Hellish tales of backstage meltdowns and cat fights behind the scenes at fashion week are what your average Joe might imagine life to be like for someone who works in the industry.

But what is the working world of fashion and beauty really like? What does someone who works at London Fashion Week really get up to? How do makeup artists maintain their creativity and work ethic during such an intense, demanding spell in the fashion calendar?

We spoke to senior makeup artist at MAC Cosmetics, Dominic Skinner, to find out some answers.

Dominic Skinner
(Dominic Skinner/MAC)

Hi Dominic! How do you prepare for fashion week in the days leading up?

I start preparing for fashion week about a month before. I spend a day going through my kit, section by section, making a list of everything that needs replacing, updating what may be missing. This is when you need a super-organised makeup kit.

Then, once all the new items have been collected, I’ll spend another day or two putting them into my kit. This is also the time I look to see how I can condense things down. I decant a lot of things into MAC Palettes to help reduce the size and weight of my kit.

What’s an average day at fashion week like for you?

An average day starts at around 4:30/5:00 am to be out of the house soon after, remembering to grab the washed makeup brushes from the night before. Normally there’s no time to pick up breakfast so you pray to the catering gods that there’s something backstage.

Once you get to the show space and you’ve got your backstage pass, you set up your makeup station ready to get to work. The key artist (who has designed the look of the show) does a demonstration to explain the look, then it’s your turn. There’s normally a three-hour window before the show starts to get things done, but once you factor in the demo, a rehearsal and getting into first looks you might be left with an hour and a half to get three models completed.

Once the models are in line-up, we attack the bodies! We go in with lotion, concealer and foundation to remove any imperfections like bruises, red hands, little cuts etc. Each model has to look perfect.

After the show, it’s a race to pack everything up and head to the next show to do it all over again. At some point you might need to duck into the MAC Pro store on Carnaby Street to collect the key items of makeup for an upcoming show.

Once you’re home, it’s time to tidy your kit, which inevitably looks like a makeup bomb exploded, and wash all your brushes so they are dry for the next day. It’s a month (if you factor in the other three major fashion weeks in Milan, New York and Paris) of long, hard days but it’s brilliant. There’s nothing else quite like it.

How is fashion week different to your normal working day?

During fashion week you do so much makeup. You’ll do two to three looks a show and about two shows a day for a week or two, depending if you go to other cities. Whereas a normal working day you may only do one look for a client or a shoot.

Do you enjoy working over fashion week?

I absolutely love working at fashion week. It’s a month of crazy but brilliant crazy. You get to spend time with some of the world’s best makeup artists, doing makeup in some places you’d just never normally get to go in, with a team of makeup artists, hairstylists and models who end up being like family. It’s a huge injection of inspiration and motivation every six months. Although it’s tiring, I always come home energised.

What can go wrong?

Quite honestly anything can go wrong. Looks can change just minutes before the show starts, models can arrive as the first look walks the catwalk, power cuts, arctic conditions. You name it, over the 10 years I’ve worked backstage, I’ve seen it all. But the show always goes on and no-one watching would have ever known. It’s all about the fashion week magic!

Any advice for other makeup artists hoping to make it through the week?

There’s lots of advice I’d give a makeup artist to prepare for fashion week. I’d start by saying to minimise your kit. You’ll have to drag it for miles, lug it up stairs and so you want it to be the lightest it possibly can. Also wear comfortable shoes because you do a lot of running around. Lastly, be prepared to work. It’s hard. It’s tiring, but so very rewarding. It’ll be the best time of your life and you’ll look back and wonder how on earth you did it all.