As someone who’s read every fashion magazine she could get her grubby little hands on since she learned the difference between Prada and Proenza, I was pretty excited to find out I’d be going to New York to cover backstage beauty for Byrdie this year. (And by “pretty excited,” I mean I immediately texted red heel and lipstick emojis to my friends, followed by the Statue of Liberty emoji, followed by a large assortment of various others conveying elation.)
If my life was a movie trailer, this is the part where a deep, ominous voice would say something foreboding like, “But what happened next, she would never have predicted …” Cue the dramatic music. But let’s skip the drama and get straight to the point: Fashion Week is as crazy as you’d imagine, but lucky for you and your feet (more on that later), I’m here to give you all the nitty-gritty details.
Keep flipping to read the good, the bad, and the ugly—you know you want to.
The atmosphere backstage is akin to what I imagine the inside of an anthill is like—chaotic, but efficient. Sure, there’s the occasional producer screaming “FIVE MINUTES” over the hum of blow-dryers, or a mad dash of editors towards the lead hairstylist as he gives his last interview, but overall, you get the impression that these people—hairstylists, makeup artists, manicurists, and models—have done this a million times before and thrive on the time pressure and close quarters.
It’s noisy, hot, and cramped, which means you will most likely step on someone’s foot or get stepped on, but you’ll witness some pretty incredible beauty looks from masters like Pat McGrath and Gucci Westman firsthand (which, to me, is a fair trade-off—sincerest apologies to everyone whose feet I stomped on this weekend).
As an editor, I immediately look for three key people backstage: the lead hairstylist, the lead nail artist, and the lead makeup artist. They’ve worked with the designer to create a specific beauty look to accompany the collection, and they’re able to give you their reasoning behind the chosen look. The three leads usually give mini group interviews to all the beauty editors backstage, talking about their inspirations and products they used to achieve the look.
Every hair, makeup, and nail lead I met was absolutely lovely and happy to answer my extra questions (such as, could I possibly steal that amazing polish you’re using that won’t be released until November?). They oversee a huge team of hairstylists, manicurists, or makeup artists and have to approve every final look before a model hits the runway for her test walk. And speaking of models …
Here’s the slightly depressing truth—models are just as, if not more, stunning in real life (no Instagram filter necessary). They are lithe, graceful, and very, very tall. Is it fair? No, not really. Should you learn to accept and appreciate their exquisite bone structure as soon as possible? Probably. Models, for the most part, are fairly quiet and keep to themselves backstage—you’ll see a couple of them greet each other with a hug and hello, but the volume of noise backstage isn’t exactly conducive to carrying out a thoughtful conversation. Plus, they’re usually hurriedly ushered from hair to nails to makeup (or a variation of that order), leaving no time for chit-chat.
Models also have to keep calm and put up with a lot of people sticking cameras in their faces without warning (guilty as charged), which I give them major props for. If I had to put up with show after show of strangers telling me to look into the camera and “be pretty” or pose with my hand next to my face to better show off my manicure, I’d probably end up on an episode of Snapped.
Being backstage during Fashion Week and covering beauty is exhilarating, chaotic, and exhausting—especially if you’re hitting up four or five shows a day. You have to be aggressive without annoying people (how else are you supposed to get that perfect #NYFW Instagram?), ask the right questions when there’s a million different things going on around you, and above all, keep your calm in the face of an extremely hectic environment. It’s easy to return to your hotel room and feel daunted thinking about repeating everything the next day, but then you remember that genius glint of cellophane around the models’ eyes at Monique Lhuillier, or the doll-like center lashes at Altuzarra, or the perfect peach lip at Nanette Lepore, and you remember what it’s all about. Expression, creativity, and inspiration all come together in these tiny back rooms that are crammed full of passionate people working together to create something beautiful—and that’s why you smile, pick out your outfit for the next day, and fall asleep looking forward to tomorrow, throbbing feet be damned.
What do you think about Fashion Week and what parts of it interest you the most? Tell us below!