The pros divulge their rules for looking runway-ready — like using blush the same way you would bronzer to contour.
Getting an invitation to NYFW brings with it plenty of perks (where else are you going to cross paths with Lindsay Lohan, Julia Fox and Greg from The White Lotus in the span of a weekend?) though none are quite as useful as the nuggets of beauty wisdom you get to pick up along the way. Undoubtedly, what happens on the runways and front rows of fashion week produces some truly iconic beauty moments — Doja Cat’s bedazzled Schiaparelli look by Pat McGrath comes to mind — but what’s going on backstage is an entirely different beast.
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Behind the scenes, the industry’s top makeup artists, hairstylists, nail and lash techs are scrambling to create the looks that will set the tone for the season ahead. And with multiple shows happening back-to-back on the hour, there’s no room for error and not a New York minute to be spared. No matter your level of expertise, if you’re working backstage you need to pull out every trick in the book to make sure every model looks the part before hitting the runway.
We took the opportunity to chat with the best in the biz and ask them to reveal their runway beauty secrets, from reviving tired skin to nailing false lashes on the first try. Ahead, we dive into the most interesting and useful NYFW backstage beauty tips we uncovered.
Use a makeup brush to keep hair smooth
Hair genius and lead stylist for TreSemmé Lacy Redway loves to keep it sleek when she’s creating her signature looks, so for her, having the right brushes on hand is key. “I don’t know if it has anything to do with my astrology side, but I am a Virgo. And I like really clean aesthetics and super straight lines,” she says. When sectioning hair to style intricate updos, like the romantic rose-inspired twist she created for Christian Siriano’s fashion week opener, Redway uses a metal rat tail comb.
To achieve ultimate smoothness and seal the look in place, she swears by two drugstore essentials: a great hairspray and a densely-packed makeup brush. “I use TreSemmé Freeze Hold hairspray as well as a makeup brush to get any little flyaways and baby hairs that might be peeking out as I touch the hair,” she says. Like many industry pros, Redway’s brush of choice happens to be by Real Techniques. “I like how close the brush hairs are together so I can really manipulate the hair as I need to.” And if you’re the type that leaves getting dressed to the last second, here’s another hack to keep hair in top form: invest in a hair net. “We use invisible hair nets because it ensures that when the models are changing, their hair doesn’t get messed up. It’s something that you can’t see unless you’re really up close.”
Layer your primers for a no-makeup look
No-makeup makeup is here to stay, as evidenced by the pared-back looks at shows like Christian Cowan, Simkhai and Jason Wu. To achieve that barely-there effect, Lori Taylor Davis, global pro lead artist at Smashbox Cosmetics, has an unusual piece of advice: double (or triple) up on primers. “Primer in and of itself gets a [bad] rap where it’s seen as heavier, or an extra layer, but primer is made to be combined to create a perfect finish.” To achieve the makeup-meets-skin look at Christian Cowan, Davis used a combination of primers. To illuminate the skin, she applied Primerizer+ all over; then, she blurred pores with the brand’s original Photo Finish Foundation Primer, before adding a layer of Halo Plumping Dew + Hyaluronic Acid priming moisturizer for an ultra-dewy finish.
To master this layering technique, timing is everything. “Don’t throw things on and try to get your skin to absorb them all at one time. Apply a sheer layer, give it a second and apply another. We tend to want to cover our skin up so much [with foundation] when it’s not at its best, when really it just needs more love.”
For dewy skin looks, use a light touch
Layering on hydrating products is all well and good, but any beauty enthusiast knows there’s a fine line between dewy and greasy. To keep the look from venturing into overly-glazed donut territory, Davis recommends using tinted moisturizer and concealer with a light hand where needed rather than caking on extra layers — precision is everything. “I love using a loose blending eyeshadow brush as a foundation brush,” she says.
For Janell Geason, global artistic director for makeup at Aveda, it’s all about considering your environment. “Runway needs to look good for five minutes, and you have to consider the light overhead. It’s hot backstage so everything is going to look more dewy,” she says. “Right before the models walk, we take down the shine where we need it, which is usually the T-zone area.” To avoid sweaty mishaps, Geason recommends using blotting paper rather than powder, which can leave skin too matte. If you’re in a warmer climate or under stress (think high-stakes events like weddings, for example) they come in clutch.
Keep nail glue on hand for quick fixes
On the topic of quick fixes, who among us hasn’t experienced an infuriating nail snag at the worst of times? These bouts of misfortune happen on the runway, too. That’s why Gina Edwards, KISS brand ambassador and lead nail designer at Prabal Gurung, keeps a few handy tools on deck. “It’s a labour of love, sitting there filing tons of nails continuously,” she says. “Essential tools are cuticle nippers, especially now with the weather being cold, and glue for mishaps.” If you’re diving into the world of press-ons, carrying nail glue is a wise idea when you’re in a pinch — especially if you want to take full advantage of the seven-day wear time. “A lot of times we use tabs, but tabs can come off, and when it’s crunch time, it’s so much better to put a little drop of glue over the tab.”
Layer your blush on last
Blush is the new contour, or at least that was the case backstage at Christian Siriano. “Blush is having such a huge moment because it can really transform your face shape,” says Josie Johnson, lead editor at Charlotte Tilbury. To achieve the soft focus, rosy look at the show, celebrity MUA (and niece to Charlotte herself) Sofia Schwarzkopf-Tilbury applied a dot of Pillow Talk Matte Beauty Blush Wands high on the model’s cheeks as a final touch. “We always apply blush last because it ties everything together, ” says Johnson. “We didn’t want it to be a heavy pink colour. It’s not all about the blush — it’s about complimenting the look in a really gorgeous way.”
By adding blush last in the same spots where you’d normally apply bronzer, you get an instant lift to the skin without adding too much shadow or depth. “It has a way of sculpting your face while waking up the skin and adding a bit of life,” she says.
Apply falsies under the lash line
For the most natural lash look, Geason — who was behind the 1990s-era makeup looks at Pat Bo — recommends applying falsies underneath the lash line instead of over top. This technique allows fake lashes to blend better with your actual lashes, making seamless application a breeze for even the most elementary makeup users. And to avoid the decidedly un-chic experience of getting glue in your eye, press-on lashes are ideal. “We’re enhancing the natural lashes with lots of mascara and boosting them up with KISS Press-On imPRESS Falsies Eyelash Clusters,” she says.
For expert application, Geason recommends tilting your head back and lifting the lash up to get each cluster as close to the lash line as possible. To enhance your natural look, she recommends placing lashes according to the shape of your eye: elongated eyes should focus on the outer edge, while rounder eyes can handle more lashes at the centre.