New York based Author and makeup Artist, Sam Fine has had a rich and exciting career, with various accolades including making history as the first black male spokesman for a major cosmetic line and working with clients such as Queen Latifah, Tyra Banks, Oprah, Beyoncé, Aretha Franklin, and Naomi Campbell to name a few. Specialising in ‘beautifying women of colour’ Fine has helped shape the way cosmetic companies cater for different skin tones, so ahead of Black History Month in the UK, we got in touch with Sam to find out more about his career so far, including highlights, how the industry has grown, future plans and of course, where it all began…  

How long have you been in the industry? 

More than 30 years. I moved to New York when I was 19 and worked at a cosmetic counter for two years and then became a professional and that was in ‘89 so I’ve been a professional since ‘91.  


And do you think the make-up industry is a welcoming place? 

For sure it is. There are so many different facets to the beauty industry, now more than ever. When I entered the industry, it was just the cosmetic counter, freelancing and television and film and none of them were connected at all. You didn’t have influencers, you didn’t have brand spokespeople, you didn’t have social media, so there were a lot of things which didn’t exists and so not only is it more welcoming, but it’s broader. 


And more accessible I suppose?  

Definitely, I mean think of drag race, think of how many people are coming in contact with makeup artists because of Mac cosmetics, because of Bobbi Brown cosmetics – so many artists got their first start at those brands but before that it was only working for brands it was never doing fashion shows, it was never a team of artists and professionals. 

Did you have an inspiration when you started out?  

My entry to art was illustration – I moved to New York to become a fashion illustrator. My best friend was a freelance makeup artist, so I learned about the industry very quickly. I worked at the cosmetic counter and then through friends I was introduced to Fran Cooper and Kevyn Aucoin and assisted them both in addition to assisting other top artists. I loved their perspective on beauty but also it was a changing of the guard. Mac was a big thing, neutrals were a big thing, brows were a big thing – very few artists knew what this look would mean to the 90’s. It was a wonderful time to enter the industry. I think that’s why so many people are looking to the 90’s and holding it so close, a lot of things were happening that were really special, and what was being worn during that time was very unique so a lot of what was established in the 90’s has been taken into what influencers are doing today. When I look at eyebrows, and when I look at the finishes of foundation and highlighting and contour that Mario is known for with Kim Kardashian these are things that really were established in the early 90’s. 


You can trace where they come from. 



Do you have a favourite beauty trend? 

I think contouring and highlighting will never go out of style. Having dedicated my career to beautifying women of colour, it was something that was very difficult to translate because there were fewer products, fewer black models, and fewer black celebrities really, that you could use as your muses so entering into the industry at the time that I did gave me a wonderful career and that trend of highlighting and contouring to me is – excuse the pun –the foundation of everything that we do.  


In regard to more of a variety of products for women of colour, do you think there’s a brand in particular that’s really doing that right? 

 I think there are a number of brands. I always say I don’t have any favourite brands because everyone has something great to offer, yet when it comes to dealing with women of colour many brands – general market brands – now offer colour extensions which is wonderful but when it comes to blushers, lip colours and skin care products that equally speak to that audience, that’s where many brands fall short. You can’t have a cream foundation in all of these wonderful shades and then not have loose powder or pressed powder to match.  

What advice would you give to someone who wants to turn their passion for artistry and makeup into a career? 

Start. Just start somewhere. There are so many points of entry today, whether that is an influencer who’s doing beautiful makeup on themselves or a friend, whether that is someone who wants to go to school for more formal training, whether that’s someone who wants to join the film and television unions to do special effects as well as beauty, whether that is someone who wants to be a freelancer and work with celebrities and join an agency that promotes that. There’re so many different opportunities today, more than ever before. So, it’s really just about starting, and I always tell people that your second step is being formed as you make your first. There’s always someone who’s going to be like “Oh, you do makeup? Oh, Eloise we’re casting for a fashion show next weekend and they’re looking for makeup artists – you should submit your name!” That’s just how it happens, but you have to be in it to win it. You can’t stand on the side-lines thinking that you’re going to be called to work with Beyoncé.  


Looking back on your own career, do you have a highlight so far? 

My first Revlon campaign was a really big deal for me because I always wanted to do cosmetics, that turned into working for other cosmetic clients because that was the jewel on the crown for makeup artists. I grew from that and then became a spokesperson for Revlon – their first African American spokesperson – and then the first African American spokesperson for Cover Girl and then the first Creative Makeup Director for Fashion Fair so every time you think you’ve reached that pinnacle of success, there become other levels. Obviously, for me, writing my book, 25-26 years ago, was a huge crowning moment for me as an artist and a best-selling author. I can’t really express how life changing, how career changing, those moments are. Of course, there are the clients like Aretha Franklin, Naomi Campbell and Beyoncé – those are wonderful moments for sure but I think for someone who’s been in the industry for along as I have, you start to think about other things whether that’s being a spokesperson, writing a book or doing a cosmetic line. Once these amazing things happen, you have to re-group and start thinking about new goals.  


Do you have any in mind? 

For sure. Creating cosmetics is something that I’ve worked on prior to covid, and I’m picking that back up now. I’m also working on another book which is more of a retrospect instead of a how-to. When you have had as many career moments as I’ve had, there’s so much to say because we’re so caught in these instant moments thanks to Instagram, TikTok and other social apps that we really forget the foundation that we stand upon. These moments become more and more fleeting and so it’s great to have books that help us remember the beginning of our careers, the highlights. I think that’s why we are seeing so many documentaries, people like to see the work of people that the kids of today are standing on the shoulders of.  


I think you’re right, it’s all very well everything being so instant and fast-paced, but it leaves very little room for that reflection. 

And Nostalgia, exactly! and you forget. Even as we look at Namoi, Linda, Christi, and Cindi on the cover of both British and American Vogue, this is nostalgia and remembrance of how amazing a time the 90’s were for them, for us, and for fashion and beauty. 


What makes Black History Month important to you? 

I mean from the sheer fact that we’re talking about black history. If it weren’t for black history, many of us would not be highlighted. Much of our work, our books, our documentaries, our careers would not be highlighted. Black History Month is so important because it gives us a time to reflect on the people who have paved the way for us and personally, I think of Fran Copper, an amazing black woman who helped to give me my start. I think of Veronica Web and Namoi Campbell, my first celebrity client who called me at the department store – before cell phones – and I picked up the phone to discover that it’s Naomi Campbell calling, asking me to work with her having met me at a fashion show.  

 I’m always honoured – as many of my brothers and sisters are – to be highlighted during Black History Month but it’s something that we have to learn to celebrate all year round. There isn’t just one month to talk about Pat McGrath’s achievements – they simply don’t fit into one month. My mentor who taught me makeup isn’t a household name but yet a makeup artist who goes to work every day and does an amazing job and if it weren’t for him there would be no me, and if there were no Fran there would be no me. I guess what I’m saying is that we all have so many people to be thankful for during the year, not just the month. It’s the same with a lot of things, like how do you cram all the celebration into pride month, you know what I’m saying? You gotta know that there were a lot of people who came before us that weren’t celebrated and so it’s a daily thing, it’s a monthly thing, it’s a yearly thing, to celebrate each other because every achievement is meaningful. 


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