Last updated: March 3, 2012 12:10 am

The trickle-down effect

There is more real-life relevance to the blushes and lipsticks you see on counters in department stores than ever before

It is that time of year: time to empty your make-up bag of every stubby-ended eye pencil you’ve saved just in case; every dried-up mascara and crumbled blusher. Spring’s new make-up colours have arrived! It’s the month to Update Your Look.

I know, brave hearts everywhere quail at the thought. But things aren’t like ye olde days, when beauty editors would be invited to see the new spring colour collections in a suite at Claridge’s (always Claridge’s) and were met with beribboned boxes filled with layer upon layer of oranges, purples and turquoises (that was just the lipsticks) that had no visible connection whatsoever to fashion at the time, and would then have to somehow sell it to theoretically gullible readers. These days things are different. Indeed, there is more real-life relevance to the current collections of eyeshadows, blushes and lipsticks you see on counters in department stores than ever before.

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I kid you not: what you see when you go to the shop is the product actually used backstage at the shows. (OK, well, not the actual product – that would be unhygienic – but to paraphrase Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada: “You see that daffodil eyeshadow you’re wearing? That shade of yellow – Yellow Shadow No 5 by Estée Lauder, now part of the label’s EyeShadow Palette in Topaz Mosaic, pictured below – was first used by Tom Pecheux at the Derek Lam show, and the same yellow eventually made its way to secondary brands and then the department stores and then to some lovely Superdrug outlet where you no doubt found it.”) In other words, without even having to think about it, when you buy a new eyeshadow/lipstick/blusher, you will be right on-trend.

So what brought about this revolution? Partly, it has to do with Mac cosmetics and their realisation that the ready-to-wear collections represented a major marketing tool, though I doubt even they knew back in 1995 when they sponsored their first show (they’re now up to 228) just what a behemoth they were unleashing – they’ve since been joined by the big players in make-up, plus haircare companies and even fake-tanning brands and nails, all keen to get in on the act.

And partly it has to do with cosmetic brands shortening their production times to enable them to trial samples at the shows and launch them just months later. But mostly it has to do with make-up artists, or MUAs – especially Pat McGrath, unofficially the queen of them all thanks to the urban myth that she flies everywhere by monogrammed private jet with a small army of assistants, each carrying a Louis Vuitton trunk full of make-up. The more famous they get, the more famous brands want to work with them, and the more clothes collections and cosmetic collections become intertwined.

To this end, the MUAs are media-savvy, giving backstage interviews fielded by publicists to legions of beauty editors, bloggers and random TV presenters. There is a stockpile of standard questions with a stockpile of standard answers: Q: “What’s your inspiration for this look?” A: “Oh you know, I was on holiday recently in India/Marrakech/Ibiza ... ” To keep things fresh, a whole new language has sprung up. Eyebrows are never “eyebrows”, they are “facial architecture”. Yellow is never “yellow”, it’s a “Richard Neutra house in Los Angeles”, a “pure drop of Californian warmth”.

And although it’s fair to say real women are not always at the forefront of the agenda (when older women are referenced – and obviously by “older” I mean 18+ – it’s usually with a heavy dose of irony; as when MUA Tom Pecheux described his inspiration at one show as “Elizabeth Taylor on crack”), occasionally a bit of commercial sensibility breaks through. Legend has it that Bobbi Brown, a backstage MUA with her own eponymous line that is now owned by Estée Lauder, once dumped a cosmetic tester from the production line after trialling it on a model backstage, saying, “If it doesn’t look good on her, how’s it going to look good on real women?”

All of which means that, when the angry teenage girl in your life emerges from her bedroom, eyes rimmed as black as a panda’s, you can greet her with the following words, smug in the knowledge of your own righteousness: “Darling, I’m so pleased to see you working the James Kaliardos interpretation of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ as seen at Rodarte last season. Aren’t you relieved they didn’t go for his Sunflower series?”

(And when they do go for Sunflowers, which somebody, somewhere is bound to sooner or later, here’s my tip: Yellow Shadow No 5 by Estée Lauder. It’s a very nice sort of daffodil-yellow.)

kathleen.bairdmurray@ft.com

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