Erin Parsons, Maybelline New York’s global makeup artist, has been hard at work designing makeup for the upcoming Fashion Week season. The season is looking a little bit different, however. The makeup for one show she’s working on will be done in computer-generated imagery (CGI) rather than pigments, creams, and powders. Parsons is creating looks that go far beyond what special-effects makeup could ever be for GCDS’, an Italian streetwear brand, which will have its virtual fashion take place in time with Milan Fashion Week. “It will be epic,” she says.
Digital makeup is no doubt cutting-edge, but with the COVID-19 crisis, many beauty industry professionals have been forced to get creative backstage at fashion shows. Fall is normally the peak season when top makeup artists, including Parsons, plus hairstylists, and nail artists are in the midst of preparing their concepts to accompany the extravagant creations for New York Fashion Week and the European fashion shows happening in September. But, since March 2020, most fashion weeks have gone digital. For example, Paris Couture Week, which typically takes place in July, staged only digital shows (along with other Fashion Weeks) due to the pandemic.
Peter Philips, Dior’s makeup creative and image director, would normally be conceptualizing and executing the makeup looks for Dior fashion shows in Paris. The brand, instead, presented its Resort 2021 and Couture Fall 2020 shows digitally. In July, Philips did the makeup for Dior’s virtual Cruise show. Although an audience didn’t attend it in person, preparations for the show went on as normal, albeit with safety measures — backstage included.
“In most cases, there will be the need for a backstage,” Philips tells Allure. “Makeup and hair are an important part of the way a designer presents a look. Whenever you shoot for a film, video, photoshoot… there is a backstage.” The makeup artist is still waiting to hear what he’ll be doing for Dior’s upcoming Spring 2021 show — specifically, whether it will be virtual again or an in-person experience with a live audience.
Typically, backstage at Fashion Week is one of the most cramped, busy, and fast-paced areas. Makeup artists, hairstylists, and nail artists work in tight spaces as models, assistants, and journalists all pack in and try to squish by. With Fashion Weeks around the world becoming less centralized, backstage areas are sometimes just a tiny room inside a school or a temporary tent with no air conditioning in the middle of summer.
“I’m not sure how well social distancing can work backstage,” says Sam McKnight, the iconic hairstylist who usually spearheads the hair at Chanel’s shows. “Smaller teams would mean more time with the models needed or [fewer] models. If social distancing continues as currently advised, you wouldn’t be able to have a hairstylist working alongside a nail or makeup artist, which would mean models wouldn’t be able to come late from another show.” McKnight is hoping for more space and more time if Fashion Week continues in the usual way.
The current outlook
It’s not all that unusual for many of the makeup, hair, and nail teams to not know exactly what the upcoming season will look like, even when there isn’t a global pandemic. Many beauty teams receive show confirmations with just days’ notice. But the schedule is less set-in-stone than ever. “We have some shoots, videos, and shows scheduled this season,” McKnight says of the Spring 2021 shows set to take place in September 2020. “I’m not at liberty to say exactly what they are at the moment; the schedule is changing on a daily basis, which is to be expected in these times.”