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What Fashion Week Is Like for a Makeup Artist

Because the models don't put the makeup on themselves.

While it's often the designers, models and street style stars that get the lion's share of the limelight during fashion week, there's an entire industry of people who work tirelessly to put together the shows every season. In a series of short profiles, we'll shine the spotlight on those behind-the-scenes talents.

Beauty trends, like fashion trends, often start on the runway. Designers have some say in the makeup and hair that appears in their shows, but the credit is mostly due to the masterminds who work backstage to get all the models properly made up before they go in front of the camera. Uzo, international lead makeup stylist for Nars, tells us what it takes to get the look right, from meeting a designer's vision to keeping cool backstage.

When do you start prepping for fashion week?

Prep work for me typically starts in August with a brief conversation with the designer to get a feel for what’s in his/her head and find out what the inspiration is behind the upcoming collection, color themes, beauty references, etc. I may do additional research on beauty references e.g. makeup trends in the 1920s for an art deco-inspired collection.

What does fashion week prep look like for you? 

Fashion Week prep is all about gearing up the makeup kits. My main makeup kit is huge and contains every single Nars eyeshadow, blush and lip products known to man! It must be fully stocked and fully organized by color categories: nudes, bold colors, dark colors and shimmers. Brushes need to be checked, skincare items replenished. I also have a couple of mini-kits that are customized for the specific shows. When meeting with the designers to create the look, I carry the main kit and I’m prepared for anything from the originally planned look to a completely different makeup idea. I live in Los Angeles, so I have the additional task of making sure all the foundations are leak-proof and pressed powders, eyeshadows and blushes are packed tightly so they don’t get broken during the flight to NYC.

When do you start meeting with the designers and getting the products together?

I usually meet with the designers at their showroom, a few days before the show, where we collaborate on the beauty look. Occasionally, the meeting will be done during a model casting or fitting.

How do those meetings typically work?

It’s a collaborative process, a meeting of the minds; the designer tells me the story, shows me swatches of fabrics or actual pieces from the collection and in some cases, the stylist may also be present, and we all may peruse images torn from magazines or look through books for a certain beauty reference before I start makeup on the model booked for the test.

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What do you think people misunderstand about your job?

People who do not work in the fashion industry think it is an easy, glamorous and exciting job working with models and designers. It is an amazing experience but they have no idea how fast-paced and nerve-wracking things can get behind the scenes. It could be a show with 40 models and a limited number of artists and limited amount of time. Fashion shows not only require advanced artistry skills but the ability to do flawless makeup in a short period of time and sometimes under the most stressful situations.

What does a "typical" day during fashion week look like for you?

Typical day starts with my assistant arriving at my hotel and checking to make sure we have the right makeup kits. (Organizing the cosmetics, brushes and supplies should be completed the night before). We arrive backstage at the fashion show venue usually one half hour before actual call-time to set up my station. Then, we have a last minute debriefing with the designer or designer’s PR staff to confirm number of models and amount of time allocated for makeup. If I’m lucky, I have a moment to get a quick bite to eat from catering backstage before the rest of team arrives. Once they arrive, I start the makeup with a demo on a model. Throughout this process, the Nars PR staff helps me navigate through the numerous backstage interviews and press with beauty editors and bloggers. Once the makeup on models is completed, I check for any last minute touch-ups before they hit the runway, give the team the go-ahead to break down their stations and thank them for an incredible job. My assistant and I then break down my station and try as much as possible to put everything back in an organized manner. Then we're on to the next show or back to the hotel!

What is the worst thing that can happen to you during fashion week? 

Losing my cool backstage is the worst thing that can happen. (I remember many years ago at a high-profile show where the artists were not correctly blending the lip pigments for a complicated lip look, and the lead artist was so calm and patient, he didn’t skip a beat, but gently helped everyone to get it right. I stored that moment in my memory forever.) Everyone is super-charged and running on adrenaline. Models may be late, artists may not be executing the look accurately, hairstylists may accidentally smudge carefully applied makeup, but someone has to remain calm and cool in the midst of all that chaos.

What could potentially create an emergency for you?

My ultimate and most dreaded emergency is the designer changing the beauty look backstage at the last minute.

When will you officially be "done" with fashion week?

I consider myself officially "done" with Fashion Week when I am boarding my flight back home to Los Angeles.