Having worked as a makeup artist for the last 14 seasons at runway shows in New York, Milan and Paris, I wanted to share some not-commonly discussed, standard operating procedures backstage to shed some light on what a pro does to make a model look "beautiful" and "runway ready."
You may actually get some great beauty tips for yourself from this list, and some of these tricks may make you gasp. Mostly, though, I hope this will be a healthy reality check for any woman who’s ever felt frustrated about the way she looks in the bathroom mirror, or for anyone who has ever compared herself to a model. I hope that by pulling back the curtain on how the fashion industry really works, women might be inspired to be a little kinder to themselves.
Let's start with one crucial point: I often interchange the word "models" with "girls." It's not to be derogatory, but in fact it's an industry-wide term that punctuates the reality that most models are teenagers — a very selective group of young females with highly specific genetic traits.
Here are 10 things I do as a makeup artist to make models look beautiful for the runway:
1. I cleanse their face.
Even when a model swears she already cleaned her face, I always find remnant makeup from the show before or the night before. Leftover makeup really makes women look a lot worse than most realize. So I spend time cleansing off every bit.
2. I massage the face with moisturizer.
Do you know what's a recipe for disaster? Lightly buffing moisturizer onto the surface of the skin prior to makeup application. Makeup will just slide off, and the areas that most need smoothing will still look rough underneath makeup. A stimulating skin massaging helps bring back a beautiful radiance. Sometimes it has to be lightening fast, but this step matters.
3. I use heavy-duty moisturizer on their skin.
Often models have skin that's wrecked. (Yes, really it is.) Fashion Week is actually four weeks of back-to-back shows that travel from New York, London, Milan and to Paris. And this entire stretch happens twice a year.
The first week, the models look pretty fresh, but by the time they get to Week Four, their skin is significantly abused, tired, raw, dull and blemished. I tell normal women to ignore the reports of what artists use at fashion week to moisturize skin; it's just too heavy for daily use.
4. I scrape their lips to slough off dead skin cells.
Many girls have severely chapped and cracked lips that we artists are responsible for rectifying on the spot. (This is especially common in the winter, but often a big issue in the summer due to air conditioning.)
One of the most effective methods I've found is to remove the top layer of dryness first with makeup remover. Then I apply a thick coat of lip balm. After letting that soak in for a bit, I have the model scrape her lips (rather aggressively) with a clean mascara wand. Then I use more makeup remover to remove the debris and follow with another layer of lip balm. Yes, sometimes they bleed, but we try to avoid that.
5. I layer on multiple foundations and concealers.
It’s so hard for me to answer women when they ask what my one favorite makeup is, is because there is not just one shade or texture which will create the effect of seamless skin on every single woman. I dabble in palettes of cream, layers of thin liquids, and dry heavy pigments, smoothing it all out with various brushes, sponges and fingers to make it look like the model just has perfect skin.
Believe me, these models come in with bags under their eyes after weeks of grueling work. I use color-correcting and light-reflecting concealers under the eyes to effectively mask the late nights and exhaustion. The end result, if done right, will be a seamless, totally rested look that blends in without looking heavy or cakey.
6. I remove eye goop with precision.
Fingers are a huge no-no! After all that perfect, multi-step concealing, it's a big liability for me to entrust a model with the task of removing any offending eye gunk without also disturbing any of the makeup around it. So I take care of it with a cotton swab and exacting precision.
7. I monitor nose-blowing. (Seriously!)
Inevitably colds get passed around during Fashion Week and somewhere between Milan and Paris it seems just about everyone is sick. So whenever a girl goes to blow her nose, I offer cautionary instructions on how to best accomplish the task without ruining her foundation. This is by sticking one’s fingers covered in tissue directly up the nostrils and blowing lightly with absolutely no wiping at the end. I continue to track my model prior to the show to cover up any telltale redness.
8. I slather various parts of the face in lip balm.
No, you didn’t read that title wrong. So many woman leave comments on the photos I post to my social media accounts, begging me to share what I used to make the models' skin glow. I hope you’re ready for the answer: mostly it's greasy, shiny, lip balm. Yep. We’ll often put it all over the eyelids, cheekbones, bridge of the nose and the top of the lips. Sometimes it goes on the lips, too, but not always.
9. I cover their body in makeup and lotion.
Once the models are dressed, there are just a few short moments before they go onto the runway, during which time a troop of makeup artists descend, narrowly navigating the overcrowded backstage area. You’ll see us crawling on our hands and knees with giant palettes of camouflage to make any body parts that are slightly red, brown, ashy or blue, look as even-toned as a Barbie doll. (Here's a picture of me, on my knees, applying cover-up to a model's legs.)
It starts by coating limbs with a secret recipe of lotion (often created for just the perfect amount of shimmer). Then we use foundation over hands, knees and even toes. We make sure any and all exposed flesh looks perfect.
10. The touch-ups are un-ending.
There is never a time when makeup stops before the models go out on the runway. We have bags loaded with supplies and are constantly retouching, adding to, and taking away so that just seconds before every girl walks onto the catwalk (for all of 120 seconds), she is a vision of perfection.
Now that you know what really goes on backstage, it’s my hope that the next time you see some "perfect" looking teenage model in a photo with a caption about how to get her runway-ready look in just five minutes, you’ll just move right on past.
There's no way it's even close to the truth.
Photo of Kristen applying eye makeup : Masha Maltsava
Photo of Kristen crawling courtesy of the author