As the threat of a second lockdown loomed in Paris this week, there was little in the way of statement makeup at the COVID-safe outdoor presentations and in the virtual videos that replaced the city’s traditionally packed show spaces. Faces were kept bare for the most part, with one notable exception: Black eyeliner got plenty of traction.
It’s no coincidence. Throughout history, eyeliner has been many things to many people, helping us express a range of era-specific characters. Very few makeup staples can so seamlessly skew sleek and elegant, à la a classic ’60s-era cat eye, and simultaneously subversive in homage to the ’80s-era punks, goths, and the New Romantics, with their messy, kohl-rimmed eyelids. In the shadow of an unusual spring collections season, makeup artists seem to be gravitating toward these humble pencils, pens, and pots for their ability to telegraph all the feelings of the coronavirus era—and offer some above-the-mask inspiration in the process.
“It emphasizes [the eyes] powerfully,” makeup artist Peter Philips said backstage at Dior, where he traced an extra-thick matte black pigment along the upper and lower lash lines with soft, rounded edges. Similarly, legendary pro Pat McGrath leaned on her pigmented PermaGel eye pencil in Xtreme Black at Chloé, blending out an “experimental” array of dramatic swooshes there for creative director Natacha Ramsay-Levi’s collection of essentials, while etching a bold, winged shape above the heavy-metal dresses at Paco Rabanne. Cementing the lean toward grittier eye statements were the almost goth-like lids at Chanel, where the French fashion house’s global creative makeup and color designer Lucia Pica smudged and layered four different black and gray eye shadows across lids to achieve the perfect matte charcoal smoky eye. “It has a sort of ’90s Winona Ryder feel to it,” Pica said after the show, noting how sooty eye makeup—from the inky ticks to the smoky swipes—can successfully convey our collective emotions. From moody to mysterious, there’s a black eyeliner (or several) for that.