Sandy Linter discusses her thirty-year career in the once male-dominated field of makeup artistry, networking on Instagram, working with the greats of photography, and her infamous 1980s photoshoot with Gia.
INTERVIEW MAXINE LEONARD
How did your journey begin?
My journey began when I was very young, 13, or so reading and looking through my mom’s Vogue and Glamour Magazines. I loved magazines. They we re very large in those days and beautifully photographed. I noticed everything about the models and I fell in love with the look of their faces. The 1960’s makeup made a big impact on me. Soon, I was doing my own makeup, copying what I saw in Seventeen Magazine 1963. One day my mom asked me to do her makeup. I did and she went to work wearing it. After that I was fearless. I took a job as a secretary but I made up everyone in the bathroom, lunchtime.
What was your break through moment?
I married and my husband said get a beauty license, since all you like is makeup. I got a job at Bloomingdales, behind the Kenneth counter. Kenneth hired me to work in his townhouse. One of my first clients was the beauty editor of Vogue, Shirley Lord. She did a 2 page article about my makeup published in Vogue Magazine, 1973. That was my breakthrough moment. After that, I was consistently booked by Vogue for many years.
You worked with Polly Mellen was this your first Vogue cover?
In 1973/74 I was booked to do a shoot with Karen Graham. the biggest model of the day. The sittings editor, was Polly Mellon. She had on a jeans jacket, bejeweled on the back. I loved her, immediately. I talked about her incessantly to my mom. Polly let me do Karens’ makeup exactly how I wanted. It meant karen had to remove mascara, which she really didn’t want to do. The shoot was very successful and gave Karen Graham a new look. Kourkin Pachanian did the photos. The cover of Karen Graham was photographed by Scavullo. He was known as doing the best covers. 1974 still a great cover. I wasn’t to nervous, I still remember a pencil I used on her eye hollow. (Sienna) I knew what I wanted to do, and I had no idea of the importance of where I was and what I was really doing. I was blindly in the moment.
At the time your career launched there were only a few make up artists did you know the likes of Way Bandy and Joey Mills?
Of course I knew who Way Bandy and Joey Mills were. I wouldn’t really ever meet them because I worked with hairdressers not makeup artists. Way Bandy was amazing, and highly competitive. It’s a miracle I was able to do the covers I did do while he ruled. Joey Mills work was amazing, too.
One day my mom asked me to do her makeup. I did and she went to work wearing it. After that I was fearless. I took a job as a secretary but I made up everyone in the bathroom, lunchtime.
Was it male dominated industry at that point?
I guess it was a male dominated field. I knew that when I started at The Kenneth Salon. I replaced a gorgeous young male artist. None of his clients stayed with me and I heard mumblings, they missed a guy. However, I quickly captured my own clientele. Many women did not miss being made up by a guy. This will explain why, I always pleased the models when I did their makeup. I couldn’t really relate to the men onset as well. In the very beginning, anyway. I, unfortunately for me, had blinders on when I went to work. I only did what I wanted to do which was the European makeup, at the time, 1975/76/77. The look was everything for me. No matter what the shoot was, I was doing that look. Thank goodness Vogue, Bazaar, and Cosmo were ready for it. I gave it.
How free was the creative platform editorially when you first started?
For the first 10 years of my career, I arrived at the studio, looked at the clothes and the model and did what I wanted to do. In around 1985/86 that changed. There were all of a sudden, art directors telling me what they wanted. It left me cold. I never understood networking. Instagram is the first time, ever, I have networked. And only because of my love of photography.
You were photographed by Chris Von Wangenheim with Gia in the infamous shot of you both at a wire fence naked. What was the experience like to be in front of the lens for you as its a big departure from being behind the scenes?
When I did the Chris von Wangenheim shoot, I thought I was a ‘prop’. I was acting, mostly like a prop for Gia. In my mind, very little of me would be shown. When Chris asked me to do the shoot, he said it was a personal shoot. I never realised it would turn up in a book. I also never realised it would change my life, because of the impact it had upon Gia. The HBO movie was made 20 years ago. When I think of Gia, she is so present and so, today. That’s a whole story to itself.
Your career has seen you work with some of the greats, what is like working with photographers like Deborah Turbeville, Irving Penn and Helmut Newton?
I was booked by Vogue for Deborah Turbeville, 1975. She never once told me what to do. It was like doing a movie. 5 girls every day, day after day. I loved it. We’d search the city for someplace odd she wanted to photograph. We were always very cold, and hungry. I remember a shoot on Fishers Island NYC in April. The hotel had no heat. But were all artists dedicated to our love of the work. I also did the controversial bathhouse scenes with her. I am very fortunate and very aware of that.
Irving Penn, he had no music in his small studio on 15th street. We didn’t miss it. I will never forget the guy in blue jean overalls, with the twinkle eyes and the 1/2 smile. He never told me what to do either. I was the new artist on the block and they wanted to see what I had to say.
Helmut Newton was another whole different story. I hired him to do a shoot for my boyfriends hair salon. When I was making up the models, Patti Hansen and Winnie Holman, we were laughing and talking (but still working) and he told us to quiet down. Immediately, I told my boyfriend, he better know who hired him!!!! and then he was very sweet after that. He just wanted to do what he wanted in the photos. We happily agreed for a very small sum. The girls were nude under large hair dryers. The look was something out of 2001. We had these blown up and hung all over the walls of the salon. Nothing like that could ever be done today.
The look was everything for me. No matter what the shoot was, I was doing that look. Thank goodness Vogue, Bazaar, and Cosmo were ready for it. I gave it.
Our latest issue is themed vanity. What does vanity represent to you?
Vanity to me is healthy. I think vanity saved my life. It was a crazy time in the early 1980’s. I remember exactly, looking at myself in the mirror and saying, no, you need to stop. You look awful. I didn’t go to the Diana Ross concert in Central Park because Vanity saved me.
Your instagram account is an incredible archive of imagery, at the time were you conscious of recording everything you worked on given the world wide web and social media is a new vehicle?
I love photographs. As a teen when I left my mom’s home to live in Manhattan, I made sure to take a little photo album of family photos. I would often take my camera out at night. And when they came out with polaroids, I took my SX 70 camera everywhere. Shoot shoot shoot. I have lost many photos along the way, but I have saved whatever I could. I was saving them for myself. Now that I have this wonderful vehicle to network, called instagram, I’m releasing them so they can be enjoyed. I never knew or had any insight into anything like this ever happening.
Lets talk disco. You are credited with creating the ‘disco look’ can you tell me more?
Disco! I went to work one day and an art director asked me if I’d do a book. I said ok fine and it all fell together with a lot of hard work but very easily. I just asked every photographer I was working with during the day, if he’d do a photo for my book, in the evening! See if THAT would work today! The models, the stylists, hairdressers and photographers all said yes. Upon a handshake, no contracts, the Disco Beauty book was printed by Simon and Schuster in 1979. I am presently trying to get it reprinted for its 40th year anniversary in 2019
Do you think editorial has a social responsibility?
I don’t know what you mean. Do you mean editorial photos should have a social responsibility. I suppose, yes. But don’t take away the dream, the adventure the sexuality. Look at Chris von Wangenhiems photos, they say it all.
Vanity to me is healthy. I think vanity saved my life. It was a crazy time in the early 1980's. I remember exactly, looking at myself in the mirror and saying, no, you need to stop.
Working with Albert Watson saw you shooting Louise Bourgeois with him, what was this experience like?
Oh Louise was wonderful I worked with her in her brownstone. She brought out to me a few cosmetics that she owned. They were from the 1950’s. This was maybe 1993, an ad for the Gap. I loved her. I covered up her brown spots and some other stuff and she gave me a $20.00 tip. When she looked out her window, she saw Albert Watson running cross the street. I said, “That’s the photographer”. She said, ‘He’s too young”.
What is beautiful to you?
So many things are beautiful to me. I have to say, most models have beautiful skin and that is priceless..
Whats your beauty obsession?
Makeup has always been my obsession. I love it all. It turns me on.
What drives you to continue working as make up artist?
I’m driven to continually work as a makeup artist because I still enjoy it and I still feel I have something to contribute.
Whats next for you?
I have a big teaching job coming up in November. I met the producer of this show on my instagram. She saw some vintage ‘70’s teaching photos of mine. I’ve gone from someone who never handed out a card in her life, to networking on instagram daily. Now I’ve met you on Instagram as well and you’re sharing pieces of my story. Everyone has a different story to tell. I’m really happy to share mine and very aware, now, that it’s special! Who knew? I didn’t. The fashion world was so small in the ‘70’s and that makes my experiences very rare. I’ve stayed in this profession long enough to become somewhat known as “legendary”. I’ve never planned what I’d do next. It always just happens.