Op-Ed: “I felt like my hands had been cut off, creatively”

FashioNZ guest beauty editor Kiekie Stanners reflects on 10 years of keying makeup for NZFW, and her thoughts ahead of this week’s homecoming

I’ve had the privilege of directing makeup looks at many international fashion weeks, experiencing the beauty of a show from what I consider the best seat in the house – backstage, where all the chaos and yelling and behind-the-scenes drama comes together in service of this beautiful moment that the audience sees.

There’s just something magic about a fashion show. It’s not the high-pressure makeup application, or even the clothes, it’s the full sensory experience that, when it doesn’t come together and hit the mark, we know we haven’t done our job properly. The whole point of art is to make you feel something, right? In the case of a fashion show, you then get to decide whether to purchase that outfit, or that lipstick, as a means of returning to and enjoying that little moment of escapism again and again.

Kiekie Stanner's makeup artistry for NZFW

I’ve worked at London Fashion Week, painting models’ faces with our hands at Gareth Pugh; a typical London ’80s punk soundtrack blasting backstage to match the raw, grungy makeup application. I’ve worked Milan Fashion Week for Roberto Cavalli, where on top of the incessant yelling in Italian and all the pushing and drama, the attention to detail was so extreme that the models’ makeup was critiqued on the runway, and demanded to be fixed. It was so, passionately Italian, and I loved it.

Then there’s the beauty of Paris Fashion Week, always so refined and chic. Here you learn the art of a Parisian face massage to ensure some of the biggest models on the circuit want to sit in your makeup chair. And also that a Rick Owens beauty trial pre-show can last up to eight hours to ensure the entire team is happy.

Kiekie Stanner's makeup looks for NZFW

When the first whispers of a pandemic came through in February 2020, I had to cancel my flights to Milan and Paris. Talk of a virus meant that year’s show circuit was shutting down, and I wasn’t allowed to travel. I was disappointed that I couldn’t attend my yearly highlight, but I was confident that we’d all be back in September. When COVID continued on, I felt like my hands had been cut off creatively. Watching the international show circuit start up again while I was still sitting at the bottom of the world in a neverending lockdown was like watching all your friends get to hang out at the coolest party ever, and you’re not invited.

I used this downtime to reassess. It was always my grand plan to take as much inspiration as I could from my international fashion week experiences, and inject these ideas into our local industry. The standard of makeup execution, how to direct and lead a team backstage and how to conceptualise a beauty look that tells a story alongside the hairstyling, soundtrack and show production…all with the added creative nuance that Aotearoa supplies in spades. I wanted our shows to stand up internationally, and be instantly recognisable as our work.

Red lips as part of Kiekie Stanner's makeup artistry for NZFW

In many recent fashion weeks overseas, the makeup direction has been a somewhat contradictory mix of sombre and mystical. I’m seeing either a lot of festival-inspired, crystal-gazing looks involving metallic gold, Swarovski gems and sparkles, and at the other end of the spectrum, razor-sharp eye liner, gothic graphic shapes and kohl-rimmed eyes to suggest a slightly aggressive mood. Social conditions will directly inspire fashion to create from. It’s not a surprise that post-pandemic, beauty isn’t all romantic roses and peachy hues.

I’m hoping to be transported somewhere closer to the old romance at NZFW 2023. I want to see immaculate artistry from skin, makeup and hair specialists that takes clear inspiration from a mood, a garment, or a muse. Why get into fashion if you’re not passionate about creativity?  And nothing turns me off more than hair and makeup that doesn’t deliver and ultimately lets down a show.

Kiekie Stanner's makeup artistry for NZFW in 2019

The craft of creating a hair and makeup design for runway is a privilege, and the beauty imagery that comes through post-show is like the cherry on the top – that final, little storytelling set piece that should match the level of perfection of the collection presented. Especially in this age of hi-res imagery that will live forever online, every foundation match, highlight, gloss, and badly-applied lip is seen and photographed. A message to young artists, and those getting back in the game – let’s produce work we’re proud of this week.

In between keying makeup for Zambesi (an offer I couldn’t refuse), I’ll be backstage capturing the best of beauty for FashioNZ. Designers and makeup artists, you know I just adore a look. Give me details! Give me nuance! Give me makeup that has been thought about long and hard, and that will be talked about as much as the clothes are. I’m so ready to be excited by our homegrown beauty talent, again.

Read Kiekie’s daily beauty round-ups, right here at Fashionz.co.nz.