Designers Are Finally Okay With You Being Yourself

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Photo: Getty Images; Imaxtree

A surprising new word keeps recurring in backstage beauty interviews. It’s not bare, fresh, healthy, sweaty, or nothing — although those words have been repeated often. It has nothing to do with red lipstick, wet hair, or lip balm, and it's not tied to any product. It might not even be a real trend, although it’s popped up at shows ranging from Alexander Wang to Opening Ceremony to Oscar de la Renta.

The word is individual: a concept that seems to go against every designer’s vision and everything we’ve seen in runway beauty these past few seasons. Typically, runway beauty works like this: A designer, say, Dolce & Gabbana, will assemble a cast of models to embody a uniform vision and tell a story for that season's clothes, one that's consistent down to the seams of the clothes and the model's fingernails. If the theme is “Belle du Jour” (which happens at least once a season in every city), every model — regardless of whether it suits her or not — must get a '60s Catherine Deneuve–style teased ponytail and soft, pink lip.

But in assembling that cast of uniform models, diversity and uniqueness become a problem. At Rodarte, makeup artist James Kaliardos for NARS Cosmetics explained, “So many designers come to us wanting to create these armies of girls and it’s very difficult to do that. Everyone is different. You can’t make a black girl’s hair look like a blonde girl’s — and if you want that army, you have to get rid of the black girl. It’s a system where the black girl can’t get in and that’s insane.” In other words, diversity falls by the wayside. And if the theme is “rebellious beauty,” how rebellious is it if every model gets the same amount of angry black eyeliner?

Individual beauty at Creatures of the Wind. Photo: Getty Images

But this season’s runway beauty has been more about the individual than the herd. It started first at Creatures of the Wind, where lead makeup artist Aaron de Mey for NARS Cosmetics explained that the makeup, which was a mishmash of cat eyes, gold glitter, silver glitter, and either nude or red lipstick, “was individualized.” Backstage at Alexander Wang, Diane Kendal for NARS Cosmetics simply said of the mostly moisturizer makeup that “Alexander wanted the girls to look like themselves.” At Opening Ceremony, lead hairstylist Anthony Turner for Bumble and Bumble cited individuality as the main vision. “All the girls have different haircuts and texture. It’s about not turning the girls into generic robots. Humberto [Leon] said, 'I want the girls to feel free and light and easy and like themselves.’”

Individuals at Opening Ceremony. Photo: Ivan Lattuada/Imaxtree

Guido Palau, Redken’s creative consultant, who gave ten or so girls “masculine” haircuts at Alexander Wang, explained why the haircuts were different. “We’re at a time in fashion where we’ve got a lot of different faces of beauty. There’s not one singular idea of beauty." Later, in the conservative, rarefied atmosphere at Oscar de la Renta, where a loose ribbon-tied low pony was the predominant look, Palau explained that short-haired girls wouldn’t get extensions to make them conform. “Even at Oscar, where the clothes have this quite elevated idea, people have gotten over the idea that every single girl has to look the same.” Last night at Proenza Schouler, some models were given low, tight braids but those with short hair were encouraged to embrace their natural style, as seen above. "The designers liked this idea of seeing braid, braid, and then a girl looking natural," explained Turner. 

It’s a little unclear why individuality is a recurring theme this season. Perhaps it's partially inspired by last season’s varying beauty looks at Céline. Maybe it’s a natural reflection of this New York Fashion Week’s grasping toward deeper meaning. Or it could be runway beauty’s reflection on real-life beauty — a world outside of the shows where diversity means something more than putting two models of color in a designer runway cast.

We’ll still have to wait until tomorrow to see if the theme extends to Marc Jacobs and Paris and Milan. But as beauty editors and beauty lovers try to find trends in this season’s runway beauty, Turner has a bit of advice: “Fashion is a reflection upon the times. Maybe it’s a time to say, ‘It doesn’t matter who you are. You can be whoever you want to be and that’s okay.' It’s a positive message to get across and I think it’s right. Why not?"