Crazy Rich Asians' Hairstylist Explains Exactly What Makes Hair Look "Expensive"
On the surface, the entire premise of Crazy Rich Asians sounds like a scene pulled straight from Pretty Woman: rich man meets independent, far-less-rich woman; they fall head over heels; some people just don't get it — you know how this ends. (It's worth noting that Constance Wu's character, Rachel Chu, is not in the same line of work.)
Yet, what makes this movie truly special isn't only in its all-Asian cast, but also that it depicts a not-so-far-fetched look into the life of Singapore's one percent. The divide between old money vs. new money vs. Asian natives vs. Asian-Americans is omnipresent, and if you couldn't tell by the fancy cars or $1.2 million jewelry, there may be another way to know: with the hair and makeup.
"New money people wanted to show off, so we made the hair and makeup very over the top. We could not have done that with Nick Young (Henry Golding)'s family. That side had a more classic look."
That was the job of the film's lead hair and makeup artist, Heike Merker. "We tried to differentiate the groups from each other," she told POPSUGAR. "With the new money people, they wanted to show off more so we made the hair and makeup very over the top. We could not have done that with Nick Young (Henry Golding)'s family. That side had a more classic look. The hair was perfect, and we never used too much makeup on a daily basis unless there was a party — but even then it was as if someone came in and did it for them."
When it came to lead actor Wu, Merker kept her beauty style on the minimalistic side, and then made it progressively fancier as time went on. "Rachel was just a normal working girl from New York; she didn't have fancy things, so we kept her makeup very natural in the beginning. Then when she traveled to Singapore, as she got to know the family members and got invited to the parties, we gave her more and more and more makeup. We also changed the hairstyle on her, making it more elegant."
As for what constitutes "expensive-looking" hair, she says it's simple: haircuts. "Rich hair is shiny. The ends are never dry. If you always cut your hair, the ends are always perfect." Wanna know how she kept the cast looking perfect while filming in the sweltering heat with 85 percent humidity? Merker is spilling all the tea ahead — and yes, it is crazy rich, indeed.
Beating the Heat
As you can see from the way Wu's clutching to that portable fan, filming Crazy Rich Asians was hot — in a not-so-hot way.
"The problem was that we shot this film in Malaysia, and the humidity was at 85 percent," Merker said. "It was too hot, and then the hair would straighten out pretty fast, even if you had the best curl and used lots of hairspray. It was nice when we could do [updos], but if there was a day where everyone had long straight or long curly hair, it was a disaster."
Peripera Oil Capture Pact
"We had lots of touch-ups, any time we could jump in between shooting," she laughs. "We all had powder puffs in our hands all the time. The thing is, you can't just add regular powder on top of the shine because then it becomes too thick. I used a lot of the Peripera Oil Capture Pact ($15), which I picked up in Malaysia. It's not really powder; it was more like silk on the skin. It's not expensive, either."
Fudge Skyscraper Medium Hold Hairspray
More difficult than keeping the makeup from sliding off the actors' faces? Keeping their hair from losing its style, which was quite a feat in the Malaysian heat.
"In Singapore, because of the humidity, we had to use hairspray — a pretty strong one," Merker said. "This was a challenge because if you use too much, you can see it under the light or on camera. I really like the Fudge Skyscraper Medium Hold Hairspray ($46) because it's strong but leaves the hair soft. That's important because you're not just shooting one scene a day, and so if you have to change the hairstyle, this was easy to brush out so you can start again."
Landing on Peik Lin's Blond Hair Color
The decision to make Awkwafina's character, Peik Lin, a blonde was not a one-and-done deal. "If you do a film and everybody has black hair, yes, it's fine, but it's good to have some contrast," said Merker. "We did that with Peik Lin's family. They were new money, so they wanted to be different — they had too many cars, wore too bright clothing, loved gold. With her, I thought, Let's give her a different hair color because this family is the one who's different, the idea being that next week she would have pink hair or green hair the next."
Merker adds that there was a point before filming that the hair and makeup team was debating giving Peik Lin a different hair color and style in every single scene. "We skipped it because it was too much," she laughs. "We didn't want to confuse the audience, so we said, 'OK, let's do one look.'"
The Inspiration Behind Astrid's Look
Astrid Young's (played by Gemma Chan) quintessential look throughout the film may give off major Audrey Hepburn vibes, but the inspiration behind the character's look is far simpler: the book. "It's not like there were descriptions of what the hair looked like in the book, but the drawing on the cover was such a good hairstyle for Astrid — with the dress and everything, it was perfect," Merker said.
Chosungah 22 Real Cheek Smoother
Among the staples on set of Crazy Rich Asians lies K-beauty brand Chosungah 22. "We used so many of these products on the film, and they are perfect," she said. Among Merker's favorites? The company's Real Cheek Smoother ($22) and its Dong Gong Minn Jello Color Eye Shadow Palette in #1.
Getting It Glowing
It wasn't just Wu's ethereal dress that caught all the attention during that tear-jerking final scene — it was also her skin. (This was on purpose.) "During that wedding scene, we added shine to her arms and neck to give her a sheen," Merker said. "It went with her loose, soft dress, something like a dream — like she was floating."
MAC Mineralize Skinfinish in Lightscape
"We used these MAC body powders, which had yellow, orange, light blue pastel colors," she said, referring to the brand's Mineralize Skinfinish in Lightscape ($34). "We used a brush and went over her arms and neck with it."
The Importance of Crazy Rich Asians
Considering how the last contemporary movie starring an all-Asian cast debuted more than 25 years ago, the fact that this is so successful is an indicator that the world is ready for better representation in Hollywood.
"We saw this with Black Panther a few months ago, and it just goes to show: it doesn't matter if you are black, Asian, white, whatever — your skill is what's important," she said. "I'm so happy that this movie is running so well so they can show everyone, 'Hey, this is a film about Asians, and people will still come and watch it.'"
It's about damn time.