For stars who are sheltering in place, even seemingly casual appearances are often meticulously orchestrated. “Let’s be honest, no celebrity is doing a Zoom or virtual chat without having the most incredible hair, makeup, and the best lighting possible for an award show,” says makeup artist Stoj Bulic, who’s booked to prep Ozark’s Julia Garner for the Emmys, where Garner’s nominated for the same Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series category she won last year. For a part of the industry that was once run by major sponsorships and called “its own economy” by The New York Times, Bulic understands the red carpet may be unrecognizable. “Many beauty brands were hit hard by the pandemic and therefore have had to cut back on their budgets,” she says. “We’re entering uncharted territories with the virtual shows, so there is no guarantee how much coverage a celebrity could receive to showcase the glam look.” For up-and-coming makeup artists, the drop in sponsored events and the rise of travel bans has a huge impact on event networking.
In February, British-Columbia-based hairstylist Ken Kozuki was tapped to touch up Paris Hilton’s blonde lengths at Manhattan’s Go Red for Women charity red carpet. Today, Kozuki hasn’t been able to travel outside of Canada for months. “The connections I make through networking at the various fashion weeks and red carpet events gives me the opportunity to further my career as a backstage artist,” he shares, adding that he’s staying optimistic about a return to art—rather than industry directives—in beauty, and focusing on Vancouver’s virtual fashion week presentations. “We are starting to see the opportunities come back, but the game has changed,” says makeup artist Molly R. Stern. “There have been more requests to personally shop for my clients so they feel equipped to do their own look when the Zoom bell rings,” Stern notes. She recently messengered a kit to Cara Delevingne’s house for a “virtual makeup job” and then “walked her through each step to execute the simple look.” In the scope of public events, Stern points out that some celebrities “want to walk the line of being respectful about the realities of the times,” while still pushing aesthetic boundaries.
“I think the audience wants to feel they’re experiencing a piece of escapism,” hairstylist and wig designer Frederic Aspiras says. Rather than tamping down extravagance, Aspiras believes that right now, “red carpet beauty during a pandemic needs to serve a purpose of fantasy or jubilance.” In a vapor of loss, complicated grief, and ambiguous futures, art and beauty offer comfort. Aspiras understands its importance. “Gaga has been there for me during a hard time in my life when my mother passed away this June,” Aspiras shares of the relationship he’s built working with Lady Gaga, remembering a day spent together at her home when she told him to look into the sky to “find the spirit” of his mom still with him. When executing Gaga’s VMA hair, Aspiras channeled this advice into his work. “For the red carpet, I created a color that looked like the sky in the earliest morning before the sun comes out,” he says. “I knew that this year, I had to really deliver a look that would bring joy and creative inspiration to the millions of people watching the show. Love inspired the looks.”