Would you ever take ‘you look quirky’ as a compliment? Let’s think about that one. Nope, we’re good with hoping someone tells us we’re beautiful, thanks…
To be fair, quirky often gets the guy over the Plastics in the romcom – but that’s always right at the end, when it dawns on him that beauty is, like, so much more than skin deep. But perhaps like the film’s hero, society has started to shift its notion of what perfection is.
It’s been simmering away for a few seasons now, but A/W 16 confirmed what the weak-chinned and small lipped of us had hoped to be true: Eastern European perfection is out, and diversity is in. It even got to the point where we developed our own shorthand for this ‘individuality’ when speaking to the hair and make-up maestros backstage. ‘Indivy’ became our beauty watchword. The catwalks were awash with a variety of off-kilter looks and the casting at almost every show championed unconventional beauties such as Anna Cleveland and Jamie Bochert.
The reason for this shift? It seems we might owe social media its propers. ‘Mainstream culture has always taught us to celebrate perfection, but in the social media age – in which peers are the new style icons – people increasingly yearn for something more human,’ says Victoria Buchanan, trend analyst at The Future Laboratory, a company that forecasts the next big thing. ‘Breaking away from the classic ideals of beauty, designers are casting models who have something going on beyond the image. It’s about celebrating personality and emphasising inclusivity, which is much more powerful when connecting with consumers.’
It’s the thing that’s making us want to buy the clothes that the kooky Victorian heroine model Elizabeth Davison is currently parading on the catwalks. ‘She could be from anywhere,’ says Daniel Robson from Premier Model Management. ‘She has this unique internationally ambiguous look that is very of the moment.’ The backstage gurus seem to agree. ‘The casting at the shows was the most diverse I’ve seen during my career,’ says top make-up artist Sharon Dowsett. ‘There’s been a shift towards celebrating beauty that’s not stereotypical – not just a wide range of skin tones and bone structures, but charming ‘quirks’ such as big ears and wide-set eyes. As model Molly Bair calls her look, an “alien/rat/demon/goblin/gremlin sort of vibe”.’
Dowsett also puts this trend down to our newfound Insta-obsession. ‘Exposure to different ideals of beauty on social media has broadened our acceptance and led to a backlash against conformity. People want to make statements like the no-fear haircut that Guido gave to model-of-the-moment, Katie Moore. We’ve been adhering to the Greek ideal of proportions for 2,000 years now – it’s definitely time for a change.’
Of course, hair legend and Redken’s creative director Guido was also the man who gave us ‘grunge’ when everyone else was doing glossy manes in the 90s. So what’s his take? ‘This season is about acknowledging every type of woman,’ he says. For Katie Moore, I did an extreme take on a 20s haircut, which we coloured orange. She was open to anything.’
Make-up maestro Val Garland agrees. ‘Not everyone has a typical model face – some of us have tiny eyes. The message we’re sending down the runway is: ‘We are all beautiful, be unique.’ We’re in. But what about those annoying ‘golden ratios’ of facial symmetry we’re supposedly biologically programmed to find attractive? Can the power of Instagram change what we instinctively find hot? Laura Germine, a psychiatry researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital (and creator of the super-cool website testmybrain.org) thinks there may be something in it. ‘With modern media, we are suddenly being exposed to a tremendous variety of faces, so it’s quite possible that this may lead to a broader range of face preferences than would have been the case 50 years ago.’
The upshot? Love your quirks, or at least don’t try to obliterate them. ‘My ethos has always been strongly on creating “a better version of you” rather than trying to change the way someone looks,’ says aesthetic doctor Geoff Mullan of Medicetics clinic. ‘Luckily, most of the people we treat now just want their more extreme features softened.’ Speaking of ‘softening’, Garland and Dowsett advise playing up the features you do like rather than attempting any ‘correction’. ‘Individuality goes hand in hand with integrity,’ says Dowsett. ‘Enhance the contours of your face with highlighting,’ says Garland. ‘If you have small eyes, use a cream-coloured pencil in the waterline and if you’re not keen on your thin lips, do more of a smoky lip where the edges are softer rather than attempting to over-draw them.’
Model Issa Lish sums it all up well. ‘I know I’m not a typical beauty model. My teachers at school would call me Issa Alien.’ Now @IssaAlien has an Alexander Wang campaign in the bag and is one of the most sought-after faces in fashion. Take that, conventional.