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.