Veteran makeup artist Sam Fine has a resume that extends as far back as Brandy‘s “I Wanna Be Down” remix video directed by Hype Williams. In case you were wondering, the set of that video is where Sam first met his longtime client Queen Latifah. Fine has had the pleasure of working with numerous stars over the course of his twenty plus year career, and even has had made up multiple generations of women from Jillian Harvey to her mom Vanessa Williams.
We recently spoke with Sam to get his legendary beauty tips as well as discuss no-makeup makeup and beauty trends we should try this spring. Keep reading below for his advice!
How did you get started in makeup industry?
I moved to NYC at 17 with intentions of going to Parsons because I loved art and I was a fashion illustrator. I took this job and they ended up calling me back for their first Manhattan location and I moved to New York City when I was 19. I always call working at the cosmetic counter: the real school of beauty. It helped me understand makeup. It was the perfect training ground for me because I had no formal training so it was a wonderful opportunity to learn. It put me in contact with so many people doing wonderful things and people who referred me to Fran Cooper who is now a mentor of mine and Kevyn Aucoin, which is how I started working Fashion Week. I started working with Fran Cooper and assisted her for some fashion shows and then she referred me to Kevyn Aucoin.
I did everyone from Issac Mizrahi to Tracy Reese to Badgley Mischka to Donna Karan. Everywhere that Fran or Kevyn went, I did too. Fortunately, later on, these are shows I then keyed as opposed to being the artist. I took over the Fernando Sanchez show, Geoffrey Beene’s installations that I did for two or three seasons, Tracy Reese’s show, Byron Lars’ show. And this was the period of Naomi, Christy, Linda and Tyra was just coming up and Beverly Peele. This was a wonderful time for Black beauty and makeup. This is when we were still tweezing brows and bleaching brows and the looks were so specific in a way they aren’t today. The pendulum has swung dramatically when we look at American beauty and fashion today.
How did you first work with Queen Latifah?
Long before she was a CoverGirl, I was working with Brandy and Hype Williams was doing her remix video for “I Wanna Be Down” and they said “Yo Sam we’re using rappers Queen Latifah, MC Lyte and YoYo and you’re going to do them too.” And that’s how I met Queen Latifah.
I always say you have to be in it to win it because everything is a chance meeting. It’s really a small world and when you look at how celebrities have changed, Vanessa Williams, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Jennifer Hudson, they all started in singing but they become Oscar-winning actresses and more and part of that journey is they picked us up along the way. I was fortunate enough to work with Queen Latifah on her first CoverGirl ad. It’s just getting in the room.
Let’s talk about the juxtaposition of doing makeup for mom and daughter Vanessa Williams and daughter Jillian Harvey of Lion Babe.
Having started my career with someone like Patti LaBelle and working with Gladys Knight and Chaka Khan, you have to have a range and understanding of what beauty means to these women of a certain age and that goes back to the cosmetic counter. If I were to play with trends on Patti, it would almost look like a throwback to Patti versus present day as opposed to doing something like that on a new generation kid and calling it a new trend. So there’s always that point of difference. I can play with Jillian and do glitter and black smokey eyes and really fun things that I used to do with Vanessa. She’s my longest standing client. I’ve been with her for 22 years. I did Jillian for prom! Whether I’m doing Vanessa for her wedding or Miss America pageant, it’s about finding a classic look that keeps her fresh without trying the trends.
How has makeup changed for the better and for the worse since you started in the ‘90s?
I remember when I was working with Naomi Campbell and I had a huge fight with a photographer over the way that I had done a darker liner on the outer perimeter, which was very classic to Naomi. Doing a darker liner around the perimeter for women of color and then beige or glossy in the center was a trend. We saw that trend taken by our sisters with black liner and really pale lips and not blended well. That’s always going to happen. Now Instagram makeup artists have the viewership that magazines don’t have anymore, so they’re being inspired by these YouTubers and Instagram artists and those looks really work well for them, but don’t work for everyone else. You’re going to find the layman’s terms and people will make mistakes trying to achieve the look, whether that’s lashes that are a bit stronger than they need to be for everyday or liner that’s a bit more dramatic for daywear or brows that aren’t as natural. But it’s an attempt by real women to do the look. It’s their effort in trying to achieve these looks online. There’s a best and a worst of it.
Imagine how the average woman is faring with all of the makeup options today! It seems really easy when you watch a three-minute clip and think you can replicate it, but there’s so much artistry that goes into it. For me, the worst part is that there is a lot more education and inspiration out there, but there’s a lot less of an understanding of when you do it, why you do it and how you do it and what works best on you.
What are your thoughts on no-makeup makeup?
No-makeup makeup can almost be as complicated as outstanding makeup. A lot of people think it requires less skill and less time but it actually requires more. It’s going to take the same amount of time to apply the makeup, but you have to be more strategic because now you have the absence of color. There’s more attention to the skin, there’s more attention to where the glow is placed, where the powder sits versus the contour and highlighting that we’re used to. This has to really look like you so the best time to do that is during daylight. Daylight helps you see everything so you can really ensure it’s at its minimum best. It’s all about the illusion especially if you’re a woman of a certain age, especially if you have any blemishes, especially if you have any discoloration, and so forth.
What are the top three makeup trends for spring?
It’s hard to speak to trends. In the same way we’re talking about fast fashion, we have to look at beauty in the same respect. Women aren’t preached to the way they used to. They are finding trends, and playing them and wearing them on their own. Spring speaks to the release of really great florals. You’re outside more and it’s sunny so as a woman of color, you’ll get more warmer in skin tone so bronzers, luminizers and highlighters come into play. I prefer powders for women of color because they tend to be more oily. Women of color have to work hard to get that glow without looking greasy. Blush is slowly making a comeback for women of color because it brings such life to skin. We’re not afraid to try stronger colors in a way we didn’t before. The fact is that women today are making their own choices and they’re looking at what’s coming out with cosmetic companies and what’s on YouTube and Instagram and they’re following their own rules!
What’s your key makeup advice to everyday women, and what should they focus on?
Makeup is a personality so for some women, lashes are the most important thing like Queen Latifah whose brows and lashes are faint. For someone else, it may be skin, like Paula Patton. It’s about letting women know that the goal isn’t duplicating everything that that makeup artist did to you. The goal isn’t to replicate everything that that YouTuber taught you. Think of two products they are suggesting that you don’t own. Those are the things you want to incorporate. Focus on two things you don’t have and you don’t know, and then you can move on from there. You’re never going to spend time with five new products and learn how to manipulate all of them at once.
What’s one makeup trick that every woman should know?
I know YouTube and Instagram has helped a lot of the kids to get past their fear of foundation but you still have a lot of women age 30 and up still on the verge like “it’s not my thing yet.” You have to realize the way that foundation is phrased is it’s another word we use like we refer to bras and panties. Foundation really does give you the base for those bronzers to sit on beautifully, it gives you the ability to create and contour in a way that powders just don’t do the same thing, and it has a much more effortless appeal. And foundations have so many formulas! You can find luminosity and dewiness in those and that amps the skin up as well. I feel like the one thing that women are still missing out on is understanding the importance of foundation and concealer and how they can choose to wear just the concealer, or just a tinted moisturizer or both. Or you can use a cream stick foundation in certain areas where they need it most and then use liquid everywhere else so it’s more sheer. I think we’re still buying into the rules and regulations of buying one foundation and it servicing the whole face and that’s not really how makeup artists work, and I want to see more women do this.