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Beauty like it's 1999


The Nineties are back, inspiring a raft of retro beauty looks. Nude skin? Matte lips? Grungey eyes? You know you want to…

Words: Evie Leatham

Even the air smelled different back in the Nineties: thick with the androgynous scent of Calvin Klein’s ubiquitous CK One. No surprise really, given 20 bottles were sold every minute at its peak in 1995. It was a time when most of us were rushing to Toni & Guy to get our hair chopped into ‘Rachel’-style layers or jealously admiring our friends who had already taken the plunge, all the while debating the merits of scrunchies and supermodels as MTV blasted in the background.

Fast-forward two decades and fashion and beauty are having a Nineties moment once more. Hedi Slimane’s entire autumn/winter 2013 collection for Saint Laurent Paris was inspired by grunge, with Courtney Love – a poster girl for the Nineties movement if ever there was one – fronting the label’s new campaign. Another current beauty muse is the fictional character Lelaina Pierce, portrayed by Winona Ryder in 1994’s Reality Bites: all mulberry lips, feathered hair and a whole lot of angst. And who can forget My So-Called Life’s Angela Chase (brought to life by Claire Danes), whose hair was the quintessential Nineties shade of grape. It’s not only Saint Laurent Paris tapping into this era: the look on Chloé’s catwalk was also strongly influenced by Britain’s Nineties women. “We referenced Northern girls growing up in the Nineties on a night out; tough but beautiful,” said Anthony Turner who styled hair into a simple low ponytail at the show. Very Appleton sisters.

Those who came of age in this era will be either feeling swamped in nostalgia (spice lip-liner and frosted eyeshadow, anyone?) and keen to recreate these looks now or recoiling in fear at re-imagining Ginger Spice blonde streaks, over-plucked brows and crispy, overly gelled curls. We say embrace the former: the new Nineties looks are tempered by a prettier, cleaner, altogether more wearable aesthetic, with the decade that ‘done’ forgot now being remembered in the form of wet-look hair, matte lips, grown-out fringes and worn-in smoky eyes. And for those that missed out on an inspiring beauty decade altogether, here are the looks it’s OK to get newly acquainted with...

The new Goth lip

Red lips have the ability to morph into any era: deep creamy crimson harks back to the Fifties; glossy letterbox red screams Eighties and a bitten berry mouth is unmistakably Nineties. Our favourite Nineties-esque lips were seen at Vera Wang’s autumn/winter 2013 show where make-up artist Lucia Pieroni combined two lip colours – a deep burgundy and a chocolate brown – to create a dark pink-prune tone. She blended the edges to avoid a harsh lip line thereby ensuring the result was pretty. “What keeps the look modern is the subtle golden highlighter swept across the high points of the face and a strong but soft dark gold wash of eyeshadow all around the eyes,” she says. “Both allow the lip colour to really pop and keep skin from looking flat or too goth-like.”

The new grunge eye

This season saw a multitude of smoky, lived-in eyes but by far the prettiest reinvention was the lower-lash smoky eye at Rodarte. It was make-up artist James Kaliardos’ take on the Californiansurfer- girl-meets-Nineties-grunge back when everyone was obsessed with Point Break and Reef – the band and the brand. “It’s tricky to find the right brown,” Kaliardos explains. “I used Nars Bengali and Coconut Grove eyeshadows, swirling them below the lashes so the smoky colours seeped into the lower lash line.” He then lightly stippled black eye paint over the top to make it look like smudged mascara – for ease, you can press a mascara wand lightly against the skin, keeping it haphazard. The accidental approach is key: “Grunge doesn’t encourage perfection so if the eyeshadow falls, don’t clean it up,” he advises.

The new minimalism

Kate Moss, she of the freshly scrubbed skin and undone hair in the ground-breaking Calvin Klein Obsession campaigns circa 1993, was a key reference at Derek Lam, Tibi and Oscar de la Renta. Back then it was all about bare skin, now it’s about no-make-up make-up thanks to modern sheer foundations offering barely perceptible coverage. Gucci Westman, make-up artist at Oscar de la Renta, says: “Shape the brows and keep lips nude, either with balm or slicked with a sheer caramel lipstick.” Remember, nude is not to be confused with a beige lip, which is more Sixties than Nineties. At Tibi, lips were sketched with a brown lip liner matched to the brown eyeliner which was blended up from the lashes to create a deep, velvety brown finish: a true Nineties tribute.

(Main images: Rex Features)



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