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The Face, Too, Is the Thing

Style: Sure, the clothes are on display, but the Gucci design team also conceives the right makeup and hair to send a message about the collection.


The frenzied crowd that pushes its way into Gucci's fashion shows twice a year in Milan, Italy, anticipates much more than clothes.

Once the lights go up and the music starts, they know they'll see models who seem to have interrupted rich and possibly scandalous lives to strut the runway. The best designers excel at projecting such fantasies, and the audience at the sold-out party and Gucci fashion show to benefit Aids Project Los Angeles on June 5 will witness how hairstyling, makeup and that elusive quality called attitude forge an image far more important than the height of a heel or the length of a skirt.

It all starts with a concept, Gucci creative director Tom Ford said in a phone interview from Florence. "The kind of person you're sending down the runway says as much about the message of the season as the clothes. We know who the Gucci man and the Gucci woman are, both in real life and in terms of image. What we do now is just take them through life, the same way our customers go through life--meaning, we think about what are they doing now, where are they going? When we thought about the fall collection, we thought, 'They've been wearing eye shadow all summer, they're tired of eye shadow now, they want to wash their faces for fall and look scrubbed and clean and put on a new, slim-cut navy suit.' "

Makeup artist Dick Page designed a face for fall that he describes as austere and minimal, a look dictated by the strong shoulders and strict lines of the collection. "The clothes were so hard and had such an edge that if the makeup were hard, the whole thing would have looked like 'Dynasty,' " Ford said. When makeup was tested the day before the show in Milan last March, Page agreed. "Red lipstick would have been wrong. The clothes were quite clean and bare and I wanted to retain that aspect."

He used a light foundation, as close to each model's natural skin tone as possible, and applied it "just where necessary--not all over like a mask." Eyebrows were groomed and lashes curled, but no traditional eye makeup was added. He emphasized the eye by applying a matte brown lipstick (Fortune by Poppy, available at Barneys New York) on the lips and very high on the cheekbones, very close to the eye. "I wanted to make an impact by leaving spaces. Sometimes the space you leave is more important than what's filled in."

Paris-based makeup artist Linda Cantello handled the makeup design of previous Gucci shows, and she credits the drive to perpetuate the human species as inspiration. "We've had a different look for each collection, but the main thing that has always resounded was sex. We liked the woman to look slightly disheveled, to look like she's been around the block a bit, in the best possible way."

Cantello's focus was the eye, shadowed in gold some seasons or in blackish-brown for a more Gothic look. "When the clothes were less structured, the fabrics more fluid, the makeup could be stronger, so we wanted the girls to look very beautiful and gleamy and polished," Cantello said.

Cheekbones were burnished with creamy, glittering copper blush layered over apricot cream blush. "You should only shine on the places where it looks pretty to shine--on the cheekbones, the brow bone, down the center of the nose and the center of the forehead. When you start to get shiny above the upper lip or on the chin or around the nostril, that's when it gets yucky. I think a lot of people make the mistake of being heavy-handed with shine. If you do that, you look ill."

To create a balance with intensely shadowed eyes, Cantello left lips natural. Instead of lipstick she filled in lips with a soft, nude pencil and covered them with Kiehl's Lip Gloss.

Hairstylist Orlando Pita used thickening lotion in the models' hair, blow-dried it, and relied on his fingers, rather than a comb, to fashion French twists that deliberately looked less than perfect. The effect on long- and short-haired models was the same--a small, neat head, but not so neat that straight wisps didn't escape, softening the severe style.

The male models' hair was also slicked back off their faces. "I usually hate doing makeup for men, but I liked doing the Gucci guy because it was all part of that kind of decadent mood we were working for," Cantello said. "It had a mood. It wasn't just about making a guy look pretty."

Ford likes the subtle effect makeup has on men on the runway. "It can make a guy look a little otherworldly. You don't necessarily know that he's wearing eye shadow, but you notice that something about him looks a little manipulated. We all manipulate our shapes, the perception of us that other people have. Makeup is another level of manipulation, which is what fashion is."

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