Gomez, 46, speaks softly, curled up on a chair with his two teacup-poodle puppies in his Dupont Circle one-bedroom apartment, a far cry from the eight-bedroom Laytonsville home that’s now in foreclosure. The feel here is not so different from his salon; house music thwomps gently in the background, kiwi and pomegranate soy candles flicker, a pewter tray with handles shaped like dragons—the salon’s Filipino-inspired symbol—holds bowls of jellybeans and chocolate-covered raisins. The decor is modern and warm, with an Asian edge. “I like it really warm because I have a warm heart,” Gomez somehow manages to say without sounding insincere.
Clients come and go, settling at the waxing station and makeup table two feet from the kitchen. His work remains steady—he shapes brows for about 20 clients a day and does about 20 makeup jobs a week. On occasion, he does makeup for guests on CBS’s The Early Show.
But much has changed since the days when he did actress Eva Longoria’s makeup at an awards ceremony and oversaw the makeup and hair for luminaries such as Vice President and Mrs. Biden and singer Tim McGraw for the Oprah show filmed at the Kennedy Center to commemorate President Obama’s inauguration. He also made up Obama’s sister-in-law, Kelly Robinson, in the Lincoln Bedroom on Inauguration Day. While waiting for Robinson, Gomez says, he introduced himself to Michelle Obama and massaged the future First Lady’s hands.
In July, Gomez filed for bankruptcy. His salon is closed and its building is for sale. His personal properties are either in foreclosure or tied up in litigation, and Packard—who he says nearly destroyed his life—has disappeared.
A few companies have offered Gomez opportunities—including the TV network Animal Planet, which approached him about being a guest on a reality fishing show—but Gomez declined the offers. “I have to figure out how I’m going to survive, and first I have to focus on happiness and on retaining my clientele,” he says. “I truly believe things are going to fall into place. I’ve done everything right, and I’m not worried about karma. I got taken advantage of.”
Gomez has always been ambitious and driven, says his mother, Teresita Gomez. Their conservative Catholic family moved from the Philippines to Orange County, California, when Gomez was nine. While he threw himself into after-school activities—volleyball, choir, cross country—at home he spent hours drawing. His favorite muse? Wonder Woman. When Gomez did actress Lynda Carter’s makeup in the late 1980s, he was too nervous to tell her she had inspired his career.
At 15, Gomez asked then–fashion photographer Farzad Kasrabod, after seeing his work in a magazine, for help breaking into the business. Gomez began assisting Kasrabod with makeup, styling, and photography.
“He was just a natural,” Kasrabod says. “He started doing makeup, and models would hire him. I would recommend him to art directors and boutique owners, and he started getting noticed.” Kasrabod was most impressed by Gomez’s people skills: “He would become your friend, like he’s known you forever. He won everybody’s heart.”
A year later, Gomez walked up to the Chanel counter at a department store in Costa Mesa, California, and talked his way into a sales job. Gomez worked as a counter salesman every day after school while practicing makeup on his friends at home. Six months later, Chanel promoted him to makeup artist.
After two years at Chanel, Gomez attended Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California, where at his parents’ behest he studied nursing in addition to fashion. On the side, he bounced among various Orange County salons, working as a makeup artist and receptionist.
His father, a pharmaceutical representative, and his mother, a post-office supervisor, didn’t support Gomez’s aspirations at first.
“I came from a very strict Spanish-Filipino family,” he says. “It was hard enough for me to come out—they weren’t familiar with homosexuality, they weren’t familiar with someone who was an artist. They imagined the fashion business as drugs, sex, and rock and roll.”
In Gomez’s early twenties, his partially deaf boyfriend moved to Washington to attend Gallaudet University and Gomez followed him. The relationship ended, but Gomez stayed.
After stints with Prescriptives and Yves Saint Laurent, Gomez landed at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa in Chevy Chase DC. Sharilyn Abbajay, who hired Gomez in 1994, was looking for someone to help her rebuild the makeup and retail business’s brand; Elizabeth Arden then had a somewhat stodgy reputation.
“I can still see him coming up the stairs for the interview, and it was almost a gift from above,” Abbajay says. “He was cool, trendy, and he could still blend. He just had such a magic about him.”
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