|One FINE Day: The Journey of Superstar Makeup Artist Sam Fine|
If it’s “Attitude that determines your Altitude,” then Sam Fine is the epitome of that effigy. He has mastered the ability to balance creativity with a business acumen that is uncanny. In a field of freelance artists who sometimes make in excess of a top lawyer’s salary, some can barely manage to keep their pagers operational from one month to the next. He’s an agent’s dream. A man who understands the business of marketing creativity. Sam Fine takes responsibility for his success and works with, instead of against, his agency. His agent, Jean Owen of Jean Owen, NY says, “Sam never dumps his career in anyone else’s lap”.
There’s a lot on his plate. His first book, Fine Beauty, is a hit, and already in its fifth printing, and he is working on a new makeup line, Fine Beauty Cosmetics. And of course there is his usual business of being one of the most well known, respected and sought after makeup artists for women of color in the world. His client list, a Who’s Who of celebrities and multinational companies includes the likes of Tyra Banks, Vanessa Williams, Patti Labelle, Revlon, Essence, L’Oreal and . . . the list goes on.
At 39 years old he is wise beyond his years. I’m not sure if I’m talking to a makeup artist or a CEO. Maybe it’s both. When asked about what sets him apart, Jean Owen is clear, “Sam knows what he wants and he’s going to get it. He has developed as an artist and he’s not afraid to take a stand. He makes up his mind and he doesn’t change it. He makes it really easy to act on his behalf because there are no secrets—he has made his desires and requirements very clear. He wants to fly American. If the client says "well how about TWA", I don’t have to call Sam. I know his bottom line. He wants to fly American”.
Sam’s is the voice of a seasoned professional. Strong, direct, graceful and sure, you never doubt that he knows what he’s talking about. When I asked him how his book came about, I wasn’t even surprised to find out that Sam’s new book was Sam’s idea. In general conversation with an editor at a photo session Sam mentioned that he was thinking about doing a beauty book and would she mind him dropping it off. She said sure. Sam says adamantly, “I think any professional in this business should welcome this kind of opportunity with open arms because you never know who will be the next success story. What did she have to lose? I did six storyboards, which I illustrated. One on myself to highlight what I had done, and the others to illustrate my idea. Two weeks later I had a book deal. I do think it’s just that simple.
You create your own destiny. Instead of artists thinking that people should come to them and ask them to do things, I think they should go out and make something happen”. Some artists depend on their agents to do everything for them. It’s not supposed to be that way and it never was. It’s a partnership. Treat it that way and you’ll get more out of it. It’s the artist’s responsibility to think long term and pursue other opportunities. Book deals and cosmetics lines are not the responsibility of my agency. I have an agent, a publicist and a manager. They all serve different functions in my professional life”.
Jean Owen concurs that this take-charge attitude is a lifestyle. “Sam is incredible with his clients. If a client calls for Sam and he isn’t available he will take it upon himself to get the phone number of the publicist, art director or editor that asked for him and send a personal note on beautiful stationary or flowers or make a phone call to let them know that he appreciates their request for him. He’s unbelievable, and they always want him back. He doesn’t depend on us to do everything for him.”
I learned from Sam that nothing is too much to make them [his clients] happy. “I’m not too proud to stop and pick up a pair of shoes for a client,” he says. A successful shoot is a team effort and if that’s what it takes then I’m heading over to the shoe store”. Veronica Webb, in her foreword for Sams book says, “He would be right there with me, giving instructions to the hairdresser on how to cut and highlight my hair or calling Versace to order my evening gowns for a major event. He was one stop shopping, a full service salon on two feet.
At $3,500 a day and climbing, it’s no wonder that he is one of the highest paid makeup professionals in the business. And I’d bet that his clients believe he deserves every bit of it. But even at this day rate (which does not include travel or overtime) he still refers to himself as a servant. “This is a service business and we’re paid a considerable amount to do what we do. It is not brain surgery. We’re not saving anyone’s life,” he says.
Maybe not. But there are several famous women whose faces are tattooed with those Sam Fine signature eyebrows. Let’s ask them about the saving someone’s life thing.
His book; Fine Beauty; Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women, is a first in many ways. He is the first Black makeup artist with his own book, and the first to be hired as a Revlon spokesperson. He is also the first choice for superstars RuPaul, Naomi Campbell, Iman, and Veronica Webb.
Sam is clearly on a mission. To African American women who suffered for years with inappropriate makeup and colors and no one to show them how to apply it—Ladies, please meet Sam Fine.
African American women are redefining what makeup means to them. Most black women don’t want dewey faces, it makes them look greasy. And stringy hair, we don’t do grunge”, says Sam.
His book while instructional is clearly the voice of a man who is talking to you not at you. “African American women have been deprived of these beautiful images and the proper language that says it’s for them. It’s important for me to be able to talk to women and demystify blush because it doesn’t mean the same thing for us that it does for them”.
The book signings that go along with the writing of “Fine Beauty” and his spokespersonship with Revlon have created new opportunities for him. He regularly meets the women who want to look like the supermodels whose faces he paints and the aspiring makeup artists who want to learn how to do what he does. All of it is bringing Sam into a new phase of his life. Education.
Sam’s attitude, there are no secrets. He teaches his clients to re-create the look he makes for them. And like a proud father who just taught his baby to walk, he pokes his chest out when a client who couldn’t get him for an event like the Academy Awards or the Grammy’s (due to a conflicting booking) appears on television having done their own makeup and looking as “Fine” as ever.
So what is it that makes him different? “Tailoring” he says. “I work to give my clients what they want in their minds without losing my own creativity or vision”.