The new normal: How unconventional beauty trends became mainstream

the new normal beauty trends
Photography by Peter Stigter

Once the domain of subcultures, daring beauty gestures like pastel hair and dark lips are fining a place in the mainstream.

Crayola-coloured hair browsing at Bergdorfs. Intricate faux tattoos making their way down the red carpet. While years ago even gothic dark-hued nails were considered boundary pushing, now beauty norms are being challenged in a new and beautiful way. There’s a seismic shift in our collective beauty conscience and it’s being adopted by the masses.

The first whiffs of change in our beauty perception were displayed on the runway—historically a breeding ground for hyper-creative beauty ideas. But much of what we’d seen in recent seasons had become almost…basic. That is until the Fall 2015 shows. “The season was a makeup artist’s dream,” says M.A.C senior artist Melissa Gibson. There were the precisely placed face bijoux and shellacked kiss curls at Givenchy; the pitch-black matte pouts at Giles; the scribbly constellations of tattoos at Giamba; and, of course, the model with pastel pink hair at Louis Vuitton. “It’s interesting that people are riffing on things that are more experimental,” says makeup artist James Kaliardos, a frequent backstage presence. “Things that would have been super punk before can now be done in a more beautiful way. Now there’s this balance between beauty and this kind of oddness.”

And while runway looks are often diluted when they reach the general population, many people have already wholeheartedly embraced this more extreme brand of beauty. “The younger women I know feel rebellious; they don’t want to look like Jessica Rabbit,” says Kaliardos. And it’s not just the young ones who are rejecting that hyper-sexualized, over-glamorized image. “Fun hair colours have gone from being a younger adult thing to something that spans all age groups,” says colourist Aura Friedman, who has been taking celebrity hair over the proverbial rainbow since the early aughts, when she started experimenting with peach and pinky tones. Now, her client list runs the gamut—she is responsible for Lady Gaga and M.I.A.’s pinking—as do her colours (she’s doing a lot of greys and greens). “I have women from 30 to 50-something doing it…. People are just way more open now to trying things and they aren’t afraid to express themselves anymore.”

But attitude isn’t all that’s changed. Pantone-palette hair, face crystals and goth lipstick were all present in the ’90s, but what we see now is nuanced. “Salons are doing more luxurious versions of crazy coloured hair that looks expensive and pretty, and that’s very different than the ’90s, when we were just slapping Manic Panic on our heads without mixing it,” says Friedman. The same holds true for makeup. We’ve seen eye crystals and eyebrow rings before, but never elevated as they were in Kaliardos’s hands for two seasons of Rodarte. “Even though these are rebellious sorts of looks, when they are done with a more classic hand, they are beautiful,” he adds. Classic can mean restrained. Gibson suggests that what keeps it modern is choosing one avant-garde beauty moment and putting it against the backdrop of great skin. “A black lipstick or clumpy lashes or an extreme liner paired with a really nude face looks modern and gorgeous,” she says.

The other factor affecting beauty’s embrace of the counterculture could be the workplace. Mores about what’s acceptable have not only shifted, but as people increasingly go freelance or start their own business, the model of the office itself has evolved. “The workplace has changed and women have changed with it,” says hairstylist Wes Sharpton of Hairstory, who is known for cuts with just a bit of “off-ness.” “There’s a new place for a sense of creativity and a ‘Be who you are’ spirit. Before, the idea of someone marching into an office with pink hair would have been a big no-no, but things have shifted.”

And beauty brands are taking note. Peruse the aisles of your local Sephora and you’ll find nail art accoutrements, face crystals and all manner of metallic flash tattoos. You can even get septum rings at Claire’s. L’Oréal Paris and Maybelline New York both recently released clumpy mascaras. “Maybelline interpreted what’s happening on the runway with messy lashes and came out with a mascara that can help women achieve that without having to layer five different ones,” says Grace Lee, lead makeup artist for Maybelline New York Canada. Also on deck for Maybelline: a product for ombré lips. “Color Blur is a pencil-lipstick hybrid that comes with a rubber blur stick that you use to blend into your lip for a popsicle-stained effect,” says Lee. Garnier Color Styler lets you temporarily play with pink- and blue-hued hair, R+Co’s Badlands Dry Shampoo Paste takes bed-head to the next level and L’Oréal Professionnel (purveyor of pastel Hair Chalk) is continuing to delve into the world of wild colour. “I’m teaching classes on how to create bold and non-traditional colours like blue and green using L’Oréal Professionnel lines,” says Jason Backe, the brand’s celebrity colourist. Even tattoos—once only the provenance of outliers and now embraced by, well, pretty much everybody—have products dedicated to them. After noticing an increase in the number of women getting inked (a recent poll in the U.S. revealed that tattooed women now outnumber tattooed men 59 to 41), Skinfix launched Inked Tattoo Balm. “We wanted to meet the demand for tattoo care that uses natural ingredients to heal the skin for new tattoos and bring existing tattoos back to life,” says Francine Krenicki, senior vice-president of product development.

Expressing yourself seems more important now than ever. “In our world today there are some monumental things happening politically and culturally,” says Backe. “When emotions are high on a cultural scale, people [are] more likely to step out and make a statement.” And while radicalism achieved via a tube of black lipstick or pastel hair may seem like a quieter form of rebellion, after many seasons of ‘meh,’ it can speak volumes.

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