Frantic as fashion week can be, we found a moment of calm within Topshop HQ, 48 hours before its catwalk show Topshop September (formerly Topshop Unique). With creative director Kate Phelan, leading makeup artist Lynsey Alexander, and renowned hair stylist Duffy (using L’Oréal Professionnel) at the helm, we were given exclusive behind-the-scenes access to the test shoot for today's show. Here’s what we learned about the inspiration for the look, and the tips, tricks and tools used to create it.
“This season, we’re looking back to the heady, crazy days of Soho,” Kate Phelan explains. “You had clubs like Madame Jojo’s and Revue Bar, Mud Club and Dirtbox, and on Charing Cross Road, Saint Martin’s School of Art. There was a really creative culture bubbling under the surface then: they were the decadent days of Soho, with the glamorous neon lights above and the seedy underworld below.” Phelan talks us through a mood board filled with photographs of girls in mini skirts stomping the pavements of London beneath the glow of neon signs, the sparkle- and leather-clad characters of the city’s notorious West End dancing in the streets. Needless to say, it looks like a lot of fun. “This girl is playful; it was a pre-digital time when individuality was king and everyone wanted to be their own person,” she continues. “We weren’t fashion followers then, we wore clothes that we found and made ourselves.”
And now? “Now, we’re such a tribe. We wear the same things, listen to the same music, and look at the same pictures. You walk around Soho now and it’s become like any other city. The only thing that still hangs onto that time is the theatre world,” Phelan notes. So Topshop’s new season girls are individuals, “strong, powerful, with a sassy attitude, like they own the streets of Soho. She could be a showgirl, a singer, a waitress, a student, or handing out tickets at the cinema; any of these people who really inhabited the West End.”
The dirty, decadent atmosphere of Soho’s golden years is key to the show’s entire aesthetic, and has inspired the location, too. “Back then you’d walk down the street and hear music coming from a basement, so you’d go down and find an impromptu two-night club. Everything was in small, cramped spaces, all sweaty and smoky.” What can we expect from the show venue, then? “It’s on Charing Cross Road, so it’s the heartbeat of Soho. There used to be a bar called the Soho Brasserie, and walking into the show feels like walking through there,” Phelan explains. “Then, further into the show space it’s like walking into one of those clubs. You’ll feel the sleaze and the glamour pulsating through this youth-quake moment.”
Phelan paints a vivid picture, one of girls out ‘til the early hours, hair matted with sweat and alcohol, faces glistening from an evening of dancing. How will the hair and makeup reflect and capture Soho’s legendary energy? “The girls at the time were very much pioneers,” lead hairstylist Duffy asserts, speaking of the characters who dominated the West End in the ‘90s. “They were strong individuals with attitude, and I wanted to recreate that grungy look of the early Versace girl.” Duffy created a heavy side parting, with the right side of the head getting lived-in waves made with a one-inch curling iron and L’Oreal Professionnel Beach Waves. On the left-hand side, he scraped the hair back tight, using L’Oreal Professionnel Tecni Art PLI Shaper for a high-shine effect, and securing behind the ear with a grip. Finally, a tiny amount of Mythic Oil was dragged through the hair added to the lived-in, “sweaty”. The high-low off-kilter glamour seen in the hairstyle is also played out in the makeup look.
“The inspiration is the anti-glamour, late-night beauty of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in Soho. There’s a slightly slept-in, lived-in look – the greasier the better – and it’s all done with fingers,” head makeup artist Lynsey Alexander explains. “There’s two colour looks: a pink girl and a turquoise girl. Here, we’re using a lip liner on the eyes to create a pink stain, and pressing in this iridescent powder called Chameleon Glow in Wax + Wane. What’s magic about the eyeshadow is that when you put them over a pencil, they transform; they’re really intense and you get that gradient of colour. It’s really about finger painting, and pushing it into the pencil, so it sticks to it and goes dark in some places and light in others – it’s very painterly.”
To add to the glitz and glamour of the look, “right at the edge of the eye, we’re smudging a dash of glitter, which comes from the Lip Kit. The longer it’s on the face, the better it becomes – it’s quite raw and undone.” Perfect for a night on the tiles, then. “Sometimes pink can make eyes look a bit sore, so a curled lash with black mascara and a bit of black eyeliner at the root of the lashes contrasts and makes it pop.” This look is all about the eyes, so skin was left as natural as possible with minimum foundation and concealer. “We’re using a combination of the Glow Pot in Polished and Glow Highlighter in Gleam. Brows are handsome and groomed, using a mixture of brow gels. Lips are scrubbed and bare with a bit of balm,” she says.
Does she have any tips for recreating the look at home? “It’s definitely not perfect, that’s why we didn’t do it with brushes,” Alexander adds. “It’s all about creamy textures, so even though these are powders, they’re really moveable with your fingers. Your fingers are warm, so it melts the product into the eye and you can push it around to get an intense finish. With a brush, people get too pretty about it. This look is about cool girls doing it themselves. It’s DIY, not a makeup artist’s take on the look. It’s them effortlessly getting ready.” As Phelan and Duffy noted earlier, the girls of Soho were individuals, so Alexander isn’t giving them identikit looks. “I’m not choosing pink or turquoise based on eye or skin colour, it’s dependent on the girl. People forget to do that in beauty, so it can often fall into one-size-fits all.”
With individuality at the heart of this look, it’s easier than ever to don the glitter, muss up the hair, and get ready for a night out in the West End. Remember, though, it’ll look just as good the morning after the night before.