The foundation of runway shows

The makeup artist is essential but unseen

Fashion Week

September 13, 2004|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK - Behind the scenes at every high-end fashion show, before any of the celebrities take their front-row seats or any store buyers sit poised to inspect and critique, an assembly line of artistry goes on.

During this sliver of time, no one is thinking about clothes.

It is all about hair, cheeks and skin. All about eyes and lips.

The makeup artist is the star.

Grace Lee, a senior artist for M.A.C. Cosmetics, started work Friday about 7 a.m., three hours before the Vera Wang show.

She lugged her bags - huge black totes full of equipment and water - into the tent at Bryant Park that houses all the week's glitzy shows and set up in front of long mirrors along a far wall, brightly lit by an army of exposed 60-watt bulbs. Lee dressed in the signature M.A.C. way - basic black. Her hair was pulled and pinned away from her perfectly made up face.

No tottering on heels for her. Lee wore black suede sneakers.

Fifty brushes, dozens of bottles, canisters and tubes, and three pairs of scissors later, she was ready to make someone beautiful.

One by one, the long-legged, golden-tressed models came into the tent, fresh-faced and glowing, already. The models are teen-agers, or barely in their twenties. Their young skin is flawless, the kind that many women - some of whom will be seated in the audience later - pay good money to try to recapture.

Their pink lips naturally pucker or pout. Even at 8 a.m., with little sleep, their eyes are bright and flirty.

How much of a challenge can this be?

Surprisingly, it is quite a lot of work.

There is a team of hair and makeup artists working the 20-model show, but backstage is teeming with other people who crowd and peer and bump. Photographers slip into Lee's work space, looking for better angles. Videographers shine floodlights in her eyes. Microphones get jammed in between her and her human canvas.

Through it all, Lee and the other artists persevere. They have to. Although it goes largely ignored, the models' makeup during the shows is extremely important.

"It's a whole look, isn't it?" said Lucia Pieroni, the chief makeup artist working the Vera Wang show. "You wouldn't want to come to a fashion show and see a woman with no ... makeup on, would you?"

As chief makeup artist, Pieroni works closely with each show's designers to come up with a look for the models that enhances the theme of the collection.

For the Vera Wang show, Pieroni describes it this way: sexy, candlelit, gold.

"The skin is beautiful; it's about enhancing the natural features," Lee said, as she began work on 19-year-old Russian model Natasha Poly. "A dark, smoky line underneath the eye, and a light, muted mouth."

To make lanky 5-foot, 10-inch Natasha look sexy, candlelit and golden, Lee started by spraying her face with Evian water. Then, she slathered on a creamy moisturizer. She used three different shades of foundation-in-a-stick, wielding various makeup brushes between her fingers. She brushed, and flicked and massaged Natasha's face, then rubbed smoky brown shadow under her eyes and penciled in the inner lining of her eyelid.

She painted Natasha's sleepy eyelids a golden color called Retrospect, and gelled Natasha's long, thick eyebrows in an upward shape. She curled her eyelashes and heaped them with dark brown mascara.

Lee turned beautiful Natasha into gorgeous Natasha. But then she stopped, leaned back to assess, and started again on a spot that already looked perfect in its dewiness. She did this a half-dozen times.

Satisfaction evades her at fashion shows, said Lee, 29, who lives in Toronto. Perfection is not lazily attained.

"It's all about everything's in place, perfect skin, perfect blending," said M.A.C. senior makeup artist Guillermo Gutierrez. "It's all about the details. You have to take time. The pressure is all around."

Lee worked on Natasha for nearly 30 minutes, while the girl chatted happily in Russian to fellow model, 21-year-old Valentina Zelyaeva. Then she moved on to a hair touch-up, and then back to Pieroni, who finished each girl's look with loose powder.

Throughout, Natasha smiled often. She bobbed her shoulders to Christina Milian's "Dip it Low" playing backstage.

But the long process - sometimes done four times a day for sought-after models - takes its toll.

"To put makeup on and take it off and put it again," Natasha said, "it is good, because you can see your face in different ways, but it is annoying getting it done so many times."

After the New York shows, many models will move on to fashion shows in Paris and Milan. By then, their dispositions will be less congenial, Lee said.

"By the third week, they're usually running away from us, like, `No more makeup!'" Lee said.

The makeup artists, too, will lose patience - with the scores of journalists, documentarians and style-channel hosts who interfere with the brushing, rubbing, painting, curling, contouring, waxing, gelling.

But at 10 minutes to show time, the 20 models have been perfected. The makeup artists are standing back, watching their artwork move on to be draped in Vera Wang and assessed by hundreds of people seated around the runway.

Soon, it will be all about the clothes.

But for a few more minutes, it is about hair, cheeks, skin. About eyes and lips. About the makeup.

"When you see all the models line up, you say, `Good. Everything's in place. Everything's beautiful. We did it again,'" said M.A.C. artist Gutierrez. "And then we move on to another show."

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