If you're still thinking about Lupita Nyong’o's campy ensemble at the 2019 Met Gala or drooling over Beyoncé's golden goddess look at the 2017 Grammys, you're not the only one. These ladies, among a long list of others (Zendaya, Normani, Lizzo, Rihanna — and that's just a few), are bringing some of the most exciting beauty moments to the red carpet right now.
As representation for Black women in Hollywood has expanded over the past decade, their glam teams have followed suit, continuously dreaming up new, authentic ways for them to present themselves on the red carpet. They paint their clients' faces with bold pigments that showcase the richness of their deep complexions. They style hair in braids informed by African traditions. And all help explore definitions of self-expression and glamour.
Hairstylists like Vernon François and Lacy Redway show the world unapologetic ways to wear kinks, coils, curls, and locs in a society where racist stereotypes still dictate what "good hair" means. "One of my favorite things is having the platform to showcase how versatile Afro hair is," François tells ishonest.
About a decade ago, the same couldn't be said about the styles going down the red carpet. Redway recalls seeing waves over and over again. "Beautiful, soft waves, romantic waves, any kind of wave," she says. "Waves were the thing."
"One of my favorite things is having the platform to showcase how versatile afro hair is."
Over the past five years, though, more and more celebrities have been embracing and showing off their natural, beautifully kinky textures on the red carpet, redefining what "Hollywood hair" is, Redway notes.
Collaboration with and willingness from the talent are key here. "We can't do these things on our own," Redway says. "[Our clients are] also ready to see more diverse hairstyles on the red carpet, and they've been willing to be the champion for that."
Together, hairstylists and celebrities showcase an "exciting variety of height, texture, sculpting, and volume," François says. Color and length are other ways to play with hair on the red carpet, too, Redway adds.
The makeup world has shifted toward pride and inclusivity, too. Artists have more skin tone-flattering products to add to their kits than they did when the likes of Sheika Daley started in the industry. "Twenty years ago, there were only a few brands that truly carried an array of colors that really fit most women of color," she says. "Now, you have an abundance of brands making sure their shades are inclusive."
By extension, Porshe Cooper is seeing a shift toward more unconventional makeup looks. "Classic, timeless makeup will always rule the carpet, but I have noticed an exponential amount of Black women taking major glam chances on the red carpet," she says before listing off graphic liner, bold lip colors, halo blush, and gem-colored smoky eyes as some of the styles she's been seeing a lot of lately.
As we move forward, François hopes every hairstylist in the industry is trained to care for and style all hair types. "Kinky, coily, and curly textures shouldn't be a specialist subject or an optional add-on," he says. "The emotional and physical damage can be devastating when a hairstylist doesn't know how to handle a particular hair texture." The same could be said about makeup — all makeup artists should be prepared to work with the full spectrum of skin tones.
"People look up to me to represent them in the best way possible."
Sir John also brings up an amazing point about representations of Black beauty at awards shows: "The red carpet is only going to reflect who is nominated for those awards," he says. "Looking at this year alone, at the Golden Globes, SAGS, Oscars, I think it's making sure we are nominating everyone. We can only do as much as the girls who are nominated, and we need to make sure the representation is as multicultural as possible."
Redway seconds this, adding that we need more examples to continue inspiring others to experiment. "The few people at the beginning that took the risk have allowed other women to feel brave enough to explore and do more fun, exciting things because they've seen other women that have done such a great job at it," she explains.
With all this context, it's time to take a closer look at the aforementioned key players in the beauty industry and how their aesthetics are influencing how we see Black red carpet beauty today.
Years in the industry: "I’ve been a makeup artist for 19 years and [have been focusing on] serious red carpet events for a decade," he says.
Notable clients: Beyoncé, Kat Graham, Joan Smalls
Aesthetic: "I'm a beauty maximalist, but also, I'm such a minimalist when it comes to skin," he explains. (In case you were wondering, his favorite foundation at the moment has been the long-lasting, lightweight L’Oréal Paris Infallible Fresh Wear Foundation. That being said, statement eyes have set the stage for the backdrop of my career to some of my favorite looks at Superbowl, Coachella, and more."
Favorite look: "I love all of the looks when Beyoncé was pregnant, so I can't even pick one favorite," he admits. "I also love all of the time I've spent with Joan Smalls. We’ve done so much, tried so much, and have had so much fun. We're like the Batman and Robin of beauty."
Years in the industry: "I've been working with hair since I was 14 years old and have been doing hair for red carpet events since my late teens," he recalls. "I got the opportunity to style the hair of a well-known person in London; they recommended me to others; I won my first award for styling hair when I was 17, and things snowballed from there."
Notable clients: Lupita Nyong'o, Amandla Stenberg, Willow Smith
Aesthetic: "Unapologetic," he declares. "It runs through all that I do, even my home hair-care collection is designed on this word. It's about encouraging hair’s true texture to be full of vitality and living its best life — embracing, not suppressing kinks, coils, curls, and waves. Also, it's no secret I love the shape and soft, fluffy effect that frizz gives to hair. Letting hair be big, free and part of your identity is so important. If you love it in its true state, first and foremost, playing around with the texture and changing it up is fine, too."
Years in the industry: About 20 years
Notable clients: Zendaya, Kelly Rowland, Normani
Aesthetic: "Beautiful, clean, buttery, flawless, glowy skin," Daley explains. "I love a sculpted brow, I love a sculpted beautiful face and lovely lashes. You know I do have a lash line, Elora Lane. Lashes have been something I've just adored from the very beginning as well."
Favorite looks of all time: "All of the Met Gala looks that I've done with Zendaya are my absolute favorite," Daley says. "My favorite, favorite, was from 2016. She was in the gold Michael Kors dress and had her hair in that very coiffed bowl cut. We did this super, super smoky, bronzy-brown eye. Ugh, that is still one of my favorite makeup looks ever."
But that's not all. "Another one from the Met Gala that I loved was the Joan of Arc look [in 2018]," Daley continues. "It wasn't really a makeup look, but it was so clean, fresh, and airy. And I loved the hair and the wardrobe — everything just melted together seamlessly."
More recently, Daley points to Zendaya's 2019 Emmy look. "She was kind of Poison Ivy," Daley says. "She had a green dress on; the eye makeup was burgundy; her hair was an orange-ish red shade."
Years in the industry: "I've been in the industry for over a decade, but I really, really started doing more red carpet work in the last seven years," she says.
Notable clients: Tessa Thompson, FKA Twigs, Tiffany Hadish
Aesthetic: "If anyone looks at my body of work, they could definitely tell that [it] is heavily influenced by braids and African techniques," Redway says. "I like playing with texture and length and pushing the boundaries on what traditionally is seen as beauty. I enjoy doing hairstyles that were traditionally not seen on [specific hair textures], showing that it can be done."
Favorite look: "That's so hard because I feel like I'm so blessed that I get to work with so many different women and we create so many beautiful hairstyles together. But I mean, I know some crowd favorites," Redway says. "I know a lot of people really love Tessa Thompson's 2019 Met Gala rope hairstyle and Zazie Beetz's Afro at Venice Film Festival."
Years in the industry: "Over a decade," she says.
Notable clients: Niecy Nash, Andra Day, Mary J. Blige, Iman
Aesthetic: "High glamour — the more glamour, the better — as that is the essence of who I am," Cooper explains. "My objective with any client in my chair, most notably for the red carpet, is to ensure their skin looks youthful, beautifully lit, and rich. I love an eye focus when the look calls for it, so I've mastered the art of creating smoldering eyes that look luxurious."
Favorite look of all time: "Hands down, my favorite red carpet look to date is singer Andra Day at the 2018 Oscars," Cooper says. "She wore a French jacquard Zac Posen gown, and I took inspiration from the Rococo era for her makeup. She looked divine and caused an internet frenzy by laying down on the red carpet for photos. It was beyond!"
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