As it was once immortally phrased on season one of The Real Housewives Of Atlanta, you simply can’t have a fashion show without fashions. The actual garments themselves are both the point and the focus of a runway show — but if you’ve ever attended, tuned in to a live stream, or parsed through the photos afterward, you’ll notice that’s not always the case. While makeup, hair, set, music, and special guests are typically used to underscore, emphasize, and add to the overall theme, there are more than a few instances where those “extras”, especially the runway beauty looks, stole the entire show.
Really, those triumphant runway beauty moments can more or less be divided into two camps. There are those looks that reflect the show and, ultimately, the garments themselves with clearly on-theme motifs, and there are looks that reflect a larger cultural moment — though it could be argued that they both feed into each other like everything else in fashion’s wildly glamorous (and never-ending) cycle.
As the F/W ‘22 shows approach, take a look back at the greatest scene-stealing runway beauty looks of the past that everyone’s still buzzing about today.
Dior Haute Couture, 2011
Dior’s 2011 couture show was marked by more than a few references to the show’s schism-centered theme, toggling between prototypical 19th-century French heritage symbols (Pierrette clown hats, giant Rococo frills) and ideas of a high-fashion future. A dream team glam squad of Orlando Pita on hair and Pat McGrath on makeup teased hair into sequin-adorned nests and painted on scarlet scowls and brows, but one image of a model’s highlighted chin nestled into the crook of a spangly silver moon is still seen all over mood boards today.
Savage X Fenty Vol. 1, 2018
With one expansive foundation collection, Rihanna single-handedly changed the way beauty companies produce and market cosmetics — she quite literally altered that landscape for good. So it makes sense then that her Savage x Fenty lingerie runway show — which itself helped deal the death knell to more “traditional” lingerie presentations like the controversially conventional Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show — would come with a few iconic moments of its own.
Model Slim Woods’ show look of iridescent purple eyeshadow, glossy lips, and two-toned turquoise-and-green hair seem emblematic of what was to come, beautywise, for an entire generation. Plus, at nine months pregnant — the show actually sent her into labor — Slim Woods’ powerful, self-assured strut was an unforgettable body beauty moment in its own right.
Fendi Haute Couture, Fall 2019
Just a year before ‘70s-inspired styles like curtain bangs and fluffy Donna Summer curls would take over the youngest generations en masse, 2019’s Fendi couture show (held at the actual Colosseum in Rome) very presciently unleashed a series of silky, swishy shags only differentiated by their color — some models had wig shades matching their natural hair colors, while some walked down the runway with gown-matching tawny, silver, and pistachio-green shags of their own.
Céline Spring Ready-To-Wear, 2014
Defined by big, blocky brows and otherwise (brilliant) contrasting pops of primary color, the beauty at Céline’s Paris Fashion Week womenswear show was fairly bare-bones — which only made the Groucho brows look even more striking and bold. Against the swirling, Rorsachlike prints, the straight-across brows seemed to both play into and poke fun at the brow makeup revolution hitting the beauty industry at the same time. Of course these days, it feels like brushing your eyebrows is more important than brushing your hair (because it kind of is!), making the show’s makeup feel as much like a crystal ball as it does a mirror.
Tomo Koizumi, Spring 2020
Considering the gloriously cacophonous size, shape, and colors of Tomo Koizumi’s 2020 spring presentation, it makes sense that the beauty looks would err either on the side of major minimalism or be equally over-the-top. Fortunately for everyone, the show produced the latter. Sharp-tipped conehead hairstyles by Guido Palau were framed by scalp-dusting glitter, while Pat McGrath herself heaped on ‘80s-inspired makeup replete with its own super shimmery finish.
Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter, 2010
A fashion show paradox: sometimes, the best beauty is very, very ugly — and it’s always intentional. For one of his final shows, Alexander McQueen sent models down the runway in feature-obscuring pancake makeup, Guido Palau-styled spray-painted plastic wrap to the hair, and globs of smeared lipstick applied by none other than Peter Philips’, Dior Beauty’s current creative director. Meant to symbolize a mixture of Elizabethan whites, clown makeup, and an as-yet-unrefined Eliza Doolittle, it’s something of a textbook example of creative license put to show-stopping effect. You probably can’t even tell that a young Karlie Kloss is in this photo.
Givenchy Ready-To-Wear, Fall 2013
Rife with floral prints and plaids, said to be references to multifaceted women, this Givenchy fall/winter show featured another uniformed parade of wigs differentiated only by their color. In this instance, though, the close-cropped and tightly-curled hair is a more literal reflection of the garments. In some light, those beautifully rounded curls resemble the roses on the garments themselves. When compared to the pageboy length and style, the hair as a whole seems to represent the duality of the larger collection's theme.
Christian Siriano Spring, 2022
It takes a seriously stunning hairstyle to nearly eclipse both a show’s garments and the slew of celebrities in attendance, but the sculptural, swirling braids at Christian Siriano’s spring 2022 presentation did just that. With sorbet-toned pieces woven into models' hair, the color palettes and swept-back styles (artfully created by Jawara Wauchope) are meant to evoke a vintage Italian Riviera feel, inspired by Sirano’s grandmother’s summers in 1970s Positano.