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Collina Strada AW23 NYFW Dazed Cris Fragkou
Photography Christina Fragkou

Enter Collina Strada’s weird, wild world of beauty

There have been freaky animal prosthetics, muddy XXL braids and vegetable contour – but one thing you will never see at a Collina Strada show is a red lip. We spoke to designer Hillary Taymour about having the most unconventional beauty at NYFW

Epically long fairytale braids, freaky animal prosthetics and fresh fruits and vegetables worn as contour, blush and powder: welcome to the weird, wild world of Collina Strada’s beauty. Consistently, since the label started having runway shows at New York Fashion Week, there’s been an undeniably unconventional aesthetic. Given that runways are all too often dominated by subtle cat-eye flicks and natural make-up, Collina Strada has uniquely propelled itself into being unquestionably the most interesting New York label when it comes to beauty.

For the label’s most recent SS24 show, models marched forward with forced grins on their faces, to the tune of doomsday-like music. The make-up by Fara Homidi may have been spare – the highlight was the Starface stickers that some models wore across their faces and bodies – but Evanie Frausto wove scraps of fabric, patchworked braided extensions and colourful DIY-looking chunks through the hair. “This is my fourth or fifth time working with Hillary [Taymour, the brand’s creative director], so I feel like we’ve kind of built this Collina person,” Frauso said backstage. “It’s always organic, natural – a farm girl, or horse girl that moves to Downtown New York but she’s still kind of weird. She’s cool and freaky and fashionable.” The extension prep took over one month.

The beauty at Collina Strada is never really that simple. “It’s about why we are here when the earth is on fire, and then embracing the feminine power that might save us,” explains Hillary Taymour, just a few days before the show. “It’s a little bit more feminine than Collina usually is. It’s a little bit dirty. It’s a little bit embracing of queer feminine energy.” To end the show, King Princess performed as the models danced around the runway in their pastel-powered garb; the resulting effect very much felt like an intimate girls’ sleepover, without the overdone frills.

The designer’s other personal favourite beauty looks include the SS20 show, with cucumbers and radishes on the face, and the label’s collaboration with Gucci Fest in which Hanne Gaby Odiele was transformed into an ice queen in a video game. And of course, the 20-foot-long braids that trailed the runway for spring 2023 (“We dipped them in mud because I brought mud back from a trip in Sicily, and then Evanie put pigment paint in the mud and we dipped them in and just dragged it”). Also: racoon-like hair that rivalled the best days of emo and scene-kid style for SS22.

“I always kind of mock the traditional runway format,” says Taymour, adding that having an experimental beauty look is intrinsic to her vision. “It just makes sense for the brand. I feel really fortunate to be in a space where people take me seriously, but I’m literally making a mockery out of fashion at the same time. But it’s because I don’t take fashion very seriously. It’s strong, it’s my business, it’s everything. But I try to bring a lighthearted optimism to fashion and make people have fun while doing it.”

The aforementioned animal-themed prosthetics from the AW23 show, titled Please Don’t Eat My Friends, were a work in progress for almost two years before they became the surreal, lifelike visions that graced the runway. Taymour admits that she spent most of the show’s budget on the make-up, hiring Isamaya Ffrench to create the looks. “We were sitting in my studio, she’s sitting on the floor painting prosthetics three days before the show,” Taymour remembers. “It was hardcore low-budget, back-of-house type actions. I was like, ‘Do you want a chair?’ And she’s like, ‘No, I’m good.’ I’m like, ‘Good. I don’t have another chair.’ It’s like, welcome to nothing!”

“Beauty to me is just your true essence,” she adds. “It’s your aura. It’s how you present yourself, it’s how you feel, it’s how you act. Beauty, really, means I can meet someone in a room and, just by their energy, [I can] understand if I’m going to embrace them into my life or just speak to them. Do you know what I mean? I think that beauty is energy.”

Of course, Taymour’s recognisable personal style always plays a hand in the extreme beauty seen at her runway shows, too. “I think I am always trying to push, push, push, push, push for as creative as we can go,” she says. “And then I like to take it away afterwards, if that makes sense. I’ll try to go as far deep as we can and then I’ll be like, OK, now take it off... It’s interesting because it has to be dirty and it has to be feminine. For me, my relationship with make-up is so different from most women. I am Egyptian, so I wear a heavy eye and nothing on my face. I hate even a tinted lip gloss. I would die if someone put a tinted lip gloss on me. You know what I mean? So I’m very specific in my needs for make-up and I think that translates in the shows.”

One thing you’ll never see as a Collina Strada beauty look? A red lip. “I understand the empowerment behind a red lip, but it’s just not me,” she says. “A red lip, I think, is the easiest thing a woman can do to pull an outfit together. I feel like I never take the easy route.”

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