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It’s All About Skin at NYFW

“Every photographer, designer, whatever — they never want to see foundation on skin.”

Skin seemed to be in this season at New York Fashion Week.

The “no-makeup makeup” look — which, despite its name, actually requires makeup to achieve — has been a recurring theme for the past few years at the New York shows, rising in tandem with the push to embrace individuality and a nonsingular definition of beauty. But this season, in particular, many designers and makeup artists have fully embraced the literal definition of “no makeup,” turning instead to skin care to enhance — not perfect — a model’s natural look.

Foundation and concealer at shows such as Brandon Maxwell and Monse have been used sparingly, if at all, and skin-care products are being used to both prep the skin and augment it with a makeup-like glow. While the looks this seasons were often accentuated with a more artful eye — cranberry and silver metallic lids at Jonathan Cohen and neon swipes at Self-Portrait, for instance — most started with a nearly blank canvas, which several makeup artists touted as a “modern” look.

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Brandon Maxwell RTW Fall 2020
Behind the scenes at Brandon Maxwell’s fall 2020 show. Kelly Taub/WWD

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“It’s not so abstract [as last season] — the girls look beautiful and I think that’s what I’ve seen so far. Not anything overdone — that no-makeup skin look is still [happening],” makeup artist Erin Parsons, who led the looks at Christian Siriano and Dion Lee, said. “Every photographer, designer, whatever — they never want to see foundation on skin.”

At Jonathan Cohen on Sunday, makeup artist Grace Ahn used a rosehip oil by Inika Organic on cheekbones in place of highlighter. “It just works — it’s good for the skin and it looks beautiful,” said Ahn, who said that oil can give skin a “gloss-like effect.”

Jonathan Cohen
Backstage beauty at Jonathan Cohen. Jonathan Cohen

Makeup artist Lauren Parsons described the look at Carolina Herrera as “beautiful, post-facial skin,” with mattified T-zones. “We’re just using moisturizer. There isn’t even primer on this one. We’re trying to keep it as modern as possible, in terms of nothing else is there, apart from this really, really healthy sheen,” she said.

Parsons did use a highlighter with a balm texture to give skin a sheen, but prepped the skin first by “piling on hyaluronic acid to plump out the skin.” “I don’t want to say the word ‘juicy,'” she added, though the word ultimately accurately described the effect.

Makeup at Monse involved a “tiny bit of foundation” and concealer used only to create a “fresh” skin effect, said makeup artist Luis Casco for Mary Kay. Casco replaced blush and highlighter with a nourishing oil, which he also applied, via spoolie, to models’ eyebrows for a brushed-upward, shiny-but-not-greasy effect. The overall makeup-skin-care hybrid exuded a “modern and lived-in” look, said Casco. “We didn’t want [models] to look tired, we wanted [them] to look more real and not necessarily contoured and so ‘on fleek,'” he added.

Sandy Liang RTW Fall 2020
A look from Sandy Liang’s fall 2020 show. Sophie Sahara/WWD

Renewed interest in skin care at fashion week is coming at a time when prestige makeup sales in the U.S. have significantly slowed, and the skin-care category continues to drive growth. Prestige makeup sales were flat in 2018, while skin care grew five percent, according to The NPD Group.

Skin-care sponsors at fashion shows are typically relegated to a lonely table in a less-trafficked corner of the backstage area. But this season, skin-care brands played much more visible roles. At Brandon Maxwell, the 111Skin table was a prominent attraction, with several models — many of them male — seen chilling out before the show, wearing the London-based brand’s Celestial Black Diamond Lifting and Firming sheet masks. Aesthetician Sylwia Gorzkowska prepped some of the show’s top models, include Bella Hadid, with facial massages and 111Skin Rose Gold Brightening eye masks.

At Self-Portrait, designer Han Chong decided not to do a makeup sponsor this season. Skin-care brand Skin Inc, known for its custom serums and Optimizer Voyage Tri-Light LED device, was the show’s main beauty sponsor. Models spent five to 10 minutes each with a Skin Inc aesthetician, getting skin prepped with custom LED facials. “We have to spend that time with them, sometimes more if they need a specific treatment,” said Cuit Gonzalez, vice president of marketing for Skin Inc. The skin look at Self-Portrait was finished off by a new launch from Skin Inc, a makeup-skin-care hybrid gel-to-cream serum that color-corrects redness. The serum is customizable to individual skin tones using light reflective technology.