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The old adage about art imitating life was clearly at play backstage at New York Fashion Week.
The Spring/Summer 2022 season marked New York's first "real" Fashion Week since the pandemic struck, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Though many things had changed — the exponential increase in outdoor shows, for example — editors, influencers, models and industry insiders alike flocked to the city to return to some sense of normalcy, reuniting with friends they hadn't seen for more than 18 months. And while the collections themselves were certainly inspired by and conceived during months of quarantining in the designers' respective homes and ateliers, one thing about New York Fashion Week that seemed particularly reflective of the changing (or perhaps changed?) times was the beauty looks.
New York Fashion Week is always home to bold, editorial beauty looks, with backstage legends like Pat McGrath, Jin Soon Choi and Guido Palau often making appearances as the key artists for makeup, nails and hair, respectively. However, this season's takes were a little different. Across most of the shows, backstage beauty's focus occupied one end of the glam spectrum or the other: Either the look was extremely glam, usually featuring a smoky eye and done-up hair, or it was subdued and natural, with little-to-no makeup on models' faces or product in their hair.
This pervasive runway trend is, it seems, indicative of a broader post-pandemic reality among those outside of fashion, as well. As folks transition back to a semblance of life pre-pandemic, a lot of recent developments have become cultural norms: Proof of vaccination is required to enter many places of business, hand sanitizer stations appear to be permanently planted in place, sweatpants are progressively becoming more acceptable as everyday wear (even in professional settings). But from a beauty perspective, the post-pandemic trends seem to be divided straight down the middle.
For many, navigating a "return to normal" means going all-out with bold makeup and hair they hadn't felt the motivation to wear while quarantining. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the minimalist approach that became routine over the last year and half has itself become a new normal. Leaving home can mean "trying" — that is, putting on a full beat and breaking out the hot tools and hairspray — or it can mean walking out the door effortlessly undone. And the old adage about art imitating life was clearly at play during NYFW because nothing exemplified this divide in mentality more starkly than its runways.
For the LaQuan Smith show, makeup artist Sheika Daley created the ultimate dramatic makeup look, most prominently featuring a sharp, crisp cat eye worthy of a night out in Vegas. Appearing in various colors from black to red to blue, the cat eye was made even more dramatic with an elongated shape and glimmering rhinestone accents. In true Alice + Olivia fashion, the label's maximalist clothes in bright colors, heavy embellishments and busy patterns were accented with an array of monochromatically colored snap clips and bobby pins adorning models' hair, conceived by hairstylist Justine Marjan for Tresemmé.
Other runways that showcased statement beauty moments included Sergio Hudson, Christian Siriano, Tom Ford and Sandy Liang. Tom Ford's smoky eye took a more subdued approach in brown and bronzy hues with metallic finishes, but the dramatic effect remained. Bold makeup was often counterpointed by undone hair (like on Sandy Liang's runway), or used to accentuate elaborate clothing (see: Christian Siriano's show). Either way, the ever-reliable smoky eye came back in a huge way this season.
Even the intense makeup looks that weren't in deep, dark or bright shades still brought a bit of subtle drama to the runway. For Anna Sui's showing, for example, McGrath created the perfect "going out" look, relying on pink and red shimmery shadows coupled with draped blush to embody the more-is-more fantasy for which Sui is so well known. There was another instance of subtler drama at Naeem Khan, where models' mostly-bare faces were accented by a fiery orange-red lip; models in Sienne Li's show donned red blush on the apples of the cheeks, reminiscent of marionette puppets.
On the other hand, in stark contrast — and yet in equal measure — many other shows featured models with little to no product on their faces and with their hair in its natural state. Coach's runway embodied the epitome of the NYC cool girl, featuring a makeup look that lead artist McGrath described as a "modern take on grunge with a slight hint of rebellious Hollywood," nude nails and hair that embraced each model's natural texture.
"We wanted the girls to look really fresh," McGrath told Fashionista. "A lot of the girls have no makeup, but what we've done is a little hint of [foundation], which looks so natural it's almost like skin care. It's very sheerly applied. We've pinched the cheeks and applied a small amount of concealer when needed." The look was finished with curled lashes with just a touch of mascara at the roots, as well as a quick brush of the brows to fluff them up (no color or gel necessary).
Palau was the lead hairstylist of the show, and drew inspiration from the models' own individuality. "The casting is amazing," he said of the show. "The models are a great mix of different kinds of beauty, different kinds of characters. We just want to emphasize that. We wanted it to feel like what you'd see when you're walking down the streets of New York City."
Each of the models had vastly different haircuts, styles, textures and colors, so Palau and his team worked with what they brought to the table: A few models had their hair braided in protective styles; some had the perfectly undone texture of those who never try too hard when going out for Sunday brunch; others let their curls be the main focus. To top off the au naturale feel of the hair and makeup, lead nail artist Naomi Yakuda painted each models' nails with a nude CND polish that perfectly matched their skin tone.
The playful sophistication of Brandon Maxwell's clothes was complemented by a summery, fresh makeup look featuring flushed cheeks and fluffy brows as well as model-off-duty-worthy waves by Jawara Wauchope for Dyson; Kien Hoang used Oribe products to give Chromat's models beachy waves to complement the setting at Rockaway Beach; Staud's models donned tinted lips and sleek (but not too straight), middle-parted hair; "humid, sunny skin" (i.e. orangey bronzer and glossy highlighter) took over the Collina Strada runway courtesy of Allie Smith for MAC Cosmetics; Tresemmé Global Lead Stylist Odile Gilbert embodied the ease of the '90s with front-piece braids, undone waves and protective styles in Altuzarra's magnificent return to NYFW after a four-year hiatus.
From as far uptown as Harlem all the way back down to Spring Studios, the runways of New York Fashion Week embraced the no-makeup makeup and "I woke up like this" hairstyles that the general public has been unintentionally perfecting for the past year and a half.
In a post-pandemic world, the average person seems to face a similar dilemma of balance: To glam or not to glam? Black smoky eyes have long been a makeup staple both on and off the runway, and while many people are eager to return to their pre-pandemic ways of getting done up on an average Thursday night just because they can, an even larger cohort seems to want to embrace the minimalism (and, let's just say it, blissful laziness) they've grown accustomed to over the last 18 months.
There will always be reasons to get done up — whether it's for a wedding that has been postponed three times due to the ever-changing protocols of the pandemic or for an event as special as New York Fashion Week. It's unlikely that the traditional smoky eye or embellished hairdo is going anywhere anytime soon, but it's also safe to say that people are really enjoying and embracing this new wave of low-stakes beauty minimalism.
At a time when brands launch dozens, if not hundreds, of products a year, the beauty industry can seem like an overwhelming place. The idea of rolling out of bed and simply pinching your cheeks for a slight flush can sound pretty inviting. So let's all do ourselves a favor and consider this a win: If slept-in hair and a three-step makeup routine is good enough for New York Fashion Week runways, it certainly works for the rest of us. And if we get sick of that, our high-pigment, long-wear makeup will be there waiting on the sidelines.