Sam Visser Is Filtering Fashion Nostalgia and Aughts Excess into a Fresh Slant on Makeup

The actor Hari Nef flashed across the Instagram feed on a weekend night in June, at the close of the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival. In the photo, her lipstick gleams like a newly minted penny. Eye shadow in a shade of papaya turns up in deft, unexpected touches: tracing the inner rim of the socket and dotting the lower lash beneath the iris. There’s a feeling of archetypal elegance, but in a way that elides rule. Arresting is the word: pulling the brakes on the habitual scroll. You can tap for the credits, but the authorship is already clear to those who’ve seen Kaia Gerber, Bella Hadid, and Euphoria’s Barbie Ferreira undergo similar transformations. This new-guard makeup is the work of Sam Visser.

Welcome to Artist Spotlight #63 series on my blog.

The California native, named Dior’s U.S. makeup artist ambassador earlier this year, is a precocious force. In some ways he’s in step with his peers. “I feel tuned in to the fact that social media is a very present thing, that it’s a tool that we can use to our advantage,” says Visser. “I wear JNCO jeans, so I am Gen Z,” he smiles. But even that nod to the wide-leg ’90s-favorite denim brand—enjoying a second life thanks to a boost from 20-somethings—mirrors Visser’s affection for the outsize aesthetics of the past. The word that comes up repeatedly as we speak is glamour. As in: “glamour, glamour, glamour, glamour, glamour,” he stresses. “I come from a generation where the attitude is so whatever, so over it, very careless. But I want to care too much. I love everything considered.”

Born in November 1999, as the world braced for a would-be Y2K meltdown, Visser is an apt intermediary between analog exuberance and the digital age. In grade school, Visser absorbed the lo-fi makeup tutorials of early YouTube. On weekends, he escaped to the MAC counter, designing looks on paper face charts. At 12, during a visit to L.A.’s Make Up For Ever store, he excitedly spotted the makeup artist David Hernandez, who invited Visser to shadow a shoot with David LaChapelle. “That was kind of my first taste of beauty,” Visser says. “Before, it was all just on the screen of the internet and never really in real life.”

But even a kid rooted in the online world found some of his most lasting influences in books: Makeup Your Mind (2002) by François Nars and Kevyn Aucoin’s iconic Making Faces (1997). Dubbed the first celebrity makeup artist for his camaraderie with the supers (immortalized in behind-the-scenes Polaroids and candid videos), Aucoin had a way of quilting together references and techniques, from silent-film brows to drag-influenced sculpting. By the time Visser was 16, he had taken Aucoin’s lessons in hand, with clients like Tish Cyrus; that year, Kris Jenner hired Visser to do her daily makeup (he finished high school by independent study). The Kardashians steeped him in another sort of dialed-up aesthetic—the Gesamtkunstwerk of the always-on reality TV persona. “They are the modern version of what the Hollywood stars were,” Visser says, “because they get ready every single day for hours.”

Time has a way of folding in on itself, with unlikely rhymes across decades. As Visser has shifted his track—to editorial makeup, art projects, and experimental looks that he often shoots himself—the Aucoin allusions have followed. (It helps that Visser’s circle includes a new cast of supers, Cindy Crawford’s daughter included.) What feels fresh with Visser’s crowd is the interplay of artist and muse, with collaborators appearing on both sides of the lens: photographer Nadia Lee Cohen wearing a molten gold lip in a portrait series from lockdown, or Bryce Anderson (above) in shades of metallic seafoam and peach.

Anderson, a 20-year-old photographer and model, met Visser on set a couple of years ago. Now dating, the two share a worldview along with a “crazy archive at our house of special things that we’ve purchased,” says Anderson. He cites a Francesco Scavullo book that inspired an upcoming zine of portraits for Behind the Blinds, with Visser lending makeup in the spirit of ’70s legend Way Bandy. Neither sees their work as nostalgic. Instead they want to create worlds that transcend time and TikTok attention spans and even fashionable notions of gender fluidity. “For Sam, he always says, ‘Makeup is just makeup,’ ” Anderson tells me. “It’s not like, ‘Ooh, you’re making me a woman.’ It’s, ‘You’re just making me beautiful,’ and that’s always been our philosophy.”

The current thirst for circa-2000 style feeds into that pool of references. Visser looks back on the time of his birth as having a reflection of the ’60s—“but instead of going to the moon, we were going into the internet,” he says. “All the makeup ads became very metallic, and everything was shiny and sparkly.” In this look on Anderson, there’s a hint of cyber-pop: a Paris Hilton frosted lip, pastel shadow on Britney Spears. But it’s more a present-tense proposition: out of the internet and into a stylized dream reality. Visser sees his work as “almost punk,” in a way—a rogue departure from the barefaced beauty aesthetic that we’ve lately come to expect. In another 20 years, that’s what he hopes people look back on: “that glamour is an act of rebellion.”

Made to Last

In Visser’s world, vintage photography and beauty books might inspire the makeup for a zine, Y2K-era aesthetics get a softer spin, and smart formulas enable full-face transformations.

VANITY FAIR ARTICLE

Exactly How Margot Robbie’s MakeUp Artist Transformed Her Into A Jane Birkin-Inspired ’70s “Beach Babe”

The tanned skin, the freckles, the sandy nude lip, the wispy golden bangs framing azure-blue eyes… Margot Robbie on British Vogue’s August cover is the perfect example of what every single one of us wants to look like when the sun hits. The Australian star is, to put it simply, the definition of summer beauty goals.

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Robbie is a golden girl by nature, but it was make-up artist Pati Dubroff (who works with the actor often), who amped things up with a touch of the ’70s for the pages of Vogue. “Invoking the ’70s was a big part of the inspiration for the look,” she tells Vogue over the phone from Los Angeles. “Margot had recently cut her bangs and only really shown them [in public] once before, at the Oscars, so it was really fun for us to take that new hair and mould her character [for the shoot] through that.”

The star’s new fringe is reminiscent of a certain French icon, Jane Birkin, whose hair – specifically the bangs – has spawned countless imitations over the decades. The chanteuse’s oft-emulated ’70s look was a key reference on the moodboard. “Margot is an incredible chameleon and has an openness to play,” Dubroff says, explaining how the duo approach the different looks they create. “Her basic day-to-day look is clean and fresh, with a slight wash of a tone on the eye or lip. She’s such a natural beauty that it’s about not overcomplicating or taking that away. But she does love to transform. This time: into a ’70s beach babe.”

From how Dubroff applied Robbie’s bronzer, to the technique she used to create realistic-looking freckles, here the A-list makeup artist shares exactly how she created the sun-kissed ’70s look.

Unbeatable bronzer

“Margot had a tan at the time so I just really amped it up. I used cream bronzer and buffed and buffed it in until it laid seamlessly on the skin. To recreate the look it’s really about blending and not relying on powdery products – instead, use cream matte products. I also think that using a flat buffing brush is key. Also, look out for bronzing face products that come out as a gel but deliver a matte finish – they’re great too.”

Chanel Health Glow Bronzing Cream, £38.70, available at Boots.com.

Artis Brush Elite Gold Palm Brush, £75, available at Net-a-porter.com.

Sensai Bronzing Gel, £31, available at Harrods.com

Believable freckles

“I added a lot of freckles to Margot’s skin. I actually went on YouTube and learned how to create them in the days before the shoot. I watched a whole bunch of videos featuring different people who were doing their own freckle techniques… it’s a perfect lesson that you’re never too old or experienced to learn something new. The technique that best resonated with me was to use a bobby pin and dip it into a brow product. I used a palette that had both creams and powders in it, and first put the tip of the bobby pin into a cream medium-brown shade and applied to her skin. Then I put it into the brow powder and topped each freckle with that. To finish I gently swirled a clean brush over the skin to take off the top layer of residue. Brow products – but in a different way!”

Benefit Brow Zings Pro Palette, £28.48, available at Lookfantastic.com.

Retro lashes

“As a nod to the early ’70s, it was all about mascara on the upper and lower lashes, not too perfect and a little bit clumpy. When you see pictures of Jane Birkin in that period, her lashes are clumpy on the top and bottom, so we did both. We wanted to create a feeling that she’d done it herself and had had her mascara on for a couple of days. I didn’t purposefully squeeze them together or anything, but just let the layers of mascara do that naturally. If you’re trying it at home, I’d recommend building your mascara up and not being afraid to put more on the bottom lashes.”

L’Oréal Paris Volume Million Lashes Mascara, £10.99, available at Lookfantastic.com.

Summer lips

“After a good coating of mascara, I paled out her lip to fit with the ’70s theme. It was a time when make-up was all about matte textures – not full-on matte or flat – but things weren’t too shimmery. That happened later in the ’80s. So I incorporated lots of matte formulas into the look in general.”

Chanel Rouge Allure Velvet Luminous Matte Lip Colour – Nuance, £27.90, available at Boots.com.

VOGUE article

8 Playful AW20 Beauty Trends To Road Test

High Drama

Though tough to recreate, the looks at Haider Ackermann’s otherworldly show were impossible to forget. It saw bleached brows and gravity-defying hair sculptures, courtesy of make-up artist Lynsey Alexander and hairstylist Duffy. Drama reigned at Rodarte, Anna Sui, Fendi and Roksanda, too, where lips were painted in gothic deep-plum hues. Lastly, at Moschino, the Marie Antoinette-inspired hair and make-up was more theatre than catwalk.

Beautifully Flawed

The foil to sleek, polished moments of glamour? Lived-in make-up. The look was led by Gucci and its entry into the make-up arena – Thomas de Kluyver, Gucci Beauty’s global make-up artist, mixed the label’s new mascara with water to create a smudged, tear-stained effect. This was co-ordinated with chipped nails – the height of high-school cool. Pucci and Max Mara also favoured worn-in eye make-up, with the models’ black liner and mascara looking as though they had slept in it and woken up just in time to stride down the catwalk. At Lanvin, the two-day-old, chunky-but-neat lashes took the edge off the otherwise sleek look. Do note, imperfect make-up isn’t as simple as it looks – utilising remnants of make-up from the day before might be an easier way to tap into the trend.

Let’s Go Retro

“Hitchcock heroines” and “18th-century-inspired hair” were just a couple of the beauty references uttered backstage at the autumn/winter 2020 shows. In Paris, at Miu Miu, hairstylist Guido Palau created styles in homage to the 1940s, using an “old-school way of achieving curls” that were shaped into waves and flipped to one side. There was a similar theme at Chloé, with Palau crafting everything from boyish updos to set waves. In London, at Erdem, Anthony Turner’s lacquered S-shaped finger waves were set low on the side of the head with a severe side parting, for a modern take on the look. Meanwhile, at Shrimps, hair recalled a young Diana, Princess of Wales. It’s retro, but now.

The Mane Event

With the creation of colourful roots (at last, a way to conceal grey regrowth in a joyous spirit) and the return of the ponytail, hair became the ultimate beauty accessory this season. Slicked-back looks populated the catwalk. At Erdem, Burberry, Christopher Kane and Givenchy, Guido Palau pulled hair into strict middle partings or combed and gelled it into place, leaving the hair to hang loose at the back. “I’ve complemented the amazing clothes with some soft hair textures,” he explained at Christopher Kane. Bright roots featured at Alexander McQueen and Balenciaga, where there was a nod to pop star Billie Eilish’s penchant for two-tone colour. Sam McKnight improvised with feathers to create the illusion of colour at Dries Van Noten. For a day-to-day hair trend, the humble ponytail took centre stage (see Carolina Herrera and Brock Collection) – perhaps the most mesmerising being McKnight’s half-up/half-down version, complete with a Chanel bow. Butter wouldn’t melt.

Winging It

Winged eyeliner has had an overhaul. Yes, black remains a classic, but this season blues and metallics frequently featured, too. At Dior, Peter Philips, creative and image director of make-up, perfected a full-kohl look with thick outer-corner wings – it reminded us of Maria Grazia Chiuri’s own signature eyeliner, and was statement enough for the collection. Pat McGrath’s futuristic, cyber-esque take at Prada resulted in a block of metallic shadow that sat in and above the eye socket, extending out on either side, so as to expose a flash of molten colours. Whether you prefer a delicate flick, as seen at Missoni, or a more adventurous approach, such as Altuzarra’s, it was all about dressing the eyes for the runway.

Get Reddy

The return of red lipstick has officially replaced the past few seasons’ run of natural hues, and it was paraded down the catwalks in a variety of textures, from matt to glossy to balm-like. At Carolina Herrera, make-up artist Lauren Parsons used the fashion house’s new lipsticks to reimagine “Spanish baroque beauty”. Punchy matt-red mouths were among the looks, with lips silhouetted in a crisp red outline on a canvas of clean skin. At Oscar de la Renta, Tom Pecheux was eager to turn the classic on its head: “It felt like the right time for red again, so we created a very precise lip that’s glossy,” he said (he went the extra mile and colour-matched the shade to a swatch of red fabric from the collection). Diane Kendal painted perfect rouge lips at Lanvin, Jason Wu and Proenza Schouler, and Pat McGrath returned to the red pout at Givenchy and Marc Jacobs, cementing the trend for the season.

Clever Contour

As we dial back the chiselled contour in favour of a softer look, the runways inspired new ways of defining cheekbones. Subtle, flushed hues and bronze shading helped to create perfect skin. At Michael Kors, make-up artist Dick Page warmed cheeks with a creamy peach blush to give natural definition. At Tom Ford, the illusion of symmetry was created by playing with light and shade, and at Brandon Maxwell the make-up direction of “ultimately feminine” meant a blended cream to add warmth and highlight.

Heavy Metals

At Marni, there was extreme glitter application by Julien d’Ys, who painted over faces and hair. At Erdem, Lynsey Alexander created silver-foil strokes across the eye sockets to reflect the collection, entitled The Age of Silver. At Preen and Simone Rocha, broken-up textures in metallic colours abounded, while at Halpern, Giambattista Valli and Valentino, jewelled eye-halos and winged, crystal-encrusted crowns framed faces. It was a welcome touch of couture beauty creeping into the ready-to-wear runways.

VOGUE article