Fashion month is in full swing, and armies of professional makeup artists are backstage at fashion shows in the world’s epicenters of style, New York, Milan, Paris, and London. In that regard, nothing about the Spring/Summer 2020 shows is very different than the last 60 years or so. What is different, though, is the impact those artists and their artistry have on the beauty industry. It’s wildly diminished.
Until the advent of social media about 10 years ago, the artists who created magic backstage at fashion weeks around the world informed overall beauty trends and what shades of lipstick, eyeshadow, and even nail polish consumers were offered by brands thereafter. They were household names, Bobbi Brown, François Nars, Sonia Kashuk. They determined what was fashionable in beauty and how we would do our makeup, as the designers they collaborated with determined what we would wear for the next year. They launched their own makeup brands, and those brands are still some of the most loved today, whether or not Gen Z knows that they were founded by actual human makeup artists around the time those Gen Zers were born.
Nonetheless, their influence has been diminished. Some of us still worship makeup artists who have household names (Pat McGrath, Charlotte Tilbury, Gucci Westman), and they too have their own successful makeup brands. However, they may or may not be working backstage at fashion weeks any longer, and they certainly aren’t determining what the “it look” will be for the next season because the “it look” died when social media was born.
It’s basically undisputed that what was beautiful in the 1960s was a cat eye and red lipstick, the 70s called for less eyeliner and free flowing locks, the 1980s was all glam and glitter. We’ve had a prescribed image of beauty forever, at least we did until recently.
When YouTube launched in 2008, regular girls (not models that fit the prescribed definition of beauty as defined by glossy magazines) started dropping videos of themselves putting on makeup. No training, no rules, “imperfections” in plain sight. And then boys started doing it too. The world changed. Glossy magazines were still telling us that you had to wear either a bold eye or a bold lip but not both at the same time. People stopped taking advice from once-monthly paper media with pictures of “perfection” and started looking to real people on social media for advice that was more relevant to them by people who actually looked like them.
Now it’s 2019 and there is no “it look” or beauty stereotype. Most girls, boys, genderfluid and/or nonconforming individuals and everyone else who loves makeup can name more YouTubers and Instagram celebrities than traditional makeup artists, though there is space for all. Beauty brands sort of pay attention to what’s happening backstage at fashion week, though backstage is now reflecting rather than dictating street style. Beauty brands are using real people, not models, who come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and genders on their social media channels and in their marketing campaigns because they’ve figured out that including everyone is better for business and makes for much more interesting imagery. For the first time, it’s not only actually ok to be yourself, it’s celebrated.
So, thank you to the artists who came before us and created magic both backstage and for sale. Thank you to the artists who continue to carry that torch and create great products. We still love you. But also, thank you for making space for, collaborating with, and celebrating the next generation of artists who are creating their own magic. We’re all better off for it.
Photo by Gio Staianoᐧ
Nicole Collins is a native Angeleno and beauty industry executive with 15 years’ experience writing about, coveting, and loving beauty. She's an expert in brand building and social media strategy. After putting several indie beauty brands on the map, Nicole founded the Brand Partnerships team at ipsy, the world's largest beauty sample subscription company. She now advises and consults for the beauty industry's most innovative start-up companies seeking to disrupt and recreate the space. She has bachelors degrees in International Relations and Broadcast Journalism from the University of Southern California and a master's degree in Political Science from American University.