Inside fashion: Pull back the curtain and celebrate artists backstage

Angelica Chrysler works on the NBA's Miami Heat basketball player. (Photo Courtesy of Angelica Chrysler)

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye

Profile: Four Native American makeup artists who made their way into the fashion industry, now contribute unique styles

Fashion Week was that moment when fashion designers and models were brilliant in the spotlight. Yet behind the scenes, backstage, there were also hair and makeup artists who helped create the event.

Pull back the curtain and you will see how designers pay attention to details starting from styling the pieces for each outfit, even seconds before models hit the runway. They make sure the accessories and shoes complement the outfit to convey an idea or statement. Everything has to be perfect.

Next to the designer checking the looks are the makeup artists dusting on last-minute powder on the models’ noses. This is that story, a profile of four Native American makeup artists who made their way into the fashion industry and now contribute their unique styles.

Hannah Manuelito

When Hannah Manuelito, Navajo, feels stressed or overwhelmed, you’ll find her in front of a mirror playing with makeup – or tackling models backstage (not literally). The OXDX brand marketing manager got introduced into the industry in the way millennials often find inspiration: social media.

Before the 25-year-old started working for OXDX Clothing, she was a student at Arizona State University pursuing her bachelor’s degree in photography. Back then, she wore the simple everyday looks that were suitable for a college student. But as her studies got more creative so did her makeup. That’s when Jared Yazzie, owner of OXDX Clothing, noticed and asked her to do makeup for his models for a Refinery29 video – even though she said she has only done it on her friends and family.

After the Refinery29 video, she became the go-to person for OXDX. Her big challenge came when the company had their fall collection release and they would hold fashion show for it. Approximately 20 people had their makeup done – models, performers, and those who just loved her work. From then on, she would get requests via social media for photoshoots, birthday parties or other events.

It’s incredible to hear about Manuelito’s makeup journey over the phone. She started it in high school when “emo” was the thing back in the day, she said. She said she looked up to musicians like Paramore for her makeup inspiration.

Now she’s doing crazy and bizarre looks on her Instagram with either drug-store or high-end makeup. “Sometimes I sit down and play around,” she said. I get inspired from a certain color palette and see certain colors paired and try to translate that into a certain makeup look.” She used to do SnapChat tutorials a couple years ago and now she does them on Instagram.

Speaking of Instagram, Manuelito started to use Native made cosmetic lines, such as Indigenous Cosmetics, Ah-shí Beauty and Quw’utsun’ Made. In fact, she and Shaina Yazzie, OXDX’s operation manager are collaborating with Arianna Johnny-Wadsworth of Quw’utsun’ Made to bring you an Indigenous-made lip scrub. How did this happen? When she was in Santa Fe, getting ready and applying her makeup. She told Yazzie and Johnny-Wadsworth that her “lips were all chizzy.” Johnny-Wadsworth told her, “We should do a lip scrub. We could totally do that.”

As with her makeup, she encourages people to “be comfortable” and to “try something new!”

Goldie Tom

One day Goldie Tom, Navajo, was applying her makeup when her partner called her the “war paint specialist.” She replied, “I like that!” She didn’t know if he was joking but she liked the ring to it when said out loud and it clicked for her.

While in cosmetology school, Tom’s cohort considered her an “over achiever.” She saw herself as a “late bloomer” compared to the fresh-out-of-high-school students but she finally found a career she loved. “It’s a lot of work, hours go into what I do. It’s not dreadful. I love every minute of it,” she said. The results and her resume certainly speak for themselves.

The War Paint Specialist recently received a certification in FX Makeup from the Hollywood Makeup Academy in Los Angeles, California. She was the creative hair-makeup manager for the Plitz Fashion Show during New York Fashion Week, and has completed more of her work at Miami Swim Week for Planet Fashion TV, Los Angeles Fashion Week, and the Style Fashion Show in New York.

Even though she enjoys doing hair and makeup for weddings, fashion shows, high-school dances, and film, Tom hopes to start on prosthetic makeup to create monsters and zombies.

No problem for her. Tom is used to hard work. Cosmetology school is not as easy as it seems. “You basically know what a nurse knows,” she said. “You know the chemicals in the products, the different layers of the skin, the muscles, the biology, layers of hair nails. All of that plus first-aid. If anything would ever happen chemically, you would know how to fix it.” If it were a client, you need to think on your feet and act quickly. However, you wouldn’t know those types of things unless you were studying to be a cosmetologist or attending one of Goldie’s workshops.

Back in Gallup, New Mexico, the 33-year-old hosts workshops called Lashes and Lattes. Instructors told Tom and others in school that while they are cosmetologists, they are also therapists. Women sit in salon chairs to get pampered and while they sit there, they share their stories. “A lot of women shared their stories with me about how they don’t’ feel beautiful or they don’t take of themselves or are afraid of makeup. They want to wear makeup but they don’t know what to use.” With all the trends and techniques on YouTube and Instagram, it’s easy to get confused and overwhelmed. Tom also thinks those trends aren’t for real women who are working mothers or working women because “they’re on the grind all the time” and don’t have time to sit in front of the mirror for two hours. It’s also unrealistic, which lead to her the idea of holding workshops. She would teach women efficient makeup techniques so they can be done in 5 to 15 minutes or how to get rid of puffiness if that’s what they wanted to learn. Women of all ages would attend her workshops. “Makeup isn’t for just a certain age range,” she said. And the same applies for if a someone wanted to wear green or red lipstick. “There are not rules for makeup.”

What’s the best part she loves about her job? Seeing the reaction of her clients when they see themselves in the mirror. “I try to take snapshots of how they’re excited about their makeup and hair. That to me is worth more than money,” said Tom who loves instilling confidence in her clients and making them feel beautiful. “If I could live off of that, I would live off of that only.”

Alexis Raeana Jones

Alexis Raeana Jones, Lumbee, considers herself a self-taught makeup artist. She’s grew a love for makeup with all the pageants and modeling gigs she has participated in. During her freshman year at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, she invested $400 into her MAC makeup products. After that, she started to build her kit and practice on friends.

Recently, the college student was the makeup artist for Shayne Watson’s fashion show, her first Native American fashion show. She had to complete the look for 14 models in 10 hours. Whenever she is working, she likes to play traditional music, if the setting allows it, to create a calm atmosphere.

The 22-year-old gets inspired by anything, differences in tribes, entertainment and fashion. Even the environment which speaks to her area of study in environmental science and geospatial technologies and side gig as a professional singer. “My favorite thing to do is look at different regalia and think, ‘Oh man! I could create the baddest look from that!’”

Angelica Chrysler

Miami Heat. Cosmopolitan. Vogue. Bride Magazine. Angelica Chrysler, Mohawk and Lenape, travels to where she is needed for photoshoots, concerts, corporate events, fashion shows or weddings. For 19 years, hard work and turning on her business brain got her to this point. As a single mom from Detroit, Chrysler found that the puzzle piece that makes or breaks you as an entrepreneur is the business side.

After a couple years working in a salon doing hair and makeup, she began her journey doing makeup full-time under an agent. A client and marketing manager told her to get her systems down in place while working solo before building a team. Soon enough, she became her own agent and manages a team of six artists. As a team, they’ve gone to Swim Week, Toronto and New York City and always represent her brand.

The Florida-based artist is working toward a few goals: her business webinars, her book, and holding workshops for Native youth in different Native communities. Her business webinars will launch in January and those interested can start their monthly subscription later this year. Right now, the book is in progress and will consist of short stories and poems of how she got out of the tough situations in her life that Native youth can relate to. For example, how she got out of being homeless at 18-years-old with no high-school diploma. (She did obtain her GED and completed cosmetology school.) Ultimately, she wants to show Native youth that turning the hard times around is possible. One of those ways is learning how to manage a business. She plans to use the webinar proceeds to conduct business workshops for Native youth and “create artists who are able to turn their passion into a business.” She wants to “build confidence and self-esteem through business.”

Jourdan Bennett-Begaye, Diné, is a reporter/producer for Indian Country Today in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter@jourdanbb.