Sam Fine: The Maestro of Make up

As women, how many of us have struggled learning how to apply make up to our faces when we were first introduced to cosmetics growing up? Some of us, had to wait until our parents gave us permission to begin the process of wearing lipstick and then, as we gradually bloomed into womanhood—we began to experiment based on our likes and dislikes. The friendly sales clerk at our local department store was as close to a ‘glam squad’ that we would experience, but it was a refreshing experience nonetheless.

For women of color, having access to various complimentary shades to match our skin tones is can be challenging as brands discontinue a certain color. Over the years, the talents of make-up artists have involved mixing and blending those colors to create a beautiful work of art on women’s faces—so perfectly that many can’t do without their talents when stepping out in public or to special affairs.

In the world of beauty, glamour and fashion—the creative artistry of make-up stylist Sam Fine stands in a lane all his own. The Chicago native is celebrated as one of the top celebrity make-up artists in an industry that is built on the latest magazine cover, print and tv ad as well film work. His name rings on the ‘Who’s Who’ of celebrity call sheets from Naomi Campbell, Queen Latifah, Bjork, Vanessa L Williams and Tyra Banks—just to name a few.

Growing up on the far South Side of Chicago, Fine attended Percy Julian High School and as a student in the Art department was influenced by his art instructors.

My art teachers were huge influences in my life. I wanted to go to Lindbloom High School but my mom and dad thought it was too far to attend. At Julian, the Art Department became my haven.” he said. “When I got a scholarship during my portfolio review in my junior year; it just helped me to see another world. I traveled to the Art Institute of Chicago during the summer with a few of my friends who were also in the art class. It helped change my perspective on what I could have.”

Photo Credit, Matthew Jordan Smith
Photo Credit, Matthew Jordan Smith

He found that the support that the Art Institute provided was priceless. The faculty support the school provided, was based on the diversity of choices that was offered to him as an art student.

That’s where I think teachers become a great influence. Craig Rex Perry, was one of my instructors at the Art Institute. Here’s a Black man teaching there and working at major hair care companies, doing illustrations for sports publications and newspapers. That was life changing for me. So, it helped me to see a life that my parents didn’t always understand.”

Although, it was unchartered territory in his family – this didn’t his parents from supporting him. On the advice and encouragement from friends and family, he took a leap of faith and moved to New York City a couple years later.

I knew I wanted to compete among the best. I knew that I wanted an energy that was exciting, new and electric. That’s what New York had to offer. Some 25 years later and a successful career– it definitely supports the arts. It supports fashion, beauty and illustration. For me, going into make-up, the transition was easy. I’m doing the same thing, but I’m just drawing on a live canvas now.” Fine explained.

He would often assist other make-up artists on various jobs and one day, he was on a photo shoot assigned to work on Patti Labelle’s background singers. When the R&B legend saw one of the singer’s faces made up, she asked who did such an impressive job. Soon after, she exchanged information with the young make-up artist and Fine ended up months later prepping her for the Grammy Awards.

She was doing her first awards ceremony and we worked together for about 10 years after that. In New York, you get those kind of opportunities with celebrities. You’re so close to the industry because it’s in your face. I didn’t have time to be afraid. The years that I became more afraid were the years that I was more established. When people expected more of me and they saw the work that I did on ‘this and that’–that’s when they expect the same treatment.”

As his career progressed and his work became more in-demand, he wanted share his beauty tips with people who welcomed his expertise. He released a book, “Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African American Women” almost 15 years. The book is used as a reference book as beauty school curriculum resource to this day.

Although cosmetic brands such as Fashion Fair and Iman have held long term presence at major department stores around the country for women of color—there is still a major color barrier for professionals working in the industry.

Vanessa Williams:  Photo Credit, Mike Ruiz
Vanessa Williams: Photo Credit, Mike Ruiz

I fight very hard to help people understand that I am a make-up artist who is Black. I am not just a Black make-up artist. That’s a huge difference. I’m not my color. You can still walk into a department store and find make-up artist brands such as Bobbi Brown, Francois Nars or Mac Cosmetics–started by two white make-up artists, Frank and Frank. That’s an indication that there are still race barriers in how we’re perceived. It’s still real. I’m one of the few brand ambassadors–I’ve been a spokesperson for Revlon and a Creative Director for Fashion Fair.” said Fine.

He adds. “These positions are few and far between. So, I hope that by doing that, other brands see the validity and understand the ‘browning’ of America. It’s an emotional purchase. You need someone to talk to you about it from a place of understanding. I’ve been able to make strides and help to open doors and that’s great. That’s part of why I’m here.”

His professional career started over two decades ago and he see the various changes between his start and newcomers gaining entry into the business.

The goals have changed today because you can be relevant in many markets in many genres today. You don’t have to work with a celebrity to become a famous make-up artist. You can have 1 million Youtube subscribers which is very different from the way I was raised.” he said. You can create this audience through these social media networks. That is a very different thing.”

As one of the honorees for the 6th Annual Beauty Bash being held in Chicago on June 22nd, Sam is being recognized for his outstanding achievements and role that he has played as one of the iconic professionals in his field.

I supported the event since its inception. I come to support friends whose been honored. It’s very special. I love that the Beauty Bash can honor local individuals like Marcus Getter– people I’ve looked up to in Chicago.”

Sam Fine with supermodel, Jourdan Dunn
Sam Fine with supermodel, Jourdan Dunn

The grandson of Mississippi natives, Fine believes his family’s Southern roots is a testimony in keeping him grounded.

Chicago is a big metropolitan city but at the same time I was raised on the South Side. You can wear a purple suit with some purple gators. When I went to prom, I designed my date’s dress and I made sure it was amazing.” he chuckles. “I think Chicago still supports and fuses style. Look at Mrs. Eunice Johnson and what she did with Ebony Fashion Fair. That was a traveling show with couture designs. That still speaks to our Southern background and how we were raised.”

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