Beauty Guru and former Makeup Director for Tom Ford at Bergdorf Goodman, Keke Cargill Cifferello sat down with MindMeet’s storyteller, Araxe Hajian, to talk about beauty as a concept, a creation, and a form of connection. She discusses how to find beauty in the shared vision we have when we look in the mirror and at each other.
AH: What is beauty?
KCC: It’s such a powerful force. It’s in everything. It’s that thing that stops your breath and takes up your imagination. It’s in a blade of grass, the way a cloud looks. Even a horrible accident can be beautiful. It’s how we choose to see it. The thing I love about beauty the most is how different we all are. How the light hits people differently.
I want people to feel that beauty inside. When people sit next to me, I ask them what they find beautiful about themselves. I love asking that question through different age ranges. A 20-year-old might answer it impulsively, concretely—something like I have a great ass. But when you ask women in their 70s, 80s and 90s, they answer in terms of feelings, that they feel beautiful.
AH: What is love?
KCC: Love happens to you and keeps happening to you with different people. It’s organic and it’s huge. When we look at makeup and beauty rituals, there’s a direct connection to self-love. It can create a boundary, a protective sphere—it creates a space where we can love ourselves.
AH: When are you most creative?
KCC: I am so aligned with everything that’s happening early in the morning. As if I am waking up with the universe. It’s when something starts ticking inside of me. I get a message or a signal and it could come at any time. When I am up and activated at dawn, I am tuned in to receive it.
AH: When did you start feeling a connection to something that was larger than yourself?
KCC: I had a really bad accident—a near death experience—when I was six years old. I was hit head-on by a truck when I was walking. I was in a coma and I wasn’t supposed to survive. I remember thinking, wow, I really came back. I had that awareness, as a little girl, of how much I had defied the odds. And I always felt like I had some hidden knowledge. I fully knew that something larger had happened. And I tested the universe with this. It was empowering in one sense. It made me feel purposeful. So, the work I did going forward had a purpose. I never once felt like it wasn’t a gift – even the bad parts.
AH: What is vulnerability?
KCC: Vulnerability is really about opening up—so yes, it is a possibility that you can be harmed, but it is also a possibility that you will be healed. Vulnerability is the first part of being human. It’s our introduction into humanness, where we can tell our truth.
AH: How do you teach people to look beyond the surface of the looking glass?
KCC: A lot of it is about teaching women that when they look in the mirror, they’re really looking at themselves. If you look at a YouTube tutorial, people are trying to create something that a particular makeup artist is creating. What I try to teach people is that beauty is something even more effortless than that. Because you’re already perfect. If we can work from that mindset, then we are having fun. It’s less of saying, “I’m not pretty so I’m turning to makeup to fix that” and more of “let’s have fun.” To me, it’s more about celebrating someone’s face rather than changing it.
If you’re doing makeup as a step into being pretty, it loses its beauty. But if you are able to look at yourself and say, “How do I feel today?” it becomes more about being conscious of your face and your feelings and how they connect. It’s the conversation you’re having with yourself. You’re meeting yourself in the mirror.
AH: You had to cope with major trauma early on in your life. What do you do when bad things happen?
KCC: You walk through it. With all the fear and some great red lipstick. Some things do require more glitter.
AH: What are you curious about?
KCC: I love to travel and talk to people in different places about beauty. I love that conversation. Because the way you see yourself is the way you’re going to see the world. I’m always seeking out that culture that celebrates the beauty of the individual. We can create that culture ourselves – a culture of seeing.
AH: What advice would you give your 5-year-old self?
KCC: Stay curious. Stop listening to the noise. Trust your gut.
AH: What is your favorite word?
KCC: Magic. I believe in it. I believe that magic is the universe—I think magic is natural. It’s like beauty—it is where and how we choose to see it. Makeup is just a tool in the magic. We all are given tools to connect to the oneness we all know already.
AH: What’s the biggest piece of wisdom the people in your chair have taught you?
KCC: That we are so similar. It’s so moving. I used to be one of the few black women on an entire floor working in beauty at Bergdorf Goodman. I met women who came from anywhere in America and we sat together and saw how much we had in common. There are so many surprises. We all have a face that connects to a feeling. And we all have a story to tell.
Keke is a true artist whose medium is makeup. A chameleon with an utterly individualistic approach, Keke has helped clients look their best for over two decades. Creating looks from sophisticated to avant-garde or barely there, Keke paints a face effortlessly from her soul. Keke is a keen listener, but her large following of clients trust her so deeply that often times their only request for her is to “Keke-fy Me”
As former Makeup Director for Tom Ford at Bergdorf Goodman, she has taught clients how to look and feel their absolute best. Her company, Beauty with Keke, helps real women navigate beauty by offering seminars, tutorials, and a great sense of fun.