Latina women and femmes have been thinking up and perfecting hyperlocal fashion and beauty trends for the better part of the last century. For years, Los Angeles born- and -raised digital creators, entrepreneurs and storytellers Natalia Durazo and LaLa Romero have been documenting and honoring that very history. And now their new makeup line, Sweet Street Cosmetics, makes use of photography, oral history and community building to celebrate narratives in the cosmetics industry that the high-end world of beauty is wont to ignore, even when it shamelessly adopts the trends they produce.
“An ode to femmes of color past and present.”
The Sweet Street Instagram page is essentially an ode to femmes of color past and present who have constructed and are currently shaping ideas of beauty “in the neighborhood.” Images of women and femmes with bold, sharp wings, chunky honey gold bamboo earrings and perfect eyeshadow creations fill its page.
“It takes a certain kind of girl who’d be down to wear [this lip combo]. I feel like some people are kind of put off by it, which makes me turned on to it more,” one of Sweet Street’s featured lip queens said in a post.
Accompanying the launch of their first product, the Wing Queen Liner, was a mini documentary series that highlights the personal stories and local histories that, together, have transformed big, bold wing liner into the iconic staple that it is in West Coast communities of color.
“My mom used to show me photos of my grandmother when she was young, and there were a few photos of her rocking a wing,” Luna, nicknamed “la princesa of Compton,” said in the second installment of the Wing Queen Series. “[My grandmother] would take care of me when I was really young, and I used to watch her do her makeup every morning. She would stand in front of the window because it had the most light, and she would take her little mirror and draw on her eyeliner and eyebrows, which were always super straight. And I would be like, ‘wow I can’t wait to play with this stuff.’”
A caption in another one of Sweet Street’s Instagram posts reads, “necessity is the birth of invention.” One of the overlooked beauty histories that the duo wants to celebrate is centered on the ways that women of color have never faltered in their creative genius despite limited access to resources and against any odds. Their beauty rituals have always existed beyond the bounds of makeup counters in department stores and high-end cosmetics products. Instead, they take us to places like busy swap meet alleys, drug stores and Mary Kay, Jafr and Avon catalogues where, in the words of Romero, the “good ‘hood beauty products” can be found.
“If anybody is gonna take ownership of these things, it’s gonna be us.”
But when Durazo and Romero think about beauty inheritance and passed-down rituals, they’re not just considering makeup.
“I still use some techniques my mom taught me, like shaping my eyebrows with a double-edged blade,” Durazo tells Remezcla. “And my cousins in Mexico taught me to use a spoon to curl my eyelashes. It almost works like a curling iron and is actually really dope.”
Romero reminisces about her grandmother’s use of aloe vera gel as an elixir of youth.
“I grew up with [her], and she really taught me the power of moisturizing. She had all these aloe vera plants that she used for everything from sunburns, to dry skin, to stretch marks. She recently passed away, but I remember sitting by her a few weeks ago, looking at her skin, and thinking like f**k, her skin is so flawless.”
It’s no secret that luxury designers and celebrities alike have long been both aware and in awe of the makeup trends that women of color in Los Angeles have been polishing since at least the 1940s. From Givenchy’s adaption of the style on the runway, one Riccardo Tisci called “chola Victorian,” to Gwen Stefani, Lana Del Rey and Fergie’s half-baked honorings of the style, it’s evident that, while the look itself — one often characterized by baby blue eyeshadow, delicate eyebrows, berry-colored or brown lip liner, drawn-on beauty marks and a razor sharp wing — has been deemed desirable, the life stories of the women who invented it have not.
“We’re the ones who made it dope.”
“If anybody is gonna take ownership of these things, it’s gonna be us,” Durazo says. “We’re the ones who made it dope. Not Gucci, not some other high-end designer.”
The beauty trends and sartorial history of Los Angeles Latinas has never existed without very specific sociopolitical contexts. While the trends themselves may not necessarily have been born out of the desire to make a political statement — against white beauty standards or racism, for example — the social contexts in which they’ve existed have made them inherently political. In the 1940s, when the first iteration of the “chola” look became popular in Los Angeles neighborhoods, tension between the Latino community and the Los Angeles Police Department was at an all-time high. Latina women, called pachucas, paired feminine makeup and hair styles with oversized zoot suits, which were seen as unpatriotic because of wartime clothes rationing. In the summer of 1943, the sartorial predilections of Los Angeles Latino youth became the focal point of a targeted and racist attack on behalf of white sailors, culminating in what is now remembered as the Zoot Suit Riots.
“For us, it’s really about crediting the neighborhood and the people there — the women who have been doing these things for generations,” Romero tells Remezcla. “Our neighborhoods and the women in it are never really crowned the way they should be. I think one way to really start to change the confidence of the women and little girls in the neighborhood is to constantly remind them, ‘look, you don’t have to look even outside of your house. Just dig through a family photo album, and you’re gonna find so many things to be proud of and so many things that are signifiers that you come from a legacy of fly and brilliance.’”
“You come from a legacy of fly and brilliance.”
She continued: “A lot of times, I see things that are rooted in the neighborhood, and they’re taken by high-fashion, and then they’re sold back to us. And we really want to flip that story on its head and let girls know, ‘it all started with you.’”
The way that the beauty histories of Los Angeles Latinas and women and femmes of color in other West Coast neighborhoods is documented is a deeply personal matter for Durazo and Romero.
“I think that it’s important to have these conversations and reminisce, examine all of our stories and the beauty rituals that are passed down and really understand that they’re very generational,” Romero says. “I think that in the upcoming months, something that’s really important to us is paying homage to the generations before us, those who lit the way, and who taught us to be so fly.”
Sweet Street Cosmetics currently has a collection of eyeliners and lip liners, of multiple shades, as well as makeup bags for sale.