There's a reason hairstylist Mark Townsend nicknamed him Hung Van Glow. It's a rep Vanngo has earned from clients like Kate Bosworth and Selena Gomez. "Beautiful skin has become one of my signatures," says the New Yorker, who shares his techniques with 600,000-plus followers on Instagram. Though he spends hours prepping stars' skin with glycolic serums and Korean sheet masks ("I never rush that process, no matter how little time we have"), he's not about a #flawless look. "I like to see pores and the texture of skin."
His more colorful work gets attention as well. Two examples: the hot-pink eye shadow on Selena Gomez at this year's Met Gala (a look sparked by an accent on her Coach gown) and his recent aqua cat eyes on Emily Ratajkowski.
"I never want to completely transform anyone," he says. "I encourage clients to experiment. But no matter how creative I get, you always know who the person is."
Vanngo's meteoric climb is all the more impressive considering his humble beginnings in Vietnam. Worried about the country's instability, his single mother used her savings to send him to America when he was a child. With his brother and one of his sisters, Vanngo boarded a boat to Cambodia and then to Thailand. There the young siblings slept on the floor at a refugee camp for three years.
Eventually, they ended up in Canada, where Vanngo attended school during the day and cleaned office buildings at night. In his high school library, the burgeoning painter pored over fashion magazines, obsessing over the ascendancy of glamorous late-'90s supermodels and their go-to makeup pro, Kevyn Aucoin. Eventually, Vanngo established himself as Toronto's premier editorial artist. But breaking into the New York fashion world meant enduring years of rejection. "Anything was better than the way we started out," he says, "so I was never afraid to try. I had nothing to lose."
VIDEO: Behind The Cover: Selena Gomez
Vanngo rarely shares details of his personal story, preferring instead to let his work do the talking. "My clients are like, 'Oh, I can't wait to see what you do next.'"