This Stylist, Producer, And Model Has Been Re-Creating Mesmerizing Runway Makeup Looks During Lockdown
It was at the beginning of lockdown that Jessica Wu first began her #JWuDoesRunway series, in which she re-creates iconic makeup looks from the catwalk archive—think Chanel fall 2012’s sequined eyebrows or Valentino’s spring 2019 couture pastel painted face flowers—down to every last dizzying detail. “Makeup is a way for me to flex my creative muscles and have fun,” explains Wu, a model, stylist, producer, and press director of Peter Do. “But for me as an amateur, it also involves a lot of problem-solving and trial and error. I love the tension between precision and imperfection that makeup allows, especially since I personally don’t think there are hard-line rules.”
While Wu has always been passionate about doing her own makeup, she was inspired to take it to the next level last spring after deep cleaning her home and coming across an old box of prop-styling materials, including rhinestones, sequins, and glitter. “I immediately thought of all the iconic runway makeup that accumulated in my memory since I first fell in love with fashion shows in middle school,” she says. Growing up the daughter of two Taiwanese immigrants in Newport Beach, California, Wu spent many of her formative years devouring fashion shows, and in turn the editorial beauty looks created by the likes of legendary pros Pat McGrath and Peter Philips. “On the runways, it’s always interesting to see how makeup is used to complement, enhance, and at times even distract from the clothing,” explains Wu. “I just love the sheer range of runway beauty—it can be anything from barefaced, dewy ‘no makeup makeup’ to the most intricate time-intensive creation to just about everything in between.” In April, Wu introduced her first #JWuDoesRunway look: a soft sweep of lilac shadow across the eyes with crystal teardrops along the cheeks, inspired by Jean Paul Gaultier’s spring 2007 couture show.
In the weeks that followed, she deftly executed Giambattista Valli’s spring 2020 fresh face florals, Prada’s fall 2018 Swarovski-studded cat eyes, and Dior’s spring 2013 couture ruby red crystal lips, among others. “Sometimes I just spend hours, literally in bed, scrolling my phone on the Vogue Runway app looking back in the archive to refresh my memory and get inspired, starting with the earliest collections they have listed all the way to the present,” she explains. She’s accumulated an assortment of odds and ends, such as pearl decal stickers, neon-bright feathers, and tiny, “nearly microscopic” Swarovski crystals to have at the ready when something strikes a chord. Of all the looks Wu has created, it was McGrath’s “beautifully iced maidens” (as Mother called them), brought to life with glitter-washed eyes and frostbitten cheeks for John Galliano’s fall 2009 show, that was among the most difficult to re-create—and rewarding once all was said and done. “From getting the shadowing right on the eyes and drawing the brows to painting false lashes white and adding nuanced details like gold to my Cupid’s bow, inner eyes, and chin, it was definitely a challenge overall,” she explains. “I still consider myself an eye shadow novice to this day, so the way it came out was also a pleasant surprise.”
While Wu often likes to work with her hands and fingertips when applying makeup, she’s also been practicing with tools, diving into a set of monogrammed Chikuhodo brushes that were gifted to her during high school by her dad’s friend from Japan. “I was so precious with them and too scared to open them for years, but when I finally did, it was kind of a revelation, especially after I learned about the history behind the brush making; I became more invested in the art of makeup and wanted to expand my horizons.” During the process, Wu says she explores how to do makeup for her individual face shape and features, explaining: “One thing I’ve realized since starting #JWuDoesRunway is how difficult it can be to replicate makeup done on models with hooded eyes on my own face, as I have non-hooded eyes. Anatomically, I just have a lot of eyelid space (or eyelid real estate as one makeup artist told me!) and space between my eyelids and my eyebrows, so sometimes the makeup can appear a bit inaccurate or even look entirely different from the original look.” For example, in interpreting Saint Laurent’s fall 2016 sooty smoky eyes, she tweaked the wing design according to what would emphasize and highlight her eye shape best. “It took me a few tries to get the shape and shading of the pitch-black shadow correct for my eye shape to emulate the one on the runway,” she explains. Having perfected it, along with the season’s fresh complexion and glossy vermillion lip, she’s planning to redo the look in all it’s “’80s glamour” glory for a night out post-pandemic, she says.
Over the past year, becoming her own canvas for the escapist beauty looks that have always inspired her has brought Wu much solace—and reminded her about using makeup as a tool of self-discovery. “I was very insecure about my identity and outward appearance for most of my teenage years,” explains Wu. “I wore wire-frame glasses and had braces all throughout high school, but when I came home from class I would take off my glasses and play with the little makeup that my mom had on rotation. The way in which a vibrant lip or stroke of eyeliner made me feel just a bit more confident was invigorating and inspired me to keep experimenting.” It also reminds her of why, in 2012, she took the leap to move across the country to New York City, attend the Fashion Institute of Technology, and follow her dreams of working in fashion. “Reminiscing on my favorite shows and makeup looks is always comforting as it reminds me of the original reason why I pursued it as a career,” explains Wu. “Since moving to New York and going from interning and assisting stylists to modeling myself and working with iconic models, ones who’ve graced the very runways that I’m inspired by, [things have] come full circle—and it’s a welcome reassurance.”
As for what’s next in the #JWuDoesRunway series? Wu has a bookmarked collection on Instagram, a folder on her desktop, and “more screenshots than she can count” in her phone of looks from the late ’90s through today. “These days I have less time to check the shows as they come during fashion month, but I do hear about the most exciting ones or the ones with the best makeup by word of mouth and my Instagram followers are always recommending me cool looks to re-create,” she explains. If you’ve got a suggestion, “DM me!” says Wu. She’s only just getting started.