What The Pros Really Use Backstage at NYFW

When you're lucky enough to go backstage at New York Fashion Week, you get to meet the industry's most elite hair, makeup, and nail professionals and see them in action. These are the people who fashion's finest rely on to create the beauty looks seen on the runways, in ad campaigns, and in the pages of the magazines. In short, it's the beauty editor's equivalent of meeting Beyoncé. (Okay, not really, because that would be epic, but you get the point.)
But, season after season, there seems to be a trend among the products used. That dewy sheen on the model's cheeks, for example, is almost always a totally unknown highlighter from Milan. Or, that cool-girl, wavy texture that looks super easy and super pretty? It's usually achieved with one salt spray in particular.
We polled the pros at the NYFW shows to see what they actually can't live without backstage. But, these aren't just clutch products for the model set — all of these products can do equally awesome and amazing things for you IRL. Click through to find your new obsessions and learn the best way to use them, straight from the trendsetting pros.
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The Skin-Care Saviors
Models’ faces are normally painted multiple times per day, with varying degrees of glitter, glue, foundation, concealer, and sometimes even face paint. All of which can add up to some pretty gnarly skin, even for the most genetically blessed among them. Not to mention, after they're done here in NYC, most of them hop on a plane to London, Milan, and Paris, which means they need to maintain their poreless, blemish-free complexions for a full month.

That's why it's a general rule among makeup pros that the girls are prepped with skin care that’s lightweight, fragrance-free, and noncomedogenic, so as not to aggravate their already overworked visages. Which means finding the right things for that runway glow can be a challenge. Survey says, however, that there are a few cult products that do just the trick.
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Photo: Via Dr. Hauschka.
Gucci Westman is rarely seen without a tube of this richly scented, natural moisturizer close at hand. It hydrates with shea butter and avocado oil while marshmallow and St. John’s wort reduce redness and balance oil production.
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Photo: Via Estée Lauder.
“You should think of preparing your skin like having a good breakfast,” purrs makeup guru Tom Pecheux. “You must take your time, allow things to digest, and nourish your body.” Tom is renowned for his mini-facial routine, where he layers product after product using a lymphatic massage technique. (The models are practically sleeping by the time he gets to foundation!)

One of Tom’s mainstays is a brightening serum by Estée Lauder, which has luminescent properties to create the illusion of instantly brighter, perfected skin. He presses it into the skin before moisturizer in order to reduce the need for heavy foundations.
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Photo: Via Bioderma.
“If you don’t have this makeup remover in your kit, the model will,” says Yadim, who was the key makeup artist at shows including Cushnie et Ochs, Opening Ceremony, and DKNY. “It’s super gentle and not at all greasy, so it won’t leave a film on the skin.”
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Photo: Via Avéne.
This French pharmacy find is a common sight because of its soothing properties. “All day, these girls have makeup being put on and taken off,” explains artist Alice Lane, who was backstage applying this product on each and every face she touched at Suno. “It’s so important that we take care of their skin with a calming, nourishing formula.”
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“I’ve been mixing my own moisturizer for years,” says beauty guru Charlotte Tilbury, who was backstage at Donna Karan. “I came to call it ‘Magic Cream’ because it just gives you this really dewy, fresh, radiant look.”

Sir John, face painter to major icons like Iman, Naomi Campbell, and Beyoncé confessed backstage at Edun that it was one of his favorite products for makeup application. “I also like to put it over finished makeup, on top of the cheekbones, for a dewy finish that’s not sparkly,” he says.
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Another cult find, this moisturizer is so intensely hydrating that it actually has to be massaged and patted into the skin. But it also serves a dual purpose: Diane Kendal was using it to smudge the brown liner at Jason Wu, creating the “illusion of a smoky eye.” At Proenza Schouler, she went without foundation and concealer altogether and insisted that a radiant, dewy complexion could be achieved with this moisturizer alone.
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Photo: Via Egyptian Magic.
“You can use it for pretty much anything,” says Benjamin Puckey, who keyed shows like Yigal Azrouël and MM6. “It’s great if a model has chapped skin, which is a lot more common at the fall shows. For right now, it’s ideal for pulling off that really fresh, dewy look on the cheeks and eyelids. It reflects the light in a natural-looking way.”
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Photo: Via Chanel.
"The girls’ lips are always so chapped because of all the lipstick and concealer that goes on," Puckey says. "Every time I pull this out of my bag, the girls ask what it is. I know it’s so luxurious, but it’s definitely my favorite balm."
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Photo: Via Tatcha.
“Most makeup setting sprays are mattifying, which makes sense, because they’re designed to finish your look or help refresh you during the day,” explains industry pro Troy Surratt at the Eva Fehren presentation. “But that’s definitely not the kind of look we’re seeing this season. It’s a lot more about a humectant, hydrated sort of finish, so I much prefer this product by Tatcha. It’s good to spray right before they hit the runway.”
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The Makeup Mainstays
If you haven’t gathered by now, 90% of fashion shows focus on skin. And while that doesn’t exactly make for riveting backstage reporting, it does have a very true, real-girl application: Who doesn’t want that glowy, minimal makeup look? The truth is, when a show focuses on barely-there cosmetics, the artists are way more stressed out. “It’s easier to just go over-the-top,” says Yadim. “It’s hard to do makeup that looks undetectable.” These are some of the tools they use for getting it just right.
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Photo: Via MAC.
Makeup pro Diane Kendal is known for creating natural-looking, radiant complexions. “I like the cream bases by MAC because they have a really nice sheen to them,” she said backstage at Prabal Gurung. “You can wear them over or under foundation and the light hits them for a really beautiful highlight.” She was applying them in a C-shape, starting from the center of the cheekbone to the browbone.
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Photo: Via YSL.
“There’s just nothing else exactly like it,” Surratt says. “Even though there sure are a lot of imitations. No other formula has the perfect mix of pink and blue light-refracting pigments — it’s just so balanced! Any fine lines or imperfections in skin texture are just blown out by the light. I always use it under the eyes.”
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Photo: Via Shiseido.
Dick Page, industry legend, keys big shows like Narciso Rodriguez and Michael Kors. “I always rely on these two face powders — High Beam White, a pearly white, and Soft Beam Gold, a natural bronze. They’re the perfect, finely milled blend of white and gold highlights. I love to mix them with blushes so that I can warm up a complexion without layering too many products.”
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Photo: Via Nars.
Be it in Multiple or Liquid form, you can always tell when a look was created using Copacabana. In fact, at Rag & Bone, Westman started by patting the cream format onto the high points of the face, and then, once all the makeup was complete, went over her application with the liquid for added radiance. “I also added it to the tops of the eyes instead of using eyeshadow,” she said. (Do try this the morning after a late night — you’ll look instantly awake.)
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Photo: Via Lancôme.
Before Fashion Week, Kendal usually requests multiple boxes of these tiny little concealers, which are full-coverage when applied with fingers, but can be sheered out if you use a fluffy brush. She’s known to repeat the phrase “Concealer as needed,” backstage, meaning that she forsakes foundation altogether. This is the product that lets her do it.
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“When it comes down to it, the only products a makeup artist really needs are a matte red lipstick, a sheer lip gloss, and a black eyeliner,” says Pecheux. His pick is this cream liner by MAC, which he used backstage at Ralph Rucci.

“It’s my go-to black for whatever I’m doing,” seconds Val Garland, who used it to create the strong, graphic eyes at Herve Leger.
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Photo: Via Madina Milano.
This international treasure is the rumored favorite of Pat McGrath, who we hear purchases it in bulk every time she goes to Milan. Consider it the cultiest of cult beauty products — but you'll definitely have to do some sleuthing when you need a restock.
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Photo: Via Givenchy.
Aaron de Mey, who created the look at Jill Stuart, is almost never seen without his favorite black eye pencil. The creamy formula is great for smudging into your waterline for a slightly messy, subtly smoky eye.
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Photo: Via Maybelline.
One of the most frequent things we see at Fashion Week is “glossy eyes,” which is actually a really pretty way to look polished without applying color. Normally, this is done with Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour Cream, but since it’s oily, it can cause shadows to slide and is therefore undesirable for use in real life. “I prefer the Baby Lips by Maybelline,” Lane says. “They’re so cute! But, more importantly, they’re great for creating a dewy sort of eye look. And, it’s so nice to put lip balm on the lids, I think — it moisturizes them and feels refreshing.”
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Photo: Via Surratt.
There’s a certain iconic curler that’s dominated the market for a while, but Puckey insists it’s about to be usurped. “The arc on Surratt’s is larger, so it fits the eye better,” he explains. It also comes in a super-chic matte black color, so who could possibly resist?
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Photo: Via MAC.
“It’s happened so many times where the girls will go to rehearsal and the makeup will be too much,” says Kabuki, who was the lead artist at Ohne Titel. “But, by that point, we don’t have time to start from scratch — especially if it’s something like taking down the foundation or the blush. A makeup artist’s worst nightmare is trying to remove complexion products, because it ends up creating a weird hole in the face! I really like the Fix+ spray because you can essentially use it as an eraser — it allows you to correct the mistake without creating a huge hole. We also use it a lot as a primer.”
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Hair Heroes
Backstage at Michael Kors, the hair room was a total haze of dry shampoo, which prompted stylist Orlando Pita to open all of the windows as a few models began to cough. Fashionable hair is, for the most part, made to look like there was minimal effort, but that normally means there's maximum product. “It shouldn’t look like a hairdresser has touched it,” is a very familiar, oft-repeated phrase. The catch? They need products that they can layer (and layer, and layer) without getting greasy or heavy. Here, a few things they rely on each week.
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Photo: Via bumble and bumble.
“This is the perfect backstage product — I call it liquid conditioner. It has vitamins in it, so I can spray it all over the hair to rinse out any product residue and start with a clean canvas,” explains stylist Laurent Philippon. Think of it as dry shampoo…minus that whole dry part.
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Photo: Via Kérastase.
Because of the constant blowdrying, curling, and flatironing, models’ manes can look anything but tame by the week’s end. Odile Gilbert is a big fan of this conditioning milk, which she uses to give the girls a luxurious treatment before shows that require polished, “expensive” hair.
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Photo: Via L'Oréal.
Because many of the shows are sponsored by specific beauty brands, that means pros have to use products from those lines to create the look. However, there are some products that are so good, artists insist they can't create the looks they want without them. So, those products are smuggled backstage, but their labels are covered up by black tape so you can't see what they are.

L'Oréal Elnett is one such product. It's nearly impossible to go backstage and not find a taped-up can with that familiar gold peeking out. It’s apparently the drugstore diamond of hairsprays — firm, brushable hold that’s cheap enough to buy in bulk in case of emergencies.
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Photo: Via TIGI.
“We have to ship boxes upon boxes of this product to all the big stylists,” explains TIGI creative director Nick Irwin, who also was in charge of the hair at Jonathan Simkhai and Libertine. “It’s always hiding! It’s taped up at all of their stations. If you look closely, you can see the purple color peeking out.” Apparently, this volumizing mist is the industry’s gold standard for adding “guts” (stylist-speak for lift and touchable texture) to the hair without weighing it down or feeling tacky. “It’s also got the best spray — most other formulas like it are designed for targeted root use. This one you can use all over.”

A couple of hair pros insist — off the record — that it really is everything it’s chalked up to be. “More products like it are coming out, but it’s still the best one I’ve used. We have tons of it going through customs right now for when we land in Europe.”
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Photo: Via Wella Professionals.
Wella Ocean Spritz

Piecey texture is the sort of mainstay look every stylist can count on doing at least once every Fashion Week. “It’s all about creating different points of interest on the head,” explains stylist Eugene Souleiman, who’s been known to literally tuck this product into his back pocket while doing hair. “If you apply this salt spray to blowdried hair, it’s given a bite. It behaves more like chemically treated hair because it’s more porous and tough, which is a cool sort of texture.”
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Photo: Via TRESemmé.
Star hairstylist Paul Hanlon coated the roots and lengths in Tresemmé Dry Shampoo at the 3.1 Phillip Lim Show. “If you spray all over, you’re able to really mold a style into something beautiful. It adds lots of texture and guts to the hair,” he says.
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Photo: Via bumble and bumble.
If grittier, saltier, and matte texture is more your speed, then hair pro James Pecis insists you can’t go wrong with the cult classic Surf Spray. “A lot of brands create products that are in-the-middle — they’re not too weak that they don’t do anything, but they’re not too strong that only a pro could use them. Surf Spray is actually super-strong, but people really like it. People have tried to copy it, but I don’t think there’s one as good as this.”
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The legendary Guido Palau, who’s backstage at shows like Proenza Schouler, Hugo Boss, and Versus, is almost constantly surrounded by a cloud of hairspray. “I love this one because, despite it being high-hold, it’s still brushable and doesn’t flake or leave any visible residue,” he says. Translation? Even though it’s used to keep some of his more avant garde ‘dos in place, you can actually use this at home.

Redken Control Addict 28 Hairspray, $20, Redken for salons.
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Photo: Via Mason Pearson.
“It’s every stylist’s staple,” says hair guru Anthony Turner. “It’s great for everything from a really smooth blowdry to teasing without damaging,” he explains. That probably explains the hefty pricetag.
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Mani Musts
Despite nail art’s alleged high-fashion comeback, the products that make consistent backstage cameos are true, steady classics. “If I’m going to a nail test with a big designer, I usually don’t bring accessories for designs,” says Jin Soon, who’s the go-to pro for shows like Michael Kors and Rag & Bone. “I focus more on things that will make a beautiful manicure and healthy hands.”
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Photo: Via Qtica.
Models at Fashion Week can average up to six polish changes per day. And, while getting a manicure for your job doesn’t sound like such a bad thing, it can actually take a serious toll on the nails. “All of the remover and the chemicals in the products can really take a toll on the nail bed and the skin around it,” says Alicia Torello, who was in charge of tips and toes backstage at Oscar de la Renta. “I love applying this stuff to the skin right after a manicure because it makes the cuticles look super healthy right away.”
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Photo: Via Orly.
“We have to work so fast back here,” Torello says. “And, the models will sometimes leave the chair and grab something from their purse or get food before the polish is dry. Basically, that means I need a bulletproof basecoat. This one has been my favorite for a really long time.”
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Photo: Via For Pro.
Manicurist Madeline Poole was backstage at Peter Som, which was one of the first shows of the week. “A lot of the models still have gels on,” she says. “Removing them can really be a logistical nightmare — not to mention time-consuming — especially if you want to preserve the integrity of the nail. I randomly found these on Amazon and they’re seriously amazing. Plus, they’re way prettier than wrapping the girls’ fingers in tin foil!”
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Photo: Via Jin Soon.
“The shape this season has been short,” explains Jin Soon. “It’s an active nail to fit this very sporty, active woman. That means that the beginning of the week means a lot of filing for my team. My diamond file is expensive, but it’s very fast and easy to use. I couldn’t do the shows without it.”
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Photo: Via Essie.
“This nail polish has walked more runways than Karlie Kloss,” quips Michelle Saunders, who led the nail teams at Proenza Schouler and Carolina Herrera. “I would even say that it’s been at more shows than any other nail polish color ever. It’s fashion’s favorite nude. When I’m at a nail test and the stylist asks for a subtle, clean, but still pretty nail, I pull out Mademoiselle.”
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