In truth, we partly have the cancellation of this year’s Met Gala to thank for the refreshingly candid conversation we had with Jackie Aina on what would usually be a frantic first Monday in May. Had the event occurred as planned, no doubt the Nigerian-American beauty influencer, advocate and 2019 Root 100 honoree would’ve been too busy preparing to slay the iconic steps of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art—since this year, she’d garnered her first-ever invite to the “Oscars of Fashion.” Instead, on the afternoon of May 4, Aina was graciously granting The Glow Up an interview to discuss her first bridal cover for The Knot’s summer issue.
While much of the world has slowed down in accordance with shelter-in-place orders, Aina’s life—a flurry of content creation, virtual appearances and collaborations, not to mention her upcoming nuptials to longtime love Denis Asamoah—has been even more hectic than usual. As us work-from-home OGs know, the blurring of boundaries between work and home has only become blurrier amid the pandemic.
“I feel like I’ve been busier now than I ever have been,” she says, simultaneously dispelling any illusions that influencer life is lax and crediting her team for helping her get it all done. “I already have a lot of structure in place for working from home, but now, it’s intensified. Everybody’s looking at me like, ‘Hey, can you do this feature? Can you do that? And I’m like, ‘Ooh, child...I’m tryin!’” she laughs before adding, “It’s a good thing, though…it’s a lot of education on what we do and how we make a living, so it’s all good.”
Aina is the first YouTube star to be featured on the cover of The Knot, the print and digital media companion to the No. 1 wedding website and app of the same name. In addition to sharing some of her top bridal makeup tips and tricks, the magazine tells us Aina’s cover feature is “part of a larger ‘beauty without boundaries’ wedding beauty package [that] tackles the issue of beauty standards and diversity in the wedding industry.”
The Knot couldn’t have chosen a better ambassador. Aside from her effortless blend of flawless beauty tutorials and relatable, best-girlfriend-meets-favorite auntie humor, Aina’s brand and popularity (over 3 million followers and rising) have largely been built on her respectful yet direct callouts of the beauty industry’s marginalization and outright omission of darker skin tones—and her always honest reviews. After launching her YouTube channel in 2006, she began “changing the standard of beauty, one video at a time” when 40 shades of Fenty foundation was a twinkle in Rihanna’s eye. Aina was an early and vocal supporter of the history-making brand (and is currently a Savage x Fenty ambassador). Additionally, she’s garnered collaborations with Anastasia Beverly Hills (her bestselling palette is a fave here at TGU), Too Faced, Sephora, Uoma Beauty and more. Even makeup visionary Pat McGrath considers Aina a “McGrath Muse,” and currently offers a curated kit of beauty expert’s favorite products.
Aina is no less a muse on her cover for the Knot, sparking curiosity about the look the bride-to-be might choose for her own upcoming nuptials. Fans of Aina’s are no doubt familiar with her fiancé and fellow content creator Asamoah; the black Brit of Ghanaian descent is often by Aina’s side, whether at Paris Fashion Week or Essence Fest, where she is regularly featured. In fact, the couple stars on their own spinoff channel where their brand of black love and often hilarious power couple antics make for adorable entertainment. As Aina suggests, even a glimpse into their life together is as much about representation as aspiration. So, too, is the presence of a brown-skinned bride on the cover of a mainstream bridal magazine.
“I feel like there’s a huge lack of representation of healthy black couples; seeing women that look like me get married,” she says, recalling that even as her engagement to Asamoah was celebrated on various bridal-themed social media feeds, “I would rarely see black couples on those pages...I found it kind of weird because black people definitely get married. So what’s going on?
“It says a lot about how in the bridal industry...there’s seemingly still a lot of lack of representation, which I think is important now more than ever,” Aina continues, referencing the harrowing and much-parroted statistic that black women marry at much lower rates than women of other races. “I feel like it gives people something to look up to, whereas on social media, a lot of us are just inundated with negative stereotypes and images of black women not being desirable, not being ‘wifeable,’” she adds. “When you’re bombarded with all that, it’s hard to maintain confidence, or to be positive about one day being married too—and if marriage isn’t your goal, hey, that’s okay. But I think it’s all about just seeing someone who looks like you doing something. That’s important, first and foremost.”
Like many currently engaged couples wedding planning in the time of corona, Aina and Asamoah’s plans have been affected by the pandemic. While the specifics have yet to be set in stone, Aina reveals to The Knot that the celebration they’d envisioned will now be adapted to suit new realities.
“Our dream was to have a destination wedding in Nigeria, but given the current climate and travel restrictions, we decided to pivot and focus on creating beautiful, Nigerian, and Ghanaian ceremonies where our families reside,” she said. “We’re staying positive and embracing the additional at-home time by saving [our] money, finding more wedding inspiration, and actively planning out creative concepts for our big day.”
Further explaining the adjustments to The Glow Up, Aina says, “All the way down to when we get married, how we get married, where...all those things are going to have to be shifted now.” Thankfully, she and Asamoah were still in the planning phases of their nuptials, but as she casually notes, “Literally, everyone’s in the same scenario, at the moment.”
If Aina sounds like the antithesis of a “bridezilla,” she partly credits her calm to the fact that this will be her second marriage, one to which she brings much more perspective.
“I’m trying this again, and I want to do it right. And so, I’m more focused on a happy, healthy marriage than I am the perfect wedding,” she says. “There’s no such thing as the perfect anything, let alone the perfect wedding. So, as much as I want this day to be extremely special for both of us—my fiancé and I—stuff happens, and especially right now, you have to be flexible.”
And if her partnership looks idyllic, Aina believes it was only possible after taking time to herself.
“I feel like it’s a personal growth thing; I just needed to grow up, and I didn’t give myself enough time to do that before I got married the first time,” she says. “And now, I’ve never been more sure of what I want and what I don’t want in a relationship...I got to know myself, I mastered a lot—incredibly—and I got to be single for many years...enjoying me, doing what I want, when I want, growing a lot. I think that was the key thing that I was missing.”
So, given the dearth of bridal marketing and product lines specifically centering black brides (with the notable exception of industry pioneers Munaluchi Bridal), can we expect a bridal-themed cosmetics collab or beauty tutorial from Aina?
“Definitely a tutorial; I want to actually do a Nigerian bridal tutorial on my channel for someone who is going to be wearing something more traditional,” she muses. “Nigerian bridal is a lot more colorful [than Western brides]...more color, more lash, more detail…just way more amped up. So, I kinda want to do a little bit of both.”
Regardless of the culture, Aina is emphatic about one bridal makeup tip: Say “I Do” to long-wearing makeup. “You don’t want to worry about retouching, and reapplying and blotting—ain’t nobody got time for all that!” she exclaims. She advises brides have lash glue and lip color on hand throughout the wedding day, only half-joking when she says: “Tuck [the lash glue] in your bra or something, girl. Make sure you keep the lid on tight...And you definitely want a backup lip because you’re gonna be kissing people, you’re gonna be drinking, you’re gonna be talking, you’re gonna be laughing, eating, snacking, munching—and the first thing that wears off is your lip. So keep it cute, and have something that you can reapply all throughout the day.”
No doubt the same rules apply when attending a day-to-night event like the Met Gala—the most invite every fashion devotee fantasizes about. When we heard the pandemic had derailed Aina’s first appearance this year, we were almost as devastated as if it’d been us—almost.
“That one hurt,” she admits when we dare to ask about it—after all, we were speaking on Met Gala day. “I’ve been pretty chill about a lot of things I’ve had to cancel...But the Met Gala, though. Like, damn.”
Incredibly, Aina learned of the missed opportunity from none other than supermodel Naomi Campbell while appearing on Campbell’s quarantine-launched YouTube series, No Filter With Naomi. “Like, of all people, Naomi Campbell was the one telling me this?” Aina recalled. “I was a little shook, I’m not gonna lie...I had no idea that that was even in the workings, so I was literally blindsided by that.”
Already a stylistic shape-shifter, she undoubtedly would’ve given even the event’s most fashionable vets a run for their money. What, one wonders, would the chameleonic Aina have worn to embody this year’s theme, “About Time: Fashion and Duration”?
“What’s important to me is that I show up and I show out and I fit the theme,” she answers coyly, only disclosing that there are three designers she’d love to work with, should the invite arrive again. And yes, she’ll happily take a fashion risk. “Ultimately, even if it’s something people may laugh at, or be like, ‘Girl, you tried it’—but did I fit the theme, though?” she laughs.
We have a feeling an Aina flex awaits us at a future Met Gala, and she is equally optimistic. “If [I] can get invited once, then hopefully, I can get invited again,” she says lightly, shouting out her loyal following, who will no doubt lobby for it. (Yes, we will.)
In the meantime, we’re pretty sure she’s got bigger plans.
Want more of Jackie Aina’s full interview and pictorial? The Knot’s Summer 2020 issue is available for free digital download now.