Out on the runway, models march serenely, showcasing designers' looks, but backstage a team of hair and makeup artists have just barely finished curling, teasing, lipsticking, and eyelining the models. And they'll do it all again when the models return for a quick change.
"Several models are walking in multiple shows, so they're coming off the runway, and we've got a team of people waiting for them. You have two minutes to change their clothes, their accessories, their hair, their makeup, and get them back in line for the next show," says Deidre Outlaw, one of Charleston Fashion Week's makeup artists. "That's when everyone's adrenaline is pumping — the music is going. You've got someone to help with the clothes, hair, and makeup, and we're all just standing there. As soon as someone runs off, the sheet goes up. You're pulling clothes off, but you have to be really careful because you can't get any makeup on the clothes."
And just because these quick changes — as well as the slightly more relaxed regular prep time the team has for the first runway shows — go off well, doesn't mean there aren't mishaps or drama backstage. They just don't involve hair and makeup.
"We've had models who have fainted — it's hot back there. The air is polluted from all of the hairsprays and pollutants that are going on. And we've had a little fire. Everyone was worried that there was a fire going on. I still don't know what it was," says makeup artist Lisa Burson.
Since the majority of models are female, when the male models appear, the team can get a little boy crazy. "Every year, we have to reel everyone in because they get with the male models and they tend to want to paint a masterpiece on them. Five minutes later, they're still painting and in a wonderful conversation," she says. "Last year, Afriyie [Poku] was the winner, and he had the most beautiful set of male models he selected. They were kind of breathtaking — they were lovely. They [the handlers] were like 'Touch-up team?' and everyone was like 'Got it, got it.'"
The crew of hairstylists and makeup artists can laugh about the boy dreaming and occasional momemnts of mayhem because they rely on each other, trust their counterparts, their team. It's a bond that's formed during the months of preparation the hair and makeup team goes through leading up to Charleston Fashion Week. There's the interview process, which includes an online application and then a live trial in which candidates are interviewed and create two different looks. Once the lucky ones are selected, there's an all-day training session where the team — 19 hairstylists and 17 makeup artists — practice specific CFW looks. (There's also an additional 16 members who work as assistants and on the body makeup team.)
Hairstylist Mallory Shymanski explains, "When you're backstage working with the models [and] assistants, it's an army of people. It's a feeling you can't describe."
And whether you think of it as a team or a family, like hairstylist and braider extraordinare Cierra Brown believes it is, everyone pulls through in their own way. "You've got the mom and the dad — well, it's not really a dad, the brothers — but you have those people who have been in the industry for much longer, who bring their momma bear to it. It just comes together," she says.
And if you were expecting backstage drama or mishaps, don't. The fashion industry may be catty, but the people involved in CFW aren't.
"You can't be all 'mine looks the best,'" hairstylist Bailey Bial says. "Everyone is so helpful, like 'Do you need this?' or 'Can I hold this?' No divas, that would not be tolerated. We always says that there's no reason to compete anymore. You've made it."
The camaraderie — and model gazing — may keep these beauty professionals entertained, but the real reason these ladies come back year after year is for the education. They get to try new looks that they wouldn't be able to do in their daily jobs, be it purple eyebrows or bell-shaped, structured hair.
"This gives us the opportunity to do something we would normally never do. Day in, day out, we don't get to do different stuff or wild stuff. And you learn so much," says Shymanski. "Even if they're just two years out of school, and I've been doing hair for 10 years, you always learn something new."
And it's contagious. "Even the models get excited to learn about different braids, different ways to do their hair," Shymanski adds.