Makeup artists Dick Page and Diane Kendal dissect the return to ’90s-inspired minimalist beauty

1990s beauty trend minimalist makeup
1990s beauty trend minimalist makeup
Photography by Peter Stigter

See the top ’90s-inspired beauty products in Diane and Dick’s tool kit »

By Celia Ellenberg

About halfway through the spring 2013 shows in New York, one thing became clear: Contours, not colour, were set to define the season. Gone were the deep wine-stained lips and tinted lashes from fall; in their place was, well, very little to speak of.

“It is a reaction to the economic times we are in. Huge, glamorous, overdone hair and makeup don’t make sense,” says makeup artist Diane Kendal, who had a big hand in this sea change. Over the past few seasons, Kendal has made boyish, raw but beautiful faces something of a calling card as the backstage go-to for cool designers like Proenza Schouler, Alexander Wang and, more recently, Victoria Beckham. “Their point of view is what I translate,” Kendal humbly insists, pointing out that there was a ’90s-era lens on the collective perspective for spring.

“The look seems to have a modern feel,” she says, explaining why designers requested the decade’s sparse style en masse. “People like the simplicity—the pureness of design. It’s clean.” It’s also significantly less undone than it was 20 years ago. “It’s less grungy this time around.” The new minimalism is about subtly accentuating features rather than cultivating a full-on “look.” The irony, of course, is that a full-on look is actually easier to pull off than the “nothing” makeup that Kendal and fellow face-painters such as Shiseido artistic director Dick Page pioneered.

“When you’re dealing with supposed reality, you need to have a light hand,” Page says. The man responsible for honing Calvin Klein’s classic no-makeup makeup look from the ’90s, Page has carried the torch for tonal touch-ups into the aughts, notably at Narciso Rodriguez. So he was right at home this spring. “When I went to meet a lot of the designers, the mood boards had these overarching tear sheets from i-D and The Face,” he says. (Page worked on those magazines two decades ago.) “It was one of those the-past-is-coming-back-to-bite-my-elderly-ass things.” He admits new-era minimalism is slightly more complicated than it once was, making it a “dodgy” undertaking for mere civilians.

“Start with a perfect canvas,” says Kendal, who likes to plump skin with rosewater before massaging in an emollient moisturizer. Page will use “anything to give the skin a slip to it,” to make it easier to move creamy foundation and concealer pigments around with a fluffy eyeshadow brush. “The key is really to not show any edges but just cover up what you need to cover up. If you’ve wiped your face out too much, it’s hard to make that [minimal] feeling believable.”

Cream pigments are essential to the process, agrees Kendal, who starts with a green concealer to neutralize redness before blending taupe or ashy brown bases into the hollows of the cheeks, up into the temples and around the eyes. She leaves mouths bare, simply treating them with a slick of balm.

“You make the skin look healthy then add a little bit of detail,” says Page, who presses a thumbprint of lipstick, instead of a powder blush, into the lips and across the cheeks to leave a barely perceptible hint of colour. Another such detail is groomed eyebrows, which Page often fills in with cream eyeshadows—in gold for blondes and soft grey-black or mid-tone brown for brunettes—rather than more obvious brow pencils or waxes. “I like a brow to be shiny,” he declares.

Page is less keen on mascara. “I can take it or leave it. I’m always happy when there are bits that aren’t embellished.” Indeed, drama-inducing wands were curiously absent throughout the season. “Mascara used with a minimalist look can somehow look old,” Kendal says. “With a bare face and contoured features, omitting mascara will lend a cooler slant to the girl.”

Breaking free from the grip of over-embellishment isn’t easy. Both Page and Kendal single out Stella Tennant as an inspirational role model: The veteran supe with the patrician neck and androgynous features is a go-to reference when it comes to doing less. “I always bring her to mind when speaking with designers about the kind of girl they’d like to reach out to,” Kendal says. Ditto Daria Werbowy, the doe-eyed Canadian beauty with a starring role in Céline’s spring campaign. For more minimalist muses, “Look to the lazy, rich scruffbags—the girls who would rather not have stuff on their face in the first place,” Page advises. “Because a lot of it does have to do with attitude. Women often get hung up on their concealer, foundation, this, that and the other routine. But if you want to do this and be honest about it, you need to let that go and be comfortable with yourself.”