With many of the Black nominees being skipped over for wins while Beyoncé wasn’t even nominated at this year’s Primetime Emmy awards, folks in the community are a bit in their feelings. But watching Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show from New York Fashion Week has seemed to be a remedy to get people’s spirits back in the happy place. And now whispers of a possible Emmy nom for the show which premiered on Amazon Prime Video last week have been circling.
Rihanna thoughtfully chose to mix models with non-models, showing that women of all shapes, sizes and heights can confidently rock her collections. That was the jumping off point for the innovative looks conceived by the hair and makeup teams, who created a plethora of looks to complement the array of beauties wearing them.
After they recovered from all the euphoria of the show, ESSENCE sat down to chat with Yusef Williams, who led the hair team to create dynamic pin curl styles and more, and Hector Espinal, who, along with Priscilla Ono, dazzled us with makeup that will be mimicked for several seasons to come. They shared how it all came together, what it’s likes to work with Rihanna, and their favorite parts of the show.
ESSENCE: The show was massive in so many ways. How does one conceptualize hair and makeup for a show of this caliber?
Hector Espinal: Overall Rihanna wanted to make sure the girls looked bold, sexy and glam and still had an edge. So we wanted to create looks that really are empowering, as the show was so powering and rooted in diversity. You saw women from all sizes and shapes. And it was important to really relate that with the makeup and the creative aspect of it all.
Yusef Williams: When I looked at all the drawings and all the pictures of the models and the clothes, I just thought instantly of these beautiful porcelain statues. I saw pin curls, waves, and Josephine Baker, and all these things just kept flowing out of me. So I just sat models down in the chair and started creating these sculptural type of face shaping moments. And, I mean, there has to be some edge for me and for Rih.
ESSENCE: And you had to do this for 100 people!
Yusef Williams: At first it was like, ‘Oh there’ll be 50.’ Okay. Then it was 60. But then the final number came at the test like ‘Hey it’s like 85 girls but probably a hundred people.’ That’s how it is when you work with Rih. You just got to be ready because you never know what’s going to happen. She’s super spontaneous and everything is always a feeling.
Hector Espinal: When I heard the number 100, I’m not going to lie to you, I was like, holy crap. I was like, ‘Is this happening? This is it, we’re about to make history all over again.’ You know Fenty Beauty is such a well-oiled machine. We have so many amazing artists on deck and everybody was so honored and really prepared for everything.
ESSENCE: What were some of the things you did specifically with the hair?
Yusef Williams: We did some pin curls. And so I just wanted to show two slight squiggly lines contouring the cheekbones and creating exaggerated sideburns. It was a lot of fun for my team. We pre-made the hair so we just slicked the models’ hair back in a tight ponytail and then we just basically put the attachment on the front of the head, and you could still see the track. I wanted it to be obvious that it wasn’t their hair. It might become a trend. People [will start] walking around with an exposed bang track or something like that. You never know.
ESSENCE: And the beloved glittery crying eyes were present.
Hector Espinal: When we created that look I went to Rih like ‘Hey, what do you think about that?’ She thought it had so many elements where it still looked beautiful, looked edgy, and looked glam. It was really about creating this story that went with the lingerie. We used the Diamond Bomb to create beautiful halos on the eyes and their bodies were covered in glitter. We used Killawatt everywhere. I used them on the eyes, cheeks, lips; there was no limit and I felt like that was the best part of creating these looks. Sitting down and seeing all these amazing products that we have with Fenty Beauty, I wanted to create more and more but I knew we needed to be realistic.
ESSENCE: And everyone in the show seemed to really be enjoying themselves.
Hector Espinal: Between the makeup and the hair there was an ongoing process and it was imagining all of that. It was just really an organic thing. Rihanna really stressed how she wanted everybody to have fun. Off that conversation I was asking the artists and models how they like to enhance their eye shape, and how do they like to enhance their features. And then we did a look that was created around their shape, which I think was really helpful [for them] to feel more confident. Even though it seemed like a lot, it was actually seamless backstage. It was one of the least stressful shows I’ve actually worked on.
Yusef Williams: Models go from show to show and their hair is getting pulled, ironed, blow dried, and glued all day. Some girls are coming from like three shows already, and they’re like, ‘Alright what are you going to do to me now Yusef?’ So they were happy. And they had fun wearing the looks.
ESSENCE: What was your favorite part of all of this?
Hector Espinal: I am obsessed with the show. I have a new favorite part every time I watch it again. There was a moment when the dancers were on the stairs leaning back and I’m not joking, I was like ‘Jesus Christ, you can see the Trophy Wife from a mile away!’
Yusef Williams: I’m so happy. Everybody’s got to experience it. When I first saw the show I was blown away, like, ‘Holy crap! This is going to be crazy!’ And then to hear Emmy buzz and all this stuff, it’s exciting.