Making It Look Effortlessly Cool In America, And On TV
Last time we checked in on the set of How to Make It in America—HBO’s series about twentysomethings trying to earn a buck and make it big in fashion—relationship bridges were burning, money was still tight, and the boys (played by Bryan Greenberg and Victor Rasuk) were thinking of taking their clothing label to Tokyo. A lot was up in the air, including whether the show would be back for another season. Thankfully, it returned last night for the first episode of its second act. The low-budget, high-drama show manages to track through the streets of New York without being cliché, and its characters have a style that’s as real as the graffiti on the rusted metal doors (and the hustle that happens behind every handshake). We caught up with the production’s lead makeup artist, Bradley Stenson, to talk about the grit and glamour behind the lens.—Kari Molvar
What’s new about the look of season two?
“I felt like I could take more risks this season, and really push the makeup further, because we’re still building our audience. Not that I wanted to go crazy—the characters still have to look good—but I did more with bold nail colors and intense eye shadows like blues and greens that worked in certain scenes.”
Without giving away too much, what’s going on with the characters this time around?
“Well, the series picks up with Lake Bell’s character [Rachel] coming back from having traveled around the world, living out her Eat, Pray, Love moment, so she looks very natural and glowy. All her stuff is in storage, so she really can’t wear much makeup. We focused on a nude face with just a hint of sun—we actually tried an organic spray tan that looked okay in person but just did not work in high definition. So instead I used Chanel Perfection Lumière Long-Wear Flawless Fluid Makeup in a neutral brown, Estée Lauder Pure Color taupe eye shadows smoked out slightly, and this amazing Lancôme Prêt A Plum sheer blush on her cheeks and lips. It’s the perfect no-makeup makeup look.”
Very cool. Can we expect any new characters to turn up?
“There’s a new girl, Lulu, on the show [played by Nicole LaLiberte], and she’s the foil to Rachel’s simple, natural look. She owns a fashion shop and has time on her hands. She’s young and creative, the kind of girl that will paint her nails a different color every day and do a serious cat eye in the morning. Lulu’s meant to inspire Rachel to get out of this funk in her life, and her makeup plays into that. She wears bright eye shadows and bold lipstick, which motivates Rachel to step up her game, too.”
How did you avoid trends that would be played out by the time the episodes aired?
“I consulted with makeup brands to figure out what colors were coming out. For nails, I went with a lot of opaque whites, reds, and golds—things that hadn’t been released yet from NARS, Chanel, and Lauder. I assembled bags of products for each character ahead of time, and made sure that nothing overlapped, so every look was unique. The looks feed off each other, but nothing overlapped.”
Did shooting on the streets influence what kind of products you used?
“I had to get creative really quickly. There wasn’t any time to put things on and let them absorb, so I had to make sure the actors had great skin. I used a lot of 3Lab Super ‘h’ Serum, La Mer, and the entire Tata Harper line, which is very makeup compatible. My favorites are the Hydrating Floral Essence for prepping the face and the Replenishing Nutrient Complex applied everywhere.”
Did you rely on any fast makeup tricks this season?
“Well, I never apply products in the order you’re supposed to. I start with the eyes first, before foundation. This gives you more control over the whole look. So I’ll prime the lids with Vincent Longo Water Canvas Primer then apply eye shadows with a damp brush, which creates a watercolor, stained effect. From there, I do liner and mascara. Afterward, I go in with toner and clean up any flakes under the eyes and sweep it under the eye to create a really defined lash line. My last trick is to pat on Clarins Super Restorative Serum. It’s the only thing that sinks in quickly so you can put on concealer without it creasing up.”
Did the makeup evolve with the series—is there an arc to it?
“Yes, especially with Lake’s character, since she goes through a journey. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the show, but she has ups and downs. During a very memorable deli scene, we did a little bit of base and then a sheer, dark lip, using Fresh’s Sugar Plum Lip Treatment. We wanted her to look questionable, a little bohemian, very Lower East Side real. She’s at a low point, but you know, still looks good.”
Photo: Courtesy of HBO