From Colombia to New York, Jo Franco’s rise in the beauty industry tells a story of raw talent and dedicated hustle. He landed in Dallas at the age of 16, bringing a love for art and stories that would soon blend into his makeup style. The 37-year-old’s path from a weekend job at a cosmetics store to a well-known freelance makeup artist is a tale of growth and recognition, especially for his meticulous attention to detail and a sense of effortlessness.
Franco’s artistic approach is about creating a look that’s both timeless and modern, imbued with femininity that seems to just happen. “I prefer things that are timeless yet fresh and modern, always feminine but effortlessly so,” he remarks. His work mirrors this philosophy, turning every face into an embodiment of natural beauty with a sleek, modern touch. The MUA adds, “For me, it’s all about balance, harmony, and everything working perfectly together.”
Inspiration for Franco stems from his love for stories, empowering women, and elements of fantasy. “Storytelling, women, and fantasy serve as my primary sources of inspiration,” he acknowledges, paying homage to the powerful female figures and imagination that shaped his initial forays into beauty. His art celebrates these elements, embracing vivid colors and refined grace, hallmarking a unique presence in the beauty industry.
Notably, the makeup artist has worked with the likes of Hilary Duff, Jessica Simpson, Lauren Santo Domingo, Bailey Bass, Tyla, and many more. Meanwhile, his client list spans from beauty and fashion giants such as CoverGirl, NARS, Innisfree, Victoria’s Secret, and Abercrombie to name a few.
Below, Jo Franco chats with us about how he got into makeup, what inspires his work these days, and how beauty often serves as a currency, among other topics.
Having been in the beauty industry for quite a few years now, how did you first get into makeup?
My love for makeup started in childhood, observing my mom and sister. Experimenting with their makeup and drawing on dolls with markers sparked my interest. Surrounded by fashion magazines, I absorbed that elevated makeup aesthetic. I’ve always been drawn to art, particularly drawing women; I used to love creating comic book heroines in stylish outfits, long flowing hair, and big expressive eyes.
I grew up watching “Sailor Moon and Buffy, so the idea of a pretty girl kicking butt had a huge influence on me. After a brief stint in art school, I realized makeup and beauty were my true passions, I was never much of a student. In 2013, I began working at a makeup store, learning and honing my skills through YouTube tutorials and hands-on experience. Quickly progressing from freelancing to working with brands and agencies, I established myself in NYC.
Could you share some of your latest inspirations? What influences your work?
Storytelling, women, and fantasy serve as my primary sources of inspiration. I view models and talent as characters within a narrative. My influences draw from manga art, anime, fantasy tales, and the concept of a powerful female protagonist. Additionally, I’m deeply drawn to vibrant colors and an intense, high-octane sense of femininity.
We’ve obviously seen how multifaceted and experimental you can get. How would you describe your aesthetic?
I prefer things that are timeless yet fresh and modern, always feminine but effortlessly so. I can opt for elegance and refinement without fussiness or choose a pretty, delicate, and whimsical style without being too twee. For me, it’s all about balance, harmony, and everything working perfectly together. I tend to treat my skin consistently: minimal, somewhat raw, always healthy, and luscious.
Two of my favorite looks from you this year were Tyla for Office and the Lick It Up editorial you did with Viktoria and Meisheng — can you tell us more about those?
Thank you! Tyla’s look was inspired by a showgirl, drawing from the ’90s movie “Showgirls,” but with a more contemporary, youthful twist—featuring graphic floating liner, sparkle, a few crystals, minimal skin, and a neutral yet slightly ’90s-inspired lip. For the “Lick It Up” story, we aimed to pay homage to the Y2K bimbo, an overtly feminine and hyper-girly style associated with mall culture.
I’ve long admired this persona and its contrast of being underestimated yet desired— similar to figures like Paris Hilton, Pam Anderson, and the stereotyped but contrary portrayal of popular, pretty girls. I drew inspiration from the mean girl archetype in 2000s high school movies, Korean streetwear, anime, and ’90s to Y2K beauty trends and colors. My goal was for Viktoria and Meisheng to look like Bratz Dolls!
Whether it be skincare or makeup, what are some of your holy grail products at the moment?
Oh, there are so many! Skincare-wise, I prioritize prepping; I always have Charlotte Tilbury’s Magic Cream, Weleda Skin Food, and Laneige Lip Mask in my kit. I adore multipurpose face balms such as Kahi with Jeju Oil from Korea, which is perfect for face and body moisturization. I’m a big fan of K-Beauty; they just do everything so much better! In terms of makeup, Mac Face and Body is my ultimate go-to for a flawless complexion.
Armani Luminous Silk is also stunning, and I’m particularly obsessed with the Make Beauty concealer. Some of my favorite brands you’ll often find in my kit are Chanel, Charlotte Tilbury, NARS, and Tom Ford. I work with a lot of K-Beauty brands, so there’s always plenty of that too.
Trend-wise, is there anything you’re loving at the moment?
I maintain a strong stance on trends. I enjoy observing what people are doing and integrating elements from them. However, I like to maintain a timeless and classic style for the most part, which, in my opinion, is the best approach. Every trend is essentially an interpretation of something previously done and often emerges as a rebellion against the mainstream. It’s enjoyable to step back and pick what resonates with you. Ultimately, if you prefer matte or dewy skin, thin or thick brows, etc., stick with what you love.
This is a bit of a loaded question, but from a MUA’s perspective, why do you think society is obsessed with using beauty as a currency rather than a tool for self-expression?
Beauty operates as a universal form of currency, whether we like it or not. There’s an instinctive human attraction to beautiful things, a combination of objective standards and scientifically proven traits, colors, shapes, smells, and tastes that resonate deeply within us. It holds a level of fantasy and embodies pure power. However, the problem lies in the conflict between adhering to beauty standards or trends and embracing personal preferences. The current abundance of information and media exposure inundates us, leading to immersion in unrealistic, distorted forms of beauty, which some exploit, capitalizing on people’s desire to fit these perceived standards.
This results in the societal pressure to keep up, avoid aging, and conform to the latest trends perpetuated by celebrities, brands, and influential figures. What’s often overlooked is the beauty found in art and individuality. Embracing personal preferences without comparison and staying true to what personally resonates as beautiful is the ultimate approach.