This story was republished with permission from The Buckeye Flame
From her studio in Cuyahoga Falls, Coco Miletti and her assistant of 2 years, Jake Hallett, ply a trade synonymous with transformation: cosmetics.
Their workspace seems designed to illicit calm. The soft toned purple and white walls are adorned with professional quality photos of Miletti’s clients, post-appointment. Hanging on the wall is a picture of her father’s truck, framed, that he gave to her after loaning her the money to get started; a touch of home. By the door, a couple candles are burning, casting their softly flickering light upwards.
In their perch above Front Street, Miletti and Hallett offer a wide range of services, from hair and make-up styling for boudoir photography and weddings to “step one, ground-up makeup lessons and instructions for people who are transitioning,” Miletti says.
The idea for the classes came to her when she was first starting out, born from other themed makeup lessons she offers.
“When I first started those ones,” she says, “I just had a couple people in my life, or knew of a couple people, that were transitioning,” Miletti says. She saw in them a struggle to understand an aspect of their journey that they might never have been exposed to before.
She recognized that she was going to need help.
“I wanted to definitely have someone who’s actively involved in the [LGBTQ+] community help me,” Miletti says. “It would be stupid of me to assume that I know how to handle [every]situation, or even how to communicate effectively.”
Enter: Hallett, who identifies as non-binary and “very gender fluid.”
Miletti and Hallett met at a wedding for one of Hallett’s friends, where Miletti was doing make-up. It wasn’t until later that they began working together.
“A couple years had gone by, and she reached out to me because she wanted to start working with the LGBTQ+ community,” says Hallett.
Spurring Miletti to action in the fall of 2019 was an email from someone asking for help.
“They knew nothing about makeup,” says Miletti, “and they were just starting to transition, and the medications they were on was kind of making their skin go crazy. They didn’t know where to start.” She took that as her sign to get involved.
Currently, she’s only offering classes on a one-on-one basis. “I had also been working on a group setting type of makeup class called LGBTQuties+…but right when we were getting that started the pandemic hit,” Miletti says.
When working with her trans clients, or “anybody who needs a safe space” the process begins with long distance introductions.
“We start, usually, with email back and forth, and then a Zoom call,” she says. This is for her clients’ safety as much as it is for her own.
“Just to make sure we all have a handle on each other,” she says. “Everything about working with the LGBTQ+ community, I think, has to revolve around openness and creating safe spaces, because they don’t get to have that everywhere.”
At the initial meet-up, Hallett says there’s a bit of business to start. They first need to know what the client is looking to gain and learn from these tutorials.
“Then you go over the kinda cute stuff,” Hallett says. “Like: Are you into sparkles? What do you want on your face? What kind of style are you going for? What’s the vibe?”
But the lessons go far beyond shades and powders.
“It’s not just the makeup,” says Hallett. “It’s also skin care and routine. Are you exfoliating, are you cleansing? And then leading into the eye shadow, lashes, learning how to do hair. It’s the total package.”
Miletti prides herself on being able to match any skin tone, adding another dimension to her services. “I’ve made that my mission in life, to be as inclusive as possible,” she says. Her website backs this up, proudly displaying a “All are welcome here” message with a rainbow background, next to a Black Lives Matter icon and an image of the blue, pink and white trans flag.
One of Miletti’s former clients, Evelyn Hall, provides a glowing review about her experiences with Miletti’s tutelage. “She actually came to my house so I wouldn’t have to go out in public before I knew how to do my makeup,” Hall says.
Step by step, Miletti explained to Hall what she was doing and why, taking pictures as she went. “We did that a couple times, and it was really helpful,” says Hall.
It was early in Hall’s transition. She hadn’t yet come out as trans to her mother or her friends.
“I was feeling very lost and overwhelmed in that context, and so having one more person there to help [me]was actually really, really big for me,” Hall says.
Hallett knows well the importance of that support and how not every artist is able to so easily provide it as Hallett sees Miletti do with client after client.
“I think that there’s a lot of artists who have tried to do what Coco is doing in the trans community and they’ve had a little bit of a harder time with it,” says Hallett, attributing Miletti’s success to her thoughtfulness.
These classes aren’t strictly for trans clients, but for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
“If there was somebody who identifies as a cis gay male and wanted to come in and learn how to do their face makeup…everybody’s accepted. We want everybody to be comfortable,” Hallett says.
Whether her clients need a pop of eye shadow or a boost of self-esteem, Miletti stands at the ready.
“If I can help anybody, even if it’s just helping them have a better day or feel better about themselves, I’m here for it,” Miletti says.
Derek Kreider is a freelance journalist from Akron. His work has been featured online and in print.