Simone Tisci’s Face Card Never Declines—and She’s Got the Trophies to Prove It

The Purpose Ball winner discusses her career as a celebrity makeup artist and the impact she’s left upon ballroom.

Simone wearing a performance outfit
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Atlanta’s Purpose Ball on May 14 was filled with the stuff viral moments are made of. There was Mary J. Blige holding up a “chop” sign for one hopeful contestant, Law Roach giving a fiery speech on the mic, and a Beyoncé tribute artist recreating a Renaissance tour moment mere days after the musician herself took the stage. But without a doubt, the night will go down in history as belonging to Simone Tisci.

If you’re unfamiliar, the ballroom scene is a community started by Black and brown queer and trans people over 50 years ago. Members organize themselves into “houses” that serve as surrogate families—but on the competitive ballroom floor, they’re teams in which contestants can earn trophies and top-dollar prizes. Last Sunday, Mary J. Blige’s annual Strength of a Woman Festival closed with The Purpose Ball presented by Pepsico and Gilead. In addition to boasting A-list talent on the judging panel (including Blige and Roach, along with P-Valley star Brandee Evans), the event made history by awarding the largest single-person grand prize in ballroom history: $20,000 for fem queen face, a category that requires impeccable, bone structure, facial symmetry, a perfect smile—and innate charisma.

It was Tisci who walked away with that money, after first coming to prominence years prior as a celebrity makeup artist, then taking center stage as a breakout star on HBO Max’s Legendary season 2. (“My god, my god, Simone’s face!” Roach said while judging that show; Tisci’s mug helped win the House of Tisci the first perfect score of the season.) Below, Tisci discusses her career in beauty, kidnapping the designer of her look for the ball, and the products she used to make her cheekbones look so good on that fateful night.

Photo by Carol Lee Rose/Getty Images for Strength Of A Woman Festival & Summit

How did you first get into makeup?

I first got into makeup when I was about ten years old. I was sneaking into my mother’s stuff, just messing around with it—I would use my sisters as test dummies. It started off as a little bit of a joke, but when I noticed it was looking good, I got excited about it. And I got a lot of my first clients because people noticed how I did my own makeup, actually. You know how, when you’re growing up, you realize one career isn’t working? I dance as well, but makeup ended up being a savior for me, because I realized I had to do something that was going to bring in money faster. It really just took off.

You ended up doing makeup for quite a few celebrities—you worked with Teyanna Taylor for a bit.

The first time a celebrity contacted me, it was Keri Hilson. She was big and popping at the time, and I got a voicemail. I thought it was a joke because she was like “This is Keri Hilson and I’m just calling to see if you’re available. If you’re available, I’ll work around your schedule.” After working with her, I also worked with K. Michelle and Tamar Braxton and Mya. To be a key makeup artist with Teyana was a big moment of my career, because seeing my talent recognized by people like that … There was a time in glam where you had to go to a certain school or know certain people, but they really just liked me because of my talent and social media.

While you were building your career as a makeup artist, you were also solidifying your place within the ballroom scene. How did you first come to the community?

Ballroom fell into my life. Pony Zion, who was on America’s Best Dance Crew, introduced me and my best friend, Tokyo, to ballroom around 2008. The first thing I saw was performance [or voguing.] I was in awe and wanted to learn. At the time, I joined the House of Jourdan-Zion, but no one wanted me to walk performance. They would always say “you’re too pretty, we don’t want you to vogue.” I know all the categories are judgmental, but I didn’t want people to judge my beauty. So I shunned face and walked performance, and beat everybody at my first ball.

Before you identified as a trans woman, you and Tokyo used to call yourselves “fembots.” You two came up with a term to identify your own experience before the idea of nonbinary even existed in the mainstream.

There are so many different type of beauties: some people aren’t all feminine or all masculine. It was about embracing who you are, in whatever combination of masculine and feminine. To this day, I still carry a little fembot in me.

Talk to me about the night of the competition.

I was nervous. I’m not going to say I didn’t see it being me, but with the circumstances of the ball … there are a lot of politics. The House of Tisci is one of those houses that has caused so much uproar in ballroom. I remember coming off Legendary and feeling like everyone was against our house because of the impact that we had. I felt like ballroom made things a little harder for us. So going into that ball, honestly, I felt there was no way things were going to be fair.

I almost backed out of it the night before, actually. My outfit was made the day of—I locked my designer in my house until he finished. He put the last jewel on the dress at 9 o’clock and the category started at 10! But my friend Chanel and I decided we were going to go walk no matter what—because we are this generation of fem queen face. We are history. It means something to be in the room. Even now, I still haven’t processed it all. I’m still kind of gagging.

Does walking face mean anything in particular for you?

I’m representing a generation of girls who don’t necessarily see themselves as the standard of beauty—I say that being a dark-skinned woman. In ballroom, it’s so easy for a pretty, light-skinned, or mixed woman to be used as a standard of beauty. I represent the Black beauties, the Black Barbies, the Black dolls, I represent the Black queens that walk face. I’ve heard so many times: “You’re a dark-skinned girl, they aren’t going to give it to you.” And I always say, I’m going to be the girl who breaks that [standard].

Let’s get into the Beauty Notes questions: Is there a beauty product that I can’t live without?

I would have to say Danessa Myricks’ balms—they are really dewy creams. If you see pictures of my cheek at the ball, it looks like my cheek is wet. It’s because of that product. I love it because you don’t even have to wear it with makeup.

What’s the first thing you do in the morning, beauty-wise?

I brush my teeth. That’s the most important part for me. You need your teeth for face; it’s part of the five elements of face.

What’s your ideal spa day and where?

A nail shop—I love to get my nails and toes done, and to get my eyebrows waxed. I’m not really into the massage thing because I don’t really like people who I don’t know touching me.

Who is your beauty icon?

My beauty icon is and was Aaliyah. She’s the only person I ever looked up to, because she embodied a real person. She was vulnerable and naturally beautiful. She represented a beauty that I don’t think even exists any more.

What’s your biggest skincare rule?

My biggest skin care rule, darling, is to make sure you wash your makeup off at the end of the day. I’m not talking about just with a wipe—use some cleanser and really get it out of your pores.

Is there a beauty trend that you participated in that you regret now?

When I was younger, there was a trend to use Noxzema as a face mask. It was a big thing: my mother and everyone I knew was doing it. I remember the smell of it so vividly. I thought it was the thing to do to keep your face together. I didn’t realize I was burning my skin. That’s definitely something I will never do again.