Beauty Maximalism Is in Full Swing: 10 Trends Straight From Backstage at NYFW

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This season at New York Fashion Week, there was one thing everyone wanted to talk about: New York is back. Though there have been a few seasons since the COVID-19 shutdown, everyone backstage and front of house seemed to be in agreement that this season felt like the first true post-COVID Fashion Week. The parties roared back in full force, the shows were full of jubilant energy, and the beauty…well, it was the best we’ve seen in years.

The beauty at fashion week always runs the risk of being boring. It makes sense—paring down beauty to make the clothes the focus is an age-old tactic. If more maximalist beauty is done right, however, it’s able to make the clothing line come to life in a new, more interesting way.

This season, many designers were perfect examples of this. At Dauphinette, embellished braids paired with bright makeup were the perfect counterpart to a whimsical line. At Sandy Liang, sea siren makeup and hair gave the whole collection a more ethereal overall vibe. At Christian Siriano, ribbon-corseted buns completed a Degas-inspired show. These designers weren’t the only ones giving us a masterclass in playing with beauty—smart, maximal beauty was an overarching theme coursing through the week. Keep reading for our favorite emerging trends that we saw straight from backstage at New York Fashion Week this year.

In case you thought it was just a fleeting TikTok trend, let us assure you—mermaidcore is here to stay. “Wet” looks are nothing new on the runways, but this season’s felt a bit more playful and imaginative than usual, taking inspiration from sea sirens beyond just wet-looking hair.

This was perhaps the most noticeable at Sandy Liang, where the Hans Christian Andersen quote “But a mermaid has no tears, and therefore suffers so much more” was on the designer’s mood board. Models sported crystal “barnacles” on their skin, wore sleek, out-from-the-ocean side parts, and tucked flowers behind their ears (something we can imagine Ariel might do).

At Luar and Jason Wu, stylists played with hair. Luar opted for sculptural, wet-looking updos, while Jason Wu went for swirled, damp-looking strands. “I wanted to create a look that felt like the models just emerged from a shipwreck,” says Celebrity Hair Artist, Jimmy Paul with Tresemmé for Jason Wu.

This season, it seemed like everyone had the same thought—why not treat skin, hair, and nails as decorating space? From the aforementioned crystal “barnacles” at Sandy Liang and to the hair ribbons at Christian Siriano, embellishments were everywhere.

We also saw bits and bobs put to good use at Dauphinette, where stylists used sculptural braids like Christmas trees. Oribe Principal Artist of Global Content, Mandee Tauber, wanted the hair to look both heavenly and dystopian all at once. She achieved this by sculpting braids but keeping the ends rough and embellishing with pearls and gems but also adding bizarre items like spoons.

At the Blonds, nails got the decorative treatment. “We created an impactful crystal-forward and chrome nail to create the perfect glam accessory to compliment the creative fantasy world that was created by the Blonds,” said celebrity nail artist Juan Alvear with Kiss nails.

Move over, latte makeup—chocolate tones are taking center stage. While latte makeup is a bit more muted, cocoa tones show that brown makeup isn’t just flattering, it can also be cool. At Retrofête, chocolate was the inspiration, with rich brown mascara, bronzer, eyeshadows, and lips. “We partnered with Retrofête to create a look that’s a chocolate love story,” said Elyse Reneau, the Executive Director of Global Beauty at Too Faced.

Jason Wu also crafted looks using cocoa shades, but a bit less overtly. Diane Kendal, the lead makeup artist, explained that she opted for “a sultry, sculpted gaze paired with understated hues.”

These brown hues weren’t limited to makeup. At Khaite and Phillip Lim, models found their fingernails dipped in chocolate, too.

Hair ribbons, a trend we started seeing more and more following Sandy Liang’s FW23 show, were everywhere this season. They were laced like corsets through braids at Christian Siriano, standing in for hair extensions at Collina Strada, and tied neatly in bows at Alice + Olivia.

At Christian Siriano, Lacy Redway, Unilever Stylist and Celebrity Hair Artist, says she was inspired by the clothes. “The moment I saw the softness of the color tones, the richness of the fabrication, and the beautiful layering of the tulle details of the gowns in Christian’s studio, I knew to best support the looks I had to keep the hair feeling soft with clean girl aesthetic but put together like you would expect to see a ballerina fairy who twirls down the runway.”

For the past few years, sleek, “clean girl” buns have been everywhere. Popularized by celebs like Hailey Bieber and Sofia Richie, these buns allow nary a strand to fall out of place. This season, however, the runways took a sharp turn from the slick styles we’re used to.

At Altuzarra, international hairstylist Jawara chose to pare the hair all the way down. “One of the models walked in for her fitting, and she just had a really chic, cute little chignon but it wasn’t super done,” he told Who What Wear backstage. “We kind of took that and made that the inspiration.”

Phillip Lim and Khaite opted for similar vibes. “This collection is very chic, so I wanted to create a style that complimented the vibe of the clothes with a natural downtown feel,” said Guido Palau, Celebrity Hair Artist with Khaite.

You haven’t seen the last of bright punches of color in makeup. While hair maximalism took precedence over makeup, pops of vibrant shades still had their day in the sun. This season, makeup artists played with vibrant shades by concentrating them on one area of the face and keeping the rest neutral.

At Melk, two-toned, neon pastel lips added shock value to the entire look, while other brands like the Blonds and Manseur Gavriel took a more wearable approach with punchy swipes of color on the eye.

In fashion, we’ve seen a shift toward ‘90s minimalism in the past year. Think references to ‘90s Prada, sleek workwear silhouettes, and easy slip dresses. It makes sense that this late-century minimalism would also begin to bleed into beauty.

We mostly saw this translated in hair, like at Staud (where models sported side-swept, simple styles) and Tibi (where hair was undone, effortless, and pushed back with a headband). “It’s really that carefree ‘90s hair,” lead stylist Frank Rizzieri told Who What Wear backstage at Tibi.

It seems that ‘90s makeup may also be beginning its comeback. At Sixdo, makeup artist Hung Vanngo created a softly sculpted, matte makeup look evocative of the era to complement the line.

Are long nails finally on their way out? According to the runways (and recent celebrity manicures), the answer might just be yes. Short, square-shaped nails are becoming more and more prevalent.

At Helmut Lang and Proenza Schouler, Jin Soon Choi made short nails look effortlessly chic. “We respect [the models’] lengths, so we’re not going to cut anything,” she told Who What Wear backstage. “But the majority of the models have short nails.” Clearly, short nails were all over the runways, also showing up at Khaite, Phillip Lim, and Tory Burch.

Monochrome makeup is one of the easiest ways to look polished in a flash. This season, the runways showed us that there are tons of different ways to play with a single color—and none of them are boring.

At Tibi, shades of maroon acted as a complement to the clothing. “The collection has a lot of beautiful cool colors, and Amy [Smilovic] wanted to make it fun and add a little bit of warmth to balance it out,” Cassandra Garcia, Bobbi Brown Global Pro Artist, told Who What Wear Backstage.

Prabal Gurung played with flecks of gold for an ethereal look, while Loveshack Fancy used a dose of pink to inject even more femininity and innocence into their already delicate clothing. “[I did] that classic, beautiful pink flush on the cheek. The placement of it, nice and high on the apple, it’s giving us this really pretty, soft, innocent flush to the cheek,” Amy Conway, Bobbi Brown Global Pro Artist, told Who What Wear backstage. She finished the look with glossy pink lips and gossamer pink shimmers on the eyes.

During fashion week, models often seem otherworldly. This year, designers tapped into that idea by infusing their models with a hefty dose of heavy metal. Chrome took centerstage in many beauty looks, from coffin-shaped silver nails at LaPointe to chrome face dustings at Dion Lee and Frederick Anderson.

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