inward.”

“One of the myths I read a lot is how he turned his back on his parents and wanted nothing to do with them,” Matt Salinger said. “This shows the feelings he had much later. It was in one of his notebooks.”

“This speaks volumes to me,” Matt Salinger said. “It says a lot about who he was as an artist, the meticulousness, and the care and the focus and the attention.”

“It’s not the image anyone has of my father,” Matt Salinger said. “It was the rare reader, the rare letter, that struck a chord. But if he felt their need, if he felt their authenticity, especially if he felt their distress, he would try to respond. It puts the lie to so much of what has been written about him. And look, he could be an S.O.B., but he more often than not he was not, and was a hugely thoughtful and sensitive and caring man.”

Produced by Erica Ackerberg.

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Editorial

A Young God Steps Into His Light

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Calvin Royal III takes on the lead role of George Balanchine’s “Apollo” at American Ballet Theater.

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