For women of color, finding the perfect nude lip is elusive. We all know what it should look like on our lips – enhance the natural color and amplify the depth – but we can never seem to find it. All that's changed with K.J. Miller and Amanda Johnson's new company, Mented Cosmetics: a niche beauty brand of nude-tone makeup essentials made for women of color, by women of color.
I’ve always thought that finding the perfect nude lip should be like finding an effortless wardrobe essential – a little black dress, an iconic white t-shirt, a classic menswear blazer, a timeless pair of jeans, or a power stiletto – an essential go-to that never goes out of style.
My signature go-to lip was influenced by a 20-year career in NYC’s performing arts industry. In 1987, I became the first African American Radio City Music Hall Rockette and danced with them for 15 years. And just like our iconic eye-high kicks, we were known for an indelible bold red lip thanks to MAC Cosmetics Russian Red.
After hanging-up my Rockette dance heels and transitioning to Broadway, the classic red lip remained my calling card, but sometimes it felt too femme fatale, vampy and aggressive. When I tried swapping it out with a nude lip, the lighter shades knocked the pigment from my lips and looked chalky, while the darker tones were too moody, muddy, and earthy.
So when the Mented Cosmetics Capsule Lip Collection came across my radar, featuring six of its most popular nude lipsticks, I snatched it up! At $16.50 per lipstick, it's an affordable luxury, and all of the deeply-nuanced, semi-matte, highly-pigmented shades are exclusively-formulated to compliment pigmented skin tones: Pretty in Pink, Nude La La, Dope Taupe, Foxy Brown, Mented #5, and Dark Night.
After I swatched from light to dark, Foxy Brown was The One. It’s my perfect nude – classic, beautiful, and unique – with rich, warm, raisin-sienna undertones and a creamy, smooth, hydrating finish.
Finding my essential “no-lipstick lipstick” nude fits perfectly into my core beauty philosophy: minimalist with an emphasis on classic, timeless, high-low cult products. Mented’s formulas also matched my social responsibility: vegan, paraben-free, non-toxic, and made in the USA.
Back when I was a Rockette, my stage face started with perfectly-clean skin. Fresh out of my teenage years, I used what the other Rockettes used, straight from the pages of Seventeen magazine: Neutrogena facial cleanser, Sea Breeze astringent, St. Ives apricot scrub, and Clearasil moisturizing lotion! And to remove the layers of stage face, including stubborn eyelash glue, we used Pond's cold cream cleanser. Now in my post-Rockettes life, I’m committed to a beauty regiment based on gentle, pure, holistic, soothing products.
I'm a dedicated morning runner, so before I head-out the door, I use stuff designed to withstand sweat and protect me from the elements. I start with a gentle charcoal scrub mixed with a pinch of Epsom salt, followed by Thayers Witch Hazel Toner with Rose Water, and CeraVe Moisturizing Cream or Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream with SPF, depending on the season.
I’m really into nurturing my hair because when I was performing, my curls were either pin-curled to my head or pulled into a twist to accommodate the elaborate headpieces. To lock-in moisture, I mix Moroccanoil Treatment Original Hair Oil with DevaCurl Heaven In Hair Intense Moisture Treatment, and slick it below a "Rockettes Unite" baseball cap, a nod to my role as an advocate for our union workers’ rights during a 2002 labor dispute.
Post run, I clean and hydrate with an AmorePacific trio: Treatment Cleansing Foam, Enzyme Peel, and Moisture Bound moisturizer.
When I need to even-out my complexion, Giorgio Armani Beauty is like Photoshop in a bottle, with a weightless, dewy finish. I use Luminous Silk Foundation for evenings, and super-sheer Maestro Fusion Makeup for daytime. If I don’t wear foundation, Fenty Beauty Invisimatte Blotting Powder and Paper are amazing for knocking-down shine without leaving a white cast or residue.
Back in the 80s and 90s, before women of color could find really nuanced makeup shades, I’d go to The Make Up Center on 55th Street in NYC for bespoke foundation, concealer and powder. It cost a fortune, but they'd customize the perfect match for your skin. They’ve since closed, but they specialized in theatrical and stage make-up, and catered to theater, film, ballet, fashion, and television VIPs.
On my lips, I use Homeoplasmine at night for deep moisture. I love a good, light, clear lip balm, always have a tube of Maybelline Baby Lips Moisturizing Lip Balm on-hand. When I want a dramatic bold red lip, my standbys are MAC Cosmetics’s classic Russian Red or Ruby Woo. When I want an innovative spin on color, I’ll mix it up with Hue Noir's Perfect Pout Hydrating Lipstick in “Carmen Jones” or The Lip Bar's “Bawse Lady” Liquid Matte. Both brands were recently tapped by Target for national retail partnerships, and it’s just so empowering to see a retail giant throw its support behind diverse, niche, multicultural beauty brands.
I'm a huge Pat McGrath fan – she knows how to make women of color look beautiful but never overdone or theatrical. The Mothership II: Sublime Palette eyeshadows is my go-to for a blended-out smoky eye. To finish the look, I trace my upper lids with a super-thin line of MAC Cosmetics Liquidlast Liner in Point Black. I’ve always got a tube of the iconic green and pink Maybelline Great Lash Mascara on-hand, or L'Oréal Paris Voluminous Lash Paradise when I want a feathery look.
On mani-pedi, I bring my nail technician Mented’s Nude Nail Trio and choose a soft pink, nude putty, or rich brown, depending on my mood. From head to heel, Mented’s got you covered with nude essentials!
Pretty in Pink: A sophisticated, girlish nude with fresh pink undertones, the perfect summer go-to.
Nude La La: A remodeled update on classic Seventies toffee shades. This is retro done right.
Dope Taupe: A grounded, autumn earth-tone baseline for a secure, confident woman.
Foxy Brown: A warm, rich nude with a reddish-sienna tone. It’s the final polish that pulls my whole look together.
Mented #5: A dramatic, bold nude lip with deep purplish passion, the perfect accessory for a wild night out.
Dark Night: A dark chocolate tone with a high-definition sheen. This is an introspective nude with a deep soul.
Bio: Jennifer Jones is an award-winning American performer. In 1987, she became the first African American Radio City Music Hall Rockette. In 2002, she transitioned to a Tony Award-winning Broadway career. For additional information, follow her @rockettejenn on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.