Why MUA Erika La' Pearl Hid Her Trans Identity For Years: "People Wouldn't Accept Me"
While you may not know Erika La' Pearl by name, you can bet that you know her work. The key makeup artist to hip-hop superstar Cardi B is responsible for just about every single one of the rapper's memorable face beats. But there's a lot more to makeup artist Erika La' Pearl than what she can do with her makeup brushes, and her story is one worth sharing and full of inspiration.
After moving to Atlanta in 2013 with no job, a dream, and a makeup kit filled with Covergirl and Black Opal, she chose to hide her identity from many people the industry in hopes of being accepted. But these days, she's living boldly, proudly, and encouraging "girls like her" to live in their truth as well. "Real beauty to me is confidence, strength, integrity, personality, and kindness," she tells TZR. "Those are the things that are really important."
Ahead, check out how La' Pearl got her start, why makeup is an integral part of her confidence, how quarantine has been with Cardi B, and the makeup icon she hopes to one day collaborate with.
On Kickstarting Her Career
Before the Miami native uprooted her life and moved to Atlanta, which catapulted her career, she was just a beauty lover who accidentally fell into makeup artistry. "I had an old friend that was doing makeup locally," La' Pearl says. "I couldn't stop dreaming of makeup after watching her at work. At the time, I was working a 9-to-5 job that I hated, so when they let me go, I used it as an opportunity to dedicate my time to makeup. During my free time, I'd practice makeup and decided to go to makeup school. It was there that I learned how to do makeup for photoshoots, fashion shows, and got started in the right direction."
"Real beauty is confidence, strength, integrity, personality, and kindness."
And while she was honing her skills, she looked to social media for most of her inspiration. "I used to love Kim Kardashian’s makeup," she says. "I always admired how her makeup artists would always leave her looking flawless." And just like many other beauty lovers, La' Pearl also turned to YouTube for inspiration. "I learned so much from the Queen Of Blending," she says. "She's a YouTube OG, and I used to love her back in the day. I would watch her videos and replicate the way she did her makeup. She taught me a lot."
Those skills eventually led to her doing makeup for reality television stars and singers like Kandi Burruss, Marlo Hampton, Toya Wright and Monica, before an unexpected text message from Cardi's publicist Patience Foster led to a chance meeting in 2016. From there, La' Pearl went on to do Cardi's makeup for Love and Hip Hop which resulted in her being asked to be her key makeup artist.
How Makeup Plays A Role In Her Confidence
"I used to feel I wouldn't be accepted if people knew I was a trans woman," she says. "I used to do music videos for smaller artists and often it would be men who would hire me. I was so scared to tell them." And sometimes when La' Pearl would share her truth, she wasn't greeted with the warmest of welcomes. "There were times the men who hired me would get uncomfortable if I was on set. I could feel it," she says. "It was a bit harder back then."
"I thought I wouldn't be accepted in the industry if people knew I was a trans woman."
But in those moments, she turned to what she knows best: makeup. "Beauty plays a major role in helping me with my confidence," she says. "Even now it's an important part of who I am." But as trans women and men continue to fight for acceptance and the right to simply exist, La Pearl is calling on allies to use their voices. "You have to be willing to speak up," she says. "If you have a platform, use it."
On Her Love For Pat McGrath
Like many others, La' Pearl considers Pat McGrath one of her biggest inspirations. "I remember seeing a text from her one day and I was so shook," she says. "I look up to her so much so it felt like 'wow.' It’s such a great feeling to have someone like her constantly keep up with me and show me love and support." And McGrath's support goes further than just text messages. La' Pearl has been lucky enough to receive personalized products from Mother herself. "Pat wrote a message inside one of the palettes she gifted me," she says. "I was ecstatic. Then recently, she gave me her latest palette launch in custom packaging. I was so surprised."
La' Pearl's hope is for the two makeup mavens to collaborate one day. "I would love to have my own makeup or own lash line," she says. "But I'd really love to work with big brand like Pat McGrath Labs. It'd be an honor if Pat had me be the face of one of her collections."
"Every time I do work for award shows, it feels like a dream."
On Still Pinching Herself
While La' Pearl has long had dream of being a makeup artist, she'd never dreamed this big for herself. "I thought I would be in a salon or something," she says. "Now, every time I do work for awards shows, it feels like a dream. There was one time that Cardi was rehearsing for a big show and I sat there watching her in awe." But the pinnacle of her career, she says, came during that iconic evening in May. "The Met Gala was so crazy," she says. "It was such a big night and to see my work everywhere after was crazy. It still feels surreal to look back at photos."
On Quarantining With Cardi B
While La' Pearl's longtime client may not be out on red carpets or at awards shows like she usually is, she's still getting a full beat almost everyday. "I've been getting excited about what the hairstyle will be next so I can try another color for brows," she says of Cardi's affinity for bright arches. "We've been having so much fun experimenting." And while La' Pearl has been glamming Cardi, she's also been playing in makeup herself. "I do a full face on myself basically everyday," La' Pearl says. "If I didn't, I'd go crazy. I also get on Tik-Tok so I like to get cute and do tutorial videos of me doing makeup and stuff like that." And it's not lipsticks, or even eyeshadows that La' Pearl considers the most important part of her makeup routine, it's primer. "Because I have big pores, I like to use silicon based primers like Benefit's POREfessional Face Primer. It makes my face so smooth and seamless."
But it seems like these days La' Pearl has some serious competition: an adorable one-year-old named Kulture (also known as Cardi's superstar daughter). “Hell yeah, she loves makeup,” La' Pearl laughs. "She takes my Beautyblender and my brushes. I think she has a thing for applicators. She's definitely going to have the skills."