How Fashion Week Gets Made With MAC Senior Makeup Artist Victor Cembellin

A lot goes into making fashion week happen. And despite the proliferation of fashion reality television shows, there is still a lot that you might not know about. So, we decided to ask some of our friends in the industry what their day to day life is like leading up to, during and following fashion week. From the perspective of a designer, a publicist, a show producer, a pit photographer, a makeup artist and more, keep reading to learn how fashion week gets made. Makeup, from natural to full-on body warpaint, is an integral piece of any runway show. It adds to the aesthetic of the show and helps to showcase the clothes, because makeup is truly transformative. We chatted with MAC senior artist Victor Cembellin, who has been practicing his craft for designers/labels like Zac Posen, Balenciaga, and Vivienne Westwood for over 15 years, and who has put his time in the backstage trenches (He once spent an hour and a half gluing feathers on one girl at an Alexander McQueen show.) Here's what it's like to be a makeup artist on a runway show.
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A lot goes into making fashion week happen. And despite the proliferation of fashion reality television shows, there is still a lot that you might not know about. So, we decided to ask some of our friends in the industry what their day to day life is like leading up to, during and following fashion week. From the perspective of a designer, a publicist, a show producer, a pit photographer, a makeup artist and more, keep reading to learn how fashion week gets made. Makeup, from natural to full-on body warpaint, is an integral piece of any runway show. It adds to the aesthetic of the show and helps to showcase the clothes, because makeup is truly transformative. We chatted with MAC senior artist Victor Cembellin, who has been practicing his craft for designers/labels like Zac Posen, Balenciaga, and Vivienne Westwood for over 15 years, and who has put his time in the backstage trenches (He once spent an hour and a half gluing feathers on one girl at an Alexander McQueen show.) Here's what it's like to be a makeup artist on a runway show.
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A lot goes into making fashion week happen. And despite the proliferation of fashion reality television shows, there is still a lot that you might not know about. So, we decided to ask some of our friends in the industry what their day to day life is like leading up to, during and following fashion week. From the perspective of a designer, a publicist, a show producer, a pit photographer, a makeup artist and more, keep reading to learn how fashion week gets made.

Makeup, from natural to full-on body warpaint, is an integral piece of any runway show. It adds to the aesthetic of the show and helps to showcase the clothes, because makeup is truly transformative. We chatted with MAC senior artist Victor Cembellin, who has been practicing his craft for designers/labels like Zac Posen, Balenciaga, and Vivienne Westwood for over 15 years, and who has put his time in the backstage trenches (He once spent an hour and a half gluing feathers on one girl at an Alexander McQueen show.) Here's what it's like to be a makeup artist on a runway show.

Fashionista: How far in advance do you know you’re going to have a show? Victor Cembellin: We do a kick off meeting right when we arrive in New York, which will be 2 days beforehand. We all get our schedules and look for any conflicts. Basically then the next morning we start out and do all the shows.

How many shows will you personally do in NYC? 
It’s an average of 13-15 by the end of the week. I usually do 2 shows a day; some days you might have fashion shows, but some days you have makeup tests which is when you go to the show room of the designer a few days before to work out the makeup look. There’s usually 2 models there--one’s a blonde and one’s a brunette, or one has a deeper skin tone and one’s lighter. They just go through mood boards and they’re collaborating with the designer and the head stylist and try out different looks.

Have you ever had a look change the day of the show? Like a designer says “I hate that lip--change it”? They’ll re-review the pictures sometimes. They have 2 days to look at the pictures from the makeup test and sometimes..since they’re creative people...they’ll alter it, but I’ve never seen them go, “We have to start from scratch.” There’s so many millions of dollars wrapped up in the whole thing that I think people, while they’re creative, are also thinking with their business mind as well.

How many models are you responsible for per show? Usually 3. The first one you kind of get to take your time with because [the models] are there on time. With the second girl it's like “let’s pick it up”. You’ve understood the look so maybe you can do it in a half hour instead of 45 minutes. Then sometimes these girls are coming in 5 minutes before the show is supposed to start, if not like 5 minutes AFTER the show is supposed to start. You sometimes get these "it" girls who are doing 6 or 7 shows and they’re coming across the entire city and they’re in black eyes and braided hair and [you have to get them ready for the] natural all-American girl show. This is where the chaos ensues.

How often does that happen, the last minute scurry? There are usually 4-6 girls coming in late. By the time it’s evening, the entire day is backed up.

A spring \'12 look from Vivienne Westwood (Photo: Imaxtree)

A spring \'12 look from Vivienne Westwood (Photo: Imaxtree)

What do you carry with you to every single show? I have 2 kits. If we’re partnering with a famous makeup artist, we’ll show up to the makeup test carrying as much MAC as we can so if they say “I’m thinking of a green glittery smoky eye” we have something to show them.

What are some of the biggest challenges backstage? I think people have forgotten how many people are allowed backstage. It’s becoming more popular to have [shows] at some fancy art venue or small gallery. It’s not always in the tents. So we’ll be set up in these unrealistic backstages where there are 14 makeup artists, 22 hair people, 30 models coming in, all the stylists, all the dressers, the press. By the end there’s 200 people in a spot that should hold max 45 people.

What are some of the most complicated or craziest looks you’ve had to execute? There’s a couple designers who are just known for bigger makeup, like Gareth Pugh and Manish Arora. Makeup artist Val Garland, who’s one of the most famous makeup artists in the world, respects the MAC pro artist as being the best in the industry, so she’ll be like, “Here’s the general look, but you can do your own thing and make it your own on each girl." In some ways, when I’m nervous, I’d rather be a technician. That’s when it becomes complicated, when you have free reign to individualize your look.

What’s the best way to get makeup off quickly? I learned very quickly within a season or 2, that even though I'm the makeup artist, just give it to the model herself. People can get their own makeup off a lot quicker. I use MAC wipes to get rid of the whole face--foundation, brow color--and then use Cleanse Off Oil. If you hold it on the eye the makeup just melts away, then a quick scrub to get rid of the mascara.

Have you ever seen a model have a bad reaction to makeup? I haven’t ever had that happen. I think that models more and more are starting to bring in their own backstage kit. They understand when they’re breaking out and maybe they attribute it to a certain show or certain eye shadow. Some people get really weepy with purple. {Ed. note: Really? Purple?}

What do you do after fashion month is over? We typically go back and do a lot of shooting. It’s so inspirational that I usually go back to San Francisco and I’ll do some test shoots and I want to try out some ideas. Usually after fashion week there’s sort of this blitz of presenting our findings.

Any other thoughts? There’s a certain personality type that just really loves being backstage. There’s so much chaos between the loud music and models running around and clothes flying and the pressure of getting the show done, that it’s almost like you’re a paramedic or something. In all this chaos you have to focus. It’s this weird fantasy world that needs so much focus.