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Make-up artists' race against time at London Fashion Week

© AFP / by Edouard GUIHAIRE | A model gets a last-minute touch-up before Turkish designer Bora Aksu's show at London Fashion Week

LONDON (AFP) - 

Behind the scenes at London Fashion Week an army of make-up artists frantically apply finishing touches to models before they stride out onto the catwalk.

Time is running out before Turkish designer Bora Aksu's show and the models are not yet ready to face the flashbulbs.

"We need everyone to speed up!" shouts Janeen Witherspoon, the chief make-up artist.

She is firm and authoritative but betrays no sign of nerves or stress, having been here countless times before.

The Irish Canadian, who works in the shadows to bring the magic to the catwalk, knows her job and keeps a cool head.

Hairdressers, junior make-up artists, photographers, producers, dressers, stylists, technicians and other members of the backstage team are dashing about around her.

The make-up tables bear large mirrors fringed with lightbulbs, where the models, wearing Aksu's outfits or partially undressed, sit patiently, indifferent to the whirlwind around them.

The clock is against them: they are due to present London-based Aksu's spring-summer 2018 collection in under an hour.

"We're always up against the time," Witherspoon told AFP, skilfully flying her brush across a young model's face.

"There's always a lot to do with make-up. We may have girls coming from other shows and they have a full face of make-up and we have to get that off and do the new look."

- Brushes at the ready -

Running a team of 10 make-up artists, Witherspoon is charged with transforming the faces of around 20 young female models about to step into the spotlights on the stage, with photographers poised, ready to send pictures flashing around the world.

In keeping with Aksu's collection, she uses a make-up style inspired by Maude Fealy, a US silent movie actress famed for her beauty.

Each model's make-up takes around 15 minutes, and besides applying it herself, Witherspoon checks and signs off on the work of each of her make-up artists.

"I'm sort of the conductor, and it's about my team and having all of them very close to me. They all understand me and they know how it works. It's about me going in and taking control," she said.

The models await their turn at a table covered in sandwiches, coffee and sweets.

"It's quite relaxing," Birthe Harms, an 18-year-old German model with blue-grey eyes and long, straight brown hair, said of getting her make-up done.

"I think about the show and try to prepare myself."

Liis-Kristiin Narska, a 17-year-old Estonian model, said she either thinks about her schoolwork or lets her mind wander while a team of six people whirl around her, some powdering her cheeks, others transforming her curly hair into an impressive mop.

"I've gotten use to it by now. At first it was super-cool to get make-up done on me.

"Now it's just regular. When it's over, it's interesting to see what the make-up artist does."

- Last-minute adjustments -

With the show about to start, Aksu rounds up the troops, the models queueing in single file ready to hit the stage. Leaving the tables, the make-up artists take up their palettes and continue working on the models seconds before they march out.

Noses, cheeks, lips, foreheads, eyelids, eyelashes, and even arms and legs are all double-checked and re-touched if necessary.

When the house lights go down, the make-up team uses special lamps to keep on working.

"We're just perfecting the looks," said Claudia Savage, 32, one of the team.

"We're looking at anything that needs to be taken down or powered; any imperfections that weren't spotted in the initial make-up," she said, revelling in the intensity of the last-minute adjustments.

"It's very exciting. It can be tough but it's enjoyable.

"It's adventurous, it's creative, it's fun. It can be very stressful at times and very challenging. But to do a job that you love, you don't feel like working."

Right on time, the show starts. And the make-up team can breathe at last. Mission accomplished.

by Edouard GUIHAIRE

© 2017 AFP