In Conversation With An Icon
IN CONVERSATION WITH AN ICON
For the past 50 years, the world’s top photographers have relied on Sandy Linter to help them create maquillage magic. The legendary makeup artist sits down with Troy Surratt to discuss her body of work, contribution to The Industry, and the one beauty look she absolutely cannot get behind.
- Written by:
- Troy Surratt
Sandy Linter has stories. And if you ask kindly, she will share them in exquisite detail. The perfectly ladylike blonde with a rockstar edge reigned as one of the biggest makeup artists of the 70s and 80s. Along with just a handful of other artists—Way Bandy, Joey Mills, Rick Gillette, Gloria Natale—she established the bold beauty of an era that was defined by bold beauty. Recently, I had the honor of presenting Sandy with the Icon Award at an Industry dinner that I co-hosted with Augustinus Bader and VIOLET GREY. Ahead of the fête, I invited Sandy for a coffee. Our conversation follows.
TROY SURRATT: LET'S START AT THE VERY BEGINNING. WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MAKEUP MEMORY?
SANDY LINTER: I have two. First, I was 11 years old and I was playing around with lipstick. My sister's girlfriend looked at me all of a sudden and said, ‘When you grow up you're going to look good in makeup.’ Then when I was 13 years old, I sent away for a frosted light blue mascara by Helen Rubenstein and I remember getting compliments when I wore it.
TS: SO YOU REALIZED THE POSITIVE IMPACT ON MAKEUP EARLY ON.
SL: Yes. Immediately I got the kind of feminine positive response that I just loved.
TS: I LOVE THAT. WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU COULD MAKE A CAREER OF BEING A MAKEUP ARTIST?
SL: I never thought of being a makeup artist as a career. And I didn't really start to earn any money to support myself for many, many years. In 1973 I started doing editorials, but at the time I was living with a guy who was paying the rent. It wasn't until we split up in 1976 that I understood that I had to support myself. Luckily, at that point, I had enough editorial behind me to back me up.
TS: AND THE LION'S SHARE OF YOUR WORK THEN WAS EDITORIAL VERSUS ADVERTISING?
SL: I didn't do any advertising. As a matter of fact, I turned it down. I had too much fun doing the editorial. You can see I was never a businesswoman. I just didn't get it.
TS: WHAT IS YOUR MOST MEMORABLE SHOOT?
SL: It's a good question. I would say that because it was iconic and because it truly was memorable, the Deborah Turbeville bathhouse shoot in 1975. Debbie had such an odd taste in girls and for this shoot, she booked these five and took us in a van downtown to a Russian bathhouse that I believe was a men’s only. Debbie didn’t talk a lot, she didn't tell the girls what to do, but they all just moved around like dancers. It was very interesting to watch, it was like being in a surreal movie. I kept waiting and waiting for the next shoot to come along like that one, but it never happened.
TS: WHO ARE SOME OTHER PHOTOGRAPHERS YOU LOVED WORKING WITH?
SL: I had a great personal rapport with Albert Watson. He could book me with Diana Ross—and she is someone who could make me nervous—but because I was working with Albert and because I knew that he had my back, I wouldn’t get nervous.
TS: EXPLAIN THAT.
SL: I just felt that I was familiar with Albert, and Diana felt my familiarity within his studio.
TS: I’VE ALWAYS PREFERRED WORKING IN A STUDIO THAT’S A NEUTRAL ENVIRONMENT FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED, AS OPPOSED TO GOING TO SOMEONE’S HOME OR TO A HOTEL ROOM, BECAUSE IT’S THEIR DOMAIN.
SL: Exactly. As a matter of fact, I’ll tell you what Diana did one time in Albert’s studio. She walked into the makeup area and she started to overtake it, to make it her domain. There was a wall-to-ceiling window and right away she closed the window and then began to spread out her makeup on my table. And then suddenly she realized what she was doing and she said, ‘Oh, I'm acting crazy. I'm thinking my kids are here, and they're going to fall out the window.’ And she went over and opened the window again. It was like she realized in that moment that she didn’t need to control the room.
TS: SHIFTING TOPICS, WHAT IS THE MAKEUP ERA YOU MOST IDENTIFY WITH?
SL: Usually, people identify me with the 70s, and they think I’m very glitzy, sparkly, this and that. And I love that. But really the decade that I think was most beautiful was the 90s. The makeup in the 90s was classic and forever. It took from the 60s, but it refined it. But I love every decade, the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. And then the 2000s became everything about everything.
TS: IS THERE A MAKEUP ERA OR MAKEUP LOOK YOU DON'T IDENTIFY WITH?
SL: The only period of time that I did not enjoy was 1988-1989. Everyone was looking for the new thing and something called the no-makeup look came in. Horrible. It was girls wearing fabulous clothes completely bare-faced; they looked awful. Albert could photograph them to look good with his high-contrast pictures. But that was the only period I did not like.
TS: I AGREE WITH YOU. I AM A MAKEUP ARTIST THAT LIKES MAKEUP, SO THAT MINIMALIST LOOK WAS NOT FOR ME.
SL: It was beyond. I understand minimal, this was none. No makeup. It was a reaction to the color and intense glamour of the riotous 80s.
TS: WHAT PRODUCT DO YOU MOST OFTEN FIND YOURSELF RECOMMENDING?
SL: I like foundation. I think it’s because I’m so pale. So I’ll recommend foundation. It gets a bad rap, but you need it.
TS: I AGREE WITH YOU THAT IT IS ONE OF THE PRODUCTS WOMEN ARE MOST APPREHENSIVE ABOUT BUT IT MAKES A GREAT DIFFERENCE AND HAS AN INSTANT OVERALL EFFECT.
SL: It works. And you designed a foundation that actually works, and it works on older women, which I love.
TS: IN THE PAST DECADE YOU’VE BECOME THE GO-TO BEAUTY AT ANY AGE EXPERT. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU OFTEN FIND YOURSELF GIVING TO OLDER WOMEN?
SL: Generally I don’t like an over-shaped, over-painted eyebrow.
TS: THE INSTAGRAM BROW.
SL: Yes, I see a lot of it on Instagram. That blocked brow, whether it’s tattooed or drawn on, I don't like it. And for an older woman, I think it's kind of aging.
TS: LAST QUESTION. IS THERE A MAKEUP PRODUCT THAT WAS DISCONTINUED THAT YOU WISH SOMEONE WOULD BRING BACK?
SL: There are so many. But there was one mascara by Elizabeth Arden that came in a red tube that was lash conditioning mascara. I found it in the early 80s and could use it on everyone. Back then nobody wore false eyelashes, so it worked beautifully on everybody. I had clients that would stock up on it and five years after it was discontinued, they were still using it.