As Red Door’s first national makeup artist, Gomez traveled to teach other makeup artists how to apply and sell products. He had one of the company’s highest client-retention rates.
Gomez developed a signature cosmetic style that he describes as “timeless and classic, flawless glamour, and all about the eyes.” Clients say Gomez has a unique ability to make the eyes “pop.”
Many consider him a friend. Elise Lefkowitz scheduled Gomez regularly to put makeup on her housebound mother, Estelle Gelman, who endowed George Washington University’s Gelman Library.
“He was always there for us,” Lefkowitz says. “The day of the funeral, I didn’t want the funeral people to do her makeup, so he came and did it for her. That’s a true, true friend. And he brought someone to do her hair. For free. I can’t count anybody closer to me than that.”
Gomez donates his services and expertise to several charities, including the Hispanic Heritage Foundation. Several times a year, he meets with youth involved with the foundation to teach them about careers in the beauty industry. At the foundation’s annual awards ceremony, Gomez handles the makeup for all honorees, who in the past have included celebrities such as Antonio Banderas, Rachel Weisz, and America Ferrara.
“I tried to pay him, but he won’t take it,” says HHF president and CEO Antonio Tijerino. “He’s one of the greatest spirits I’ve ever come across in my life. No matter what happens, he rises above. And that is a really difficult thing to do, especially here in Washington.”
And yet when it comes to Gomez, to sift reality from embellishment is to negotiate a blurry web. Gomez will say he performs his services “on location,” but he does most of his work in his apartment. In June, he said he was going to do makeup for “the Captain America premiere.” In fact, Lanmark Technology Founder Lani Hay had hired him to do her makeup for a related event honoring Stan Lee and a Navy SEAL. Did Gomez meet Captain America star Chris Evans? Yes. Did he do makeup for any of the film’s actors? No.
Gomez often speaks about his humbleness, but his tiny bathroom is dominated by a three-by-two-foot poster of himself striking a pose for a charity campaign. His living-room walls are lined with 45 plaques he bought to display mentions in magazines such as Allure and Redbook. He can be both naive and savvy, genuine and cagey, humble and glamorous. He’s proud and passionate about his artistry but can at times seem similarly besotted with his name. As if to memorialize these contradictions, a tattoo scatters stars down his forearm, some colored in, some empty, “to represent my success and the holes where I fell.”
Soon after Gomez began working at Red Door in 1994, he met James Packard, dashing and confident, at a Rehoboth Beach party. At the time, Gomez says, Packard was running a Dupont Circle escort service. As the couple grew serious, Gomez asked Packard to give up the escort business.
Packard turned to a friend, millionaire John J. Warfield, who partnered with Packard to form J.J. Development, a real-estate company. Its first project was to restore the historic True Reformer building on U Street in DC.
Warfield, an investor and a Civil War buff, owned a railroad in Keokuk, Iowa, for a time before moving to Harpers Ferry. He bought trolleys from Philadelphia’s Main Line and restored them in Keokuk. During the great flood of 1993 along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers, Warfield put the trolleys on an existing track across a dam. For more than a month, the trolleys were the only connection across the river from the Quad Cities down to St. Louis.
“Hospital workers, factory workers—a lot of people would not have kept their jobs if not for John,” says Liz Clark, who was Warfield’s companion for 20 years. “And he ran those trolleys free, out of his own pocket.”
J.J. Development’s success convinced Gomez to open a salon with Packard, a dream he’d had for a long time. “John was a really good person, and the kind of person not about to get screwed,” Gomez says. “When he invested lots of money to be partners with James, it gave me more confidence—like, okay, I know you can do this.”
Next: No one knows the real James Packard