Designers may not like to hear it, but post-show people often chat as much about a model's hair and makeup as they do about what she was wearing. Sometimes this is because the beauty look is more accessible and affordable than the clothes, other times because it is simply more memorable.
That can spell good or bad news for the fashion fraternity. It's a fine line between being challenging and theatrical in support of a creative vision and staging a freak show. Alexander McQueen was a master at walking this particular line. In 2009, a year before his death, he sent his models down the runway with lips sex-doll swollen and red. The confrontational image gained plenty of press, but unlike the more usual fashion shot to gain coverage outside the specialty pages the hook wasn't the tediously obvious flash of flesh. It was an idea and, be it considered repellent or haunting, it was certainly evocative.
At its best, when a coherent design statement meets sensational styling the whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
Much of the fashion we see paraded is simply a sales pitch, with everything part of the push. Backstage beauty is also an industry all of its own, with makeup, hair and now nail brands jostling for attention as much as clothes labels.
Perhaps that why beauty looks have become much softer in recent years, with wearable the word that springs to mind. Wow is so much more fun. When the two combine a trend is born: bright lips, strong brows, bed hair anyone?
Today we track the evolution of a show look, from the ideas designers give their makeup and hair teams to play with, to how those teams come up with the runway looks that help define a collection. With New Zealand Fashion Week starting next week and the first of the big international weeks getting under way in New York a few days later, we take a timely trip behind the scenes.
Top local makeup artists and hair stylists explain their roles and designers their varying approaches. We also focus on a couple of the big name French couture houses who these days rely heavily on sales from cosmetics for their commercial success. It is no wonder, then, that they are leaders in promoting the booming business of backstage beauty.
From such synergies come some of fashion's most beautiful moments.
Six months ago in Paris, these two beauty looks from Chanel and Dior debuted on the 2012-13 autumn-winter haute couture runways. Now the prestige products used to craft them are going on counter. The turnaround time is finely honed, before another round of shows creates new demand with fresh looks.
These two styles - soft and pretty at Chanel and impactful colour at Dior - reflect the show styles of the creative directors of makeup at the two houses. They are also in sync with two of the season's strongest makeup themes in enhanced nudes and strong shades.
Peter Philips of Chanel says he was working to the "New Vintage" theme of Karl Lagerfeld's show. "That was for me a starting point for the makeup look. I took some basic makeup classics and twisted them in a subtle way: 'smoky eye', 'eyeliner', 'blush', 'french manicure' ...
At Dior, Tyen worked with favourite makeup artist Pat McGrath to compliment Raf Simons' first show for the house. It was an ode to colour, but also full of strong, architectural shapes.
Get the look:
For Chanel, Philips said he chose to focus on a soft blue/grey metallic smoky eye. (He used Ombre Essentielle in Furtive $53, pictured), followed by a thick line of eyeliner and mascara, both black, then khol on the inner rim. On the cheeks, Joues Contraste in new shade Rose Initial was applied, higher than usual. Lips were filled with a natural pencil followed by the new formula Rouge Allure in Evanescente (on counter from Sept 2 for $59).
"When we were playing around with the idea of doing a nail polish, Karl evoked the idea of using two shades on one nail, says Philips. "I combined a vintage shade, 'Silver', with an existing one, 'May'. Instead of doing a classic french manicure, I painted the whole outline of the nail in a lighter shade with Le Vernis in Silver and used Le Vernis in May to cover both the centre and the tip of the nail. May is the full nail polish and silver the outline shade."
For Dior, Tyen picked up on Simon's playing with proportion and a shimmering colour spectrum. Eyes showed a strongly pigmented technicolor look. On a silver eyelid, a line of bright colour was applied at the lash line and drawn outwards like fluorescent eyeliner, lighting up the eye with a chromatic echo of each design, in shocking pink, lagoon blue, pearly white or prairie green. It was "a futuristic trend," that Pat McGrath "chose in order to emphasise the silhouettes designed by Raf Simons".
Lashes were coated with black mascara and powdered with coloured pigments. Eyebrows were brushed and lightly pencilled for a perfect, soft, natural effect.
The complexion was pale, even and matte, with cheekbones slightly emphasised with a pinkish blush.
Lips were strong, intensely made up in tones of orangey reds or voluptuous pinks and lined with a nude lip-liner.
For a stronger chromatic effect, a touch of red in either a darker or lighter shade was applied with a finger to the centre of the lower lip.
A soft touch came from nude nails, but everything else popped. The nail shade chosen was Dior Vernis Nude Charnelle, $47.
Dior's hair, by Guido Palau, was left loose, semi-long and natural looking. He chose a clean centre parting and the hair was left very light with neither primer nor hairspray for a healthy, contemporary texture. It was the perfect counterpoint to the theatrical dresses.
"It's a show, you want a show look," says Denise L'Estrange-Corbet. "I'm so over the designers doing makeup that looks like they're not wearing any makeup and bird's nest hair. So much is all about dressing down, but we're not into that, dress up."
It's a typically opinionated view from the livewire woman in the World design triumvirate. Along with Francis Hooper and Benny Castles, L'Estrange-Corbet seriously believes in having fun.
Over its 23-year history, World has sent drag artists, pensioners and models bejewelled with crystals and lit up like aliens down the runway. At Fashion Week last year, World's show doubled as the television final of New Zealand's Next Top Model, giving the public a glimpse into the fantasy side of fashion.
This year the label is bypassing Fashion Week, instead it paraded its tailored pieces from the summer Black Tie White Noise collection to more than 500 people at the Langham Hotel last week. It was a typical high impact World show, with an emphasis on high-voltage colour.
Viva went along to the hair and makeup test and was backstage to see how it all came together. Like many designers, World has long-established relationships with favourite hair and makeup artists. They relish the collaboration, saying the chance to do something different is a creative buzz.
"They like to really push the limits," says makeup director James Leuii. "It gets your mind going." Makeup artist Hiro Nemoto from Shiseido concurs, saying it's amazing working on shows where everything is big and bold compared with doing more everyday makeups. "It's more creative and colourful and crazy." He got to mix orange and pink lips and green and teal eyes fringed with navy false lashes, while Leuii free-handed glitter moustaches for the men and Cleopatra eyes (circa Liz Taylor) for the girls and painstakingly applied Swarovski crystals to the lips.
Michael Beel, from Wellington salon Buoy, says working with World is "definitely playtime". Good thing he's not prone to throwing his toys out of the cot. At the test Hooper looked at one of his hair-dos and said: "It looks like she's been scalped, you need to make it go away."
What was being workshopped was a futuristic interpretation of a french roll. The idea survived to the show with a few tweaks to satisfy all parties. A look Hooper instantly warmed to was a cone-headed style, which Beel held up by burying a foam pad under long hair he had volumised, back-combed and bobby-pinned into place. The inspiration: those peculiar Olympic cycle helmets.
"I love the shape, I want that, but not that," said Hooper, asking for the cone to jut out a little lower from the back of the head.
Beel spent two days with the World team testing the looks pre-show and on the night had a five-hour call time for 12 female models and five men. Some shows you get as little as 10 minutes trial time, says the stylist who will work on nine Fashion Week shows leading the ghd hair team. "It's nice seeing part of a whole collection you've created."
Castles said the show's hair and makeup needed to reflect that the collection had drape and movement.
The pre-show atmosphere at World was relaxed, with models being checked well ahead of show time, whereas Fashion Week and its shared spaces and busy schedule involves a more frantic rush.
L'Estrange-Corbet said the initial brief was all about colour. "It's for summer and we wanted to do something amazing with lips and eyes." Nails were pretty out there too, with Petrina Martin from Magic Tan & Nail pointing the way with her nail art team.
So what does all this effort mean for the show-goer other than entertainment?
"World is where art meets fashion," claims L'Estrange-Corbet. "We think constantly about the show and how we do can do something different and inspiring."
"People think it doesn't translate, it does, in a very washed-out way."
In beauty terms, that translates to "try something bright". (Shiseido's Lacquer Rouge in hot-pink Disco or bright orange Blaze, at $51, makes a starting point).
READY TO WEAR
Between spectacular show stuff and safe commercial collections comes fashion and beauty looks that speak of the moment, just a little before it passes into mainstream view. That's the territory being explored in the series of shows being staged in Auckland this week under the umbrella name of the Marr Factory.
The week brings together some of New Zealand's biggest designer names and some of the country's best show stylists, all intent on introducing an edge into their summer offerings. But they're keeping an eye firmly on appealing to their customer base and have let Viva in on the tricks of their trade. These are looks you can try at home - and we show you how - but first we talk to the creative team directors, two of the designers and a leading stylist on how an idea becomes an inspiration.
"For us shows are not about the makeup (although we strive for perfection), says M.A.C's senior New Zealand artist, Amber D. "It is more about the collaboration being seamless and bringing the collection to life for the designer. Sometimes that means just concealer and sometimes it means a whole face of glitter."
The makeup sits between the fashion and the hair, she says and her role as a "key" [makeup director] is to create a look that fits with the clothes, the designer's idea of who the character is whom they are sending down the runway and the hair. By drawing on M.A.C's presence at the major international fashion weeks and her own work there she aims to "push ahead of trend."
A similar approach is taken by Stephen Marr creative director Lauren Gunn who says: "Instead of it being about the hair, it's about the collection. It's what inspires them, not me ... you get a look that's more authentic, not imposed."
Having long-established relationships with designers means she can quickly pick up on their wants and needs, but it doesn't stop there. "You've got to be both a conduit for designer ideas and a self-contained creative ... a parent to the team, supportive, but also an army general." Marshalling the troops effectively backstage is vital to the success of a show. A few key members may have been briefed, but often the stylists start from scratch on the night so they need clear direction and good general skills.
The planning process usually starts some weeks out, with designers and the hair and makeup directors touching base on the mood of a collection. "I definitely push to find out their influences, fabric choices, music they are listening to, mood board looks," says Gunn. Email flurries of images and ideas culminate in a test day on one or two models, usually a week out from the show.
"Sometimes it takes an hour sometimes it takes all day," says Amber D. "I always hope for the hour though and have found that usually the first idea is best!" Designers and their stylists are on hand and sometimes it is back to the drawing board.
Gunn says during the Marr Factory test day early last week, one designer went from a "rock 'n' roll" look to something more classically pretty to better suit the mix of garments on show.
Amber D said having five tests one after another rather than in separate studios reminded her of the variation and individuality of New Zealand designers. "Everyone was telling such a different story with their ideas which is awesome."
Kate Sylvester, whose show is tomorrow night, wanted to move her collection's initial idea along. The original romantic notion of Jane Eyre running off with her lover to live happily ever after in the South of France had yielded a pretty Victorian-inspired look, developed in conjunction with her long-time stylist, Karen Inderbitzen-Waller, who explains: "We've adapted the look. We've done the look-book, the campaign, a little film on it, and now this." This is a more dishevelled look, reflecting that the show is an evening event in a bar, rather than pitched at trade buyers.
Gunn concurs. "Because it's current season, we can push the look a little more." When you're doing look-books and trade, you want them to see the potential (a boiled-down essence of the collection). This is a little bit more extroverted."
Inderbitzen-Waller says it is always best to be part of the team from day one, as with Sylvester, although she is often called into come up with styling ideas at the last minute.
"It's so good to not just walk in to see an image board."
Designers differ in their approaches, some have a very clear idea of what they want, others enjoy a more collaborative approach.
Karen Walker wanted her hair to have a nod to 60s Victoriana and have it pulled back and up - "so that we're able to show the neck detailing that's important to the collection.
"For the makeup our brief was clean, clear skin, minimal eye and a strong pop of colour for the lip, so that it would fit well with our colour and print."