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Behind the scenes
Milwaukee hair designers and makeup artists work hard at NY Fashion Week

Photos by Matt Haas and Alli Heine

May 2015


For most of Milwaukeeís fashion-forward crowd, the dream of attending New York Fashion Week is but a reverie lived vicariously through Instagram photos, designer documentaries and magazine spreads. But for a few of the cityís select hair designers and makeup artists, the dream ó the designers, the clothes, the music, the models, the chaos ó is delectably real.

Before Adrienne Hauck worked for Neroli Salon & Spa, she would visit friends in New York, only to find herself a bystander outside Bryant Park or Lincoln Center, watching the flagship event unfold before her. Fast-forward to last fall, when Hauck not only got the opportunity to attend fashion week but was also one of its makeup artists.

Working shows for such high-profile designers such as Marlon Gobel and the eclectic Anna Francesca was a dream come true, says Hauck.

"When I was there, I just thought, ĎHow many times did I stand outside and say I wanted to go in there?í" she adds. "It was a long time coming."

As an Aveda salon, Neroli hair designers and makeup artists like Hauck have the opportunity to work New York Fashion Week through its corporate program. Following an application process, the hair designers and makeup artists fly to New York City to participate in a workshop that covers everything from runway makeup and hair styling, to working with designers and models, to handling the backstage bedlam. Once the course is completed, theyíre thrown into the fashion trenches just a week or two later.

While most of these people regularly work local runways and photo shoots, they say they were in awe of the production that went into creating fashion weekís designs and shows.

"When we went to the bigger houses and you saw the designs, they are bar-none amazing, truly pieces of art," says Lindsey "Dez" DesPlaines, a Neroli hair designer. "I think just how enamoring that was, the grandeur of the models and the clothes and all of that."

Yet, working the shows isnít always a walk in the park. The team say that while attending fashion week sounds glamorous, itís actually a lot of work. Besides lugging a 25-pound stylist kit around town and navigating the cityís sometimes unreliable and confusing transportation system, they are often running from show to show to show, sometimes to locations that donít even have a valid address.

"The main thing that surprised me was that nobody knew where the shows were," Hauck laughs. "Theyíre in abandoned warehouses, because itís Ďpost-modern,í or itís a couple floors up. There are shows everywhere from Lincoln Center, to Brooklyn up to the Upper West Side."

And that can get stressful, especially when a show gets moved at the last minute or the designer isnít "ready." Then itís back to hailing a cab or running to the subway to hightail it to the next runway.

"Fashion week is really awesome, but itís also really intense," says Josef Stempinski, a Neroli hair stylist whoís worked shows for Betsy Johnson, Diane Von FŁrstenberg and Prada. "You rush to get (to the show), you get there, then you wait, then the models show up five minutes before the show."

You never know exactly what youíre walking into, he says. At one show, Stempinksi found himself wrapping hair into í70s chignons, and at the next, he was wrapping hair weave around "cages" to create horns atop the modelsí heads.

"You just have to be really disciplined in your skill set," he says. "Itís almost like an assembly line."

Contrary to what many believe, the cosmetologists receive their looks shortly before show time ó sometimes in the form of a look guide, but more often than not, from a lead stylist or designer who creates the look on-site as a sample for the group to mimic once the models arrive.

For Alli Heine, a Neroli hair designer and makeup artist who will be completing her fifth season this September, itís all part of the fun.

"Sometimes backstage can get crazy. A model shows up, and she just walks in, wearing the totally wrong makeup from the show she just came from, and then she has to get ready," Heine says. "So youíre crawling on knees just trying to get lotion on the legs, and theyíre trying to walk in the line-up. Or (if their hair is getting done) the girls are in folding chairs and youíre bringing the makeup to them. So youíre kneeling in front of the models. But we get it done."

The time crunch, not to mention working in an esteemed setting with designers, models and other artists, can feel intimidating at times, says DesPlaines.

"Youíre definitely meeting some strong personality-type people," she says. "But Iíve had a hard time with models here in Milwaukee, too, so the polish of being Ďa modelí has worn off on me. Basically, everybody is there to get themselves on the map."

"If you are really nice to the models ó and sanitary ó they are usually nice," Heine adds with all seriousness. "Luckily, Iíve never had any models be mean to me!"

As with most creative environments, Heine says designers are known to change their minds about looks at the last minute, and models are known to have meltdowns. The key is to roll with the punches and put on a successful show.

"The craft work is in the creativity," DesPlaines says. "Sometimes you only have five minutes to put together the look. Itís kind of crazy. But Iím here to serve. You have to remember why you are there."

Being at the cross-center of the fashion industry is an experience that canít be replicated anywhere else. Not only does it inspire people working in hair and makeup, it also gives them a head start on trends that will soon make their way to the Midwest. The group says attending fashion week is a direct benefit to their Milwaukee clientele.

"For me personally, itís really just my opportunity to get inspired," DesPlaines says. "Being a stylist in Milwaukee, itís important to know whatís happening from a trend perspective ó to be truly connected. And itís fun to get the dish."

Itís also fun to see years of hard work blossom into something beautiful. For Heine, it was the moment she flipped through an issue of Marie Claire to see a model sheís worked with before, or when her mom saw her runway work in an online TV news clip. She was busy doing touch-ups just beyond the runway door, she says.

"There will be moments when you look around, and you see the long white runway, the white chairs, and youíre like, ĎWhoa, Iím actually here,í" she says. "Itís so wild."



This story ran in the May 2015 issue of: