The first sign that a looming health crisis would have a big impact on the fashion industry came in January. Exports from China, the epicenter of the outbreak, slowed and then stopped. But business continued for makeup artists and hairstylists like Sarah Redzikowski. Until it didn't.
"The minute we went into the stay-at-home order," Redzikowski remembered, "obviously my work completely stopped in terms of being able to work on set, work on clients."
Redzikowski specializes in fashion styling and has worked with clients including Versace, MTV, and Diesel. She has worked in the industry for more than a decade, dividing her time between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
But in the days before stay-at-home orders became the norm, tensions on the job ramped up as artists and talent struggled to maintain distance and keep themselves safe.
"People were really worried," Redzikowski explained about the final days on set. "On one of my jobs, I had a talent just leave in the middle of the day. He felt really uncomfortable around all the people."
In an industry where close physical contact is not only normal, it is required to perform the job, Redzikowski and other makeup artists have had to pack up their kits, with no sign of being able to get back to work. She hasn't had a job in more than two months. Adding to the anxiety is an uncertain unemployment system.
Despite federal provisions made for independent contractors, Redzikowski has not applied for unemployment benefits. But it is not because she does not need financial support.
She lives primarily in Nevada, a state slow to open its unemployment system to people like her.
"Unemployment only opened on Saturday [May 16] for independent contractors and self-employed. We were one of the last states to allow freelancers to apply," Redzikowski said. She is gathering up all her paperwork to apply this week, hoping for a smooth process.
Compounding her money stress is an unpaid invoice from more than two months ago.
"I'm not sure when they plan on paying me," she said. The job was on March 10, one of the last days she was able to work.
Courtesy of Sarah Redzikowski
In the meantime, Redzikowski is getting creative, leveraging social media and the internet to explore new income streams. She has begun creating tutorials on makeup application but also on the makeup industry, explaining how she got into her field and signed with an agency, as well as how-to videos on sanitizing and disinfecting makeup kits. Plus, like so many in other industries, she's trying to work via video conference.
"I gave away a handful of sessions of Zoom makeup lessons on one of my social media channels," she explained, saying that video calls may also be the reality for the foreseeable future in her field. "Some clients might not have makeup artists on set for a while, but there is a chance they might want us to train talent or they might want us to walk talent through how to do their makeup for different shoots."
The future of her industry, though, remains uncertain. With celebrities styling themselves and even taking their own cover photos during the pandemic, the need for hair and makeup on set feels less pressing. But Redzikowski is confident her talents will be recognized, and hairstylists and makeup artists will bounce back.
"I think we add a lot to the final look of shoots and movies and productions, and I don't think our value is going to be diminished," she said. "I just think that there's going to be a shift for a time and there's going to be a new normal, but I do think that eventually, it'll bounce back. Because our industry is important."
While she waits for the day to pick up her brushes again — this time with a gloved hand and her face behind a shield — she is practicing self-care by journaling and setting aside time for exercise and magnesium salt baths, things she doesn't think she would have had time for before.
"I travel a lot for my job and I'm constantly on the go, so being able to carve out an hour every night for this relaxing evening routine has been something new for me. But it's been really nice," she explained.
When asked what makeup tools everyone should have in their coronavirus kit, Redzikowski picked up on the biggest trend of the season.
"I think there's going to be a huge shift towards more eye makeup if people are wearing masks. So make sure you have a good mascara, a good brow product. Maybe rock something that you're not normally comfortable with," she said with a laugh.
And all those rules about coordinating your eyeshadow and lip color or minimizing your lipstick for a strong eye and vice versa?
"All those rules are out the door right now. You can probably have a bit of fun if you still want to."