What’s it really like at New York Fashion Week? Fatima Thomas knows better than anyone. The Atlanta native has been at MAC Cosmetics for 23 years and worked on hundreds of runway shows. Here’s a morning behind-the-scenes.

5 A.M. This is the earliest call-time you’ll have for a show. It doesn’t happen often, but if it’s a very involved look, it can happen. During Fashion Week, there’s no template for your time. So it’s totally possible at 5 A.M. you might already be backstage. Otherwise, I like to meditate. I think it’s good to take a minute in your morning to clear your thoughts anyway, but during Fashion Week? I do a lot more. I’ll take 5 minutes to sit and be still and let my mind flow. I empty my mind. What do I want my day to be like? And you’ve got to do it at home or, if you’re traveling to Milan or Paris, in your hotel room–if you try to meditate backstage, you’re already too late.

6 A.M. You bring your makeup kit everywhere, and it’s fully prepped—that’s actually a process that starts a week before Fashion Week, because you need time to replenish your supplies. It’s basically like spring cleaning on steroids, for beauty products: You take a day to go through your kit. You inventory it—see what you have, see what you’ve been using, what you haven’t used as much because the trend has changed. You clean your brushes and palettes, you switch out products, and get it sparkling and lovely and ready for the week. Clean and lovely, that’s my rule.

7 A.M. We have “face charts,” which are basically diagrams of the beauty look, taped up at every makeup station. It’s important we collaborate with the designer—typically the week before—because makeup completes the story they want to tell on the runway… When I’m the key makeup artist at a show like Chromat or Gypsy Sport, it’s exciting because they’re newer designers with a lot of eyes on them. I push them creatively; they push me creatively. It’s a dream situation.

8 A.M. It’s very important you stay healthy and nourished during Fashion Week, but it’s obviously hard because you’re so busy…There’s catering backstage, but sometimes you’re not able to get it when it’s available, or sometimes it’s just not something you want to eat! So I always pack healthy snacks in my kit. I like almonds. I order packs of baby food, because they’re easy to carry and you just slurp them down. They’re these squeezable packs that get your fruit and vegetables in. I like KIND Bars, too.

9 A.M. When the models go to rehearsal, you start to see the look take shape before the show. Some things have changed, but a lot of trends have come back around from when I began working at MAC in the ‘90s! Grunge was happening and Twig Lipstick [a soft brown-and-pink lipstick] was #1. People would line up on the sidewalk to get it!… Now, we’re having more color and sparkle because people are craving more light… But trends don’t really matter to us as makeup artists right now, because we’re being tasked with accepting individuality. You’ll see shows where every model gets a different look. You’ll see models that are more gender fluid. You’ll see skin that might be more raw. Now, it’ll still have product on it, but from the audience, you might not know it. You’ll just think, “Wow, that model is so fresh!” That’s the power of makeup.

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