Introducing Alexa Bui, an uber-talented Hong Kong-based makeup artist, barre instructor and mother of two. The transformative world of makeup first beckoned Alexa as an arts student, and now after changing from one canvas to another, and putting down the pastels and picking up the pastel shades, she’s become one of the city’s most renowned make-up artists. Her work has appeared across a wide array of publications and platforms from the pages of glossy fashion titles such as Prestige to in commercial campaigns and private client requests.
Find out more about Alexa’s creative inspirations and icons, how she embraces sustainability in her daily life and her thoughts on clean beauty.
How did your love of beauty first start?
I’ve always loved colour especially mixing and playing with colours. I used to be an art student and my medium was pastels - I loved smudging the colours, so I found it really easy to move from one canvas to another.
My grandmother is 94 years old and she still puts on a full face of makeup everyday before she goes out. If there are guests at home, she gets her face done before she comes out to greet them, so I used to be fascinated by that. She would come from Hong Kong and visit me in Canada and every morning I would just watch her paint her face. I just loved watching her. You know how people love to watch tutorials now? I had a real life one.
I came back to Hong Kong after I graduated from the University of Toronto in 2006. I’d actually done makeup before, for short films or filling in for makeup artists who weren’t feeling well. So I decided to take some classes and from there it became a career, it wasn’t a career choice by any means.
I love that makeup isn’t permanent and it’s an expression of freedom. You can do whatever you want with it, whatever mood you’re in, you can just go with it, so you could do a really bold red lip or just a natural look. When I create makeup looks I’m not trying to create something that’s not there, or hide something, but I bring something out that’s already there. I love that people immediately feel better, I’m such a people pleaser like that. I love making people feel good about themselves and I think makeup is a really easy way to do that. Everyone feels better when they put on some lipstick.
Where do you find inspiration for the makeup and beauty looks that you create?
I’m all about skin just looking luminous, if it’s matte or glowing, skin should still have texture and be multifaceted. I have a few favourite makeup artists such as Pat McGrath, who is amazing, and James Molloy, who is super talented and I actually went to Manchester last year to spend a few days with him. It kind of kick-started my love for makeup again because I’ve been doing this now for over 13 years.
What is one of your most memorable makeup or beauty experiences?
So many! Do I say someone’s wedding? Or do I say my very first fashion show? All of them are memorable in their own way.
How did you become interested in having a sustainable lifestyle?
I think it coincided with having kids. I think people don’t necessarily think beyond their own lifespan but when you have kids you have a duty to think beyond your own. The ‘three Rs’ of reduce, reuse and recycle, were drilled into our heads when we were little, but now my kids are taught that there’s an island of plastic floating in the ocean and the arctic ice is melting at an alarmingly high rate. My seven year old kid is hyper aware, he’s like ‘I love whales but whales are dying because there’s too much plastic in the water’. It’s not enough to just preach, it’s always do as I do and they always learn from watching me so I teach my kids to not waste anything you don’t have to, and they bring their water bottles everywhere as the last thing we want to do is buy a bottle of water while we’re out.
I used to shop a lot. I used to be so guilty of going to Zara, buying the entire season and wearing it for one or two seasons. I still have some of those pieces though, and I’ve always mixed it with high-end clothes, like Chanel or Balenciaga. In general I like to use good quality things and I’ve never really bought cheap denim - Re/done upcycled denim is my favourite. I’ve always loved vintage clothes and I started collecting designer vintage in 2007 like Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino and Chanel that I bought from markets or resellers. Now I have a daughter as well so there’s even more of a reason to just keep everything. I feel like I’ve actually maintained my wardrobe quite well.
Every time I do get rid of stuff, I resell it or I give it to my helper who then gives it to her kids, you know, there’s always life left over, I’ve never just thrown something away in my life! When I buy things I keep the box that it comes in that so my kids can keep their toys in it or I keep my makeup in it.
What does clean beauty mean to you?
When it comes to skincare it should as uncomplicated as possible. I don’t believe in diets or a fixed skincare routine because it’s not sustainable in the long run. If you go on holiday are you going to bring that huge tub, and are you really not going to eat any pasta if you’re in Italy? I think life is about balance. I try to keep things simple and use products that are clean, but it’s not a set rule as there are certain things that you can’t replace because the technology isn’t quite there yet.
I buy my sunscreen from Hawaii or Australia whenever I can because they are very conscious of protecting the reefs. I’ve also noticed a lot of companies switching to more sustainable, recyclable, biodegradable kind of packaging and then giving discounts when you bring your own box which is highly encouraging.
Do you have a beauty and makeup ritual that you swear by?
Sunscreen everyday, and always, always, always, take everything off. What I’m actually looking for right now is a reusable cotton that I can buy here in Hong Kong, and recently I’ve been using Drunk Elephant’s range of skincare. I really love their packaging, it’s very minimal and super clever. I also use Tata Harper’s skincare which uses a lot of glass packaging and is preservative-free.
Do you have any advice that you can share for someone who is going on their own sustainable lifestyle journey?
Goop has a lot of great recommendations, and just read as much as you can, for example The New York Times or The Dirty Beauty. Educate yourself on reading the labels, if you can’t read what’s on that label, generally it’s a no.