Text: Tania Farouki
She's perfected the faces that defined a decade—like those of Patti Hansen and Brooke Shields—and worked with such virtuoso image-makers as Francesco Scavullo and Nelmut Newton for a roster of mega mags and ad campaigns including Estée Lauder. In short, her immaculate visages are the stuff that dreams are made of.
For more than thirty years, Sandy Linter has lead the makeup game. Among one of her claims to fame is mastering the 'disco beauty' look, which was later immortalized in her book. Today, the Lancôme beauty at every age expert (a position she's held since 2008) and co-author of The Makeup Wakeup (2010) shares snapshots of her legendary career through her latest coup de coeur, Instagram. In an exclusive interview for V online, Linter reflects on her rise to stardom, that infamous fence shoot with Gia, and getting ready for Studio 54.
Where are you originally from?
SL: I grew up on Staten Island and left as soon as I could. I was about 17. I got a job as a secretary on Park Avenue and shared a little fifth floor walk up with a roommate on 87th Street and York Avenue. We paid 147 dollars a month. We split that, 75 each. Then I met my future husband Adam Linter, got married, was floating around, didn’t really have a career. I was going to Wolford Academy, and I got a part-time job selling makeup, which was my dream job. At Bloomingdale’s, in 1969, behind the Kenneth counter—Mr. Kenneth was a renowned hairdresser who had the most beautiful townhouse salon in New York, and he took me. I was very young, maybe 21 or 22, doing Jackie Onassis and Barbara Walters. It was really great. I never had to network. Still, to this day, I’m not good with networking. The only thing that saves me right now is that I enjoy Instagramming.
I’m a huge fan of your account.
SL: Oh, good. I love Instagram. Never having networked, all of a sudden I was at the Kenneth salon, I made up Shirley Lord, one of his clients, and she was the beauty editor of Vogue. She did a two-page article on me and I started working for Vogue every single day. I would turn down advertising to work with the photographers I was working with. I didn’t care about money.
When would you say was your first major shoot?
SL: [In 1974,] I did a shoot with Karen Graham. She was the biggest model of the day and it was before she got her Estée Lauder contract. I did the shoot with Polly Mellen and Kourken Pakchanian. They didn’t tell me this, but I knew when I started working with Karen that I was basically hired to change her look. And I did. Just a tiny touch. So that great sitting—it was a great shoot—that got me the cover of Vogue.
How old were you then?
SL: I must have been about 27, 28 years old.
That’s super young.
SL: Yeah, well there were five makeup artists in New York City at the time who were doing editorial. There was Joey Mills, Way Bandy, Gloria Natale… There is someone I am leaving out, but you can say Ariella, too. She was a friend of mine. I brought her along a little bit later on. Oh, and Pablo Manzoni. Now there are five million! Before, there were five. Can you imagine?
I know you must hear this question a lot but—
SL: About Gia. Go ahead.
Can you talk about that infamous 1978 shoot with the fence, by Chris von Wangenheim?
SL: Well, I was booked to do a shoot with Gia and another model named Lisa Vale during the day with Chris von Wangenheim. And I had worked with Gia before. I had no idea that she was gay. It never clicked with me that she was. I just never thought about it. At the end of the day, I was packing up my make-up. I had also, just to set this up, done shoots with Chris on Fire Island. One weekend he invited himself—I didn’t invite him, he was a big, big photographer, and I was kind of in awe of him. I was not his buddy at that time. I would never say, Chris, why don’t you come out to my Fire Island house that I’m sharing with five other hairdressers? But he decided to come out, and to photograph.
And Gia was there, too?
SL: I think Gia was on the island, but she was staying someplace else. Chris took some pictures of me. All very arty, if you get the meaning of art pictures… Now, having said that, I have to go into how I understand why girls don’t do art pictures anymore: There are blogs. You know, I see my picture on the fence with Gia on Facebook, and I’m like, It doesn’t belong there. It was never Chris’s intention to put this there. So I understand why Kate Upton and all these gorgeous women won’t do nude. I get it. And they shouldn’t, if that’s what’s going to happen to the work.
But back then...
SL: So, I had already worked with Chris, and when he said to me, Will you do some personal pictures for me? I said, Okay. Simple as that. Then, he put his head back into the room and said, Nude. I said, Hm, okay. Then, he put his head back in the room again and said, With Gia. I said, Okay. He made women feel more beautiful than anybody else. Patti Hansen will tell you, we’ve discussed it already—he was the guy that made you feel the most beautiful. So, I do this shoot with Gia, the music is playing, the photography is hot, he’s the greatest photographer of the moment, and I packed up and went home. But during the shoot, she decided that she was in love with me. It was a little bit of manipulation. Chris knew he was gonna get a good shot from Gia. I was totally unaware of what he knew, you see.
So, this shoot was what prompted her long love for you?
SL: Oh yeah. I had worked with Gia before. I’d worked with her plenty of times. There was never ever a moment before that it felt anything other than makeup artist and model. Never ever.
Was she aware of her sexual orientation?
SL: She had to be. I mean, yeah. She was 19 years old. I had never met a lesbian before that.
What do you think it is about her that has continued to fascinate?
SL: She is as beautiful as the actress who portrayed her! And that was a very unlikely thing to happen because when I was interviewed for the HBO movie, I had never heard of Angelina Jolie. That was their stroke of genius. So, if you watch the movie and you are captivated by Angelina Jolie and then you start to look at Gia’s pictures, you see that they’re neck and neck.
Can you talk about working with Deborah Turbeville?
SL: Working with Deborah Turbeville was such a real gift. Every morning, I would get up and I would be prepared to go on a journey. I would go to the Vogue offices, to what they called the makeup closet, and I would make up five girls. Debbie always liked to work with five. And then we would all get into a van and we would search. It could be in the street in front of a brick wall; it could be on Staten Island in front of a dump; it could be on a beach. That bathing story from 1975 created some controversy.
Had you expected that?
SL: No. First of all, they said the girls were too skinny. I thought they were just fine. It never dawned on me that they weren’t tanned. Usually, in 1975, before you photograph them in bathing suits, you send girls to beaches to get tanned. These girls were pale. And that is what Debbie liked. She loved extravagant make-up, but she did like pale skin. That was probably what made everyone think that they look bony. And they’re not smiling, which I like.
And all the other iconic shoots you were a part of...
SL: Now, there’s one shoot that you probably don’t know about that was really fantastic. It’s a Helmut Newton shoot: black and white, Patti Hansen, topless, in 1975. The pictures are just fantastic. There’s a Christie’s catalogue that collected them. The story behind that: I was working with the photographer James Moore, and his representative and I were outside of the studio, on the stairwell having a cigarette. And I said to this guy Bob Fischer, I work with a hairdresser—I was living with this guy, Xavier—I want Xavier to do photographs for the entire salon all over the walls. I want black and white pictures. I want it to be Patti Hansen and maybe another girl, and he said, Fine. Give me your boyfriend’s phone number and I’ll set it up. He also happened to be Helmut Newton’s agent. So he set it up, and then Helmut did these amazing photographs of Patti and another model named Winnie Hollman, and I take credit for it.
You’ve really worked with the best.
SL: I know. I spent 20 years working with Albert Watson who’s another genius. And still! I did a beautiful cover for People with Christie Brinkley last Winter. She’s an icon for sure.
Can you talk about your amazing book, Disco Beauty: Nighttime Make-up (1980)?
SL: There’s another book [You Should Have Been With Me (2010)], by Stan Shaffer. We would go out at night. We would start in my apartment, then my good hairdresser friends Howard Fugler and Harry King would come over and Howard never approved of the way I was dressed, so he would always restyle me. By the time we got through doing the restyling, the hair, and the makeup, it was very late. We would get there, the music was fabulous, the people there were fabulous, and we would be cool and hip and do our thing, and get home quite late. And I can remember coming home and thinking, Oh I look really good right now. So I would go to work like this. Stan Shaffer took a couple of photographs of me like this, and more recently printed them in his book, before he died. It was one big 24-hour blur, and Stan captured a moment in time of me wearing an outfit I liked to wear to Studio.
Was it as crazy as people said it was?
SL: Crazy is not the right word. It was a lifestyle. We thought it was going to go on forever. It had to be fueled by drugs, otherwise you just wouldn’t be able to make it through the day. There was a moment in 1985 when I just looked at myself and thought, Oh, you look horrible. Vanity saved me. I had never heard of the word rehab. I’d never met a lesbian and I’d never heard of rehab. You’d have to go back 35 years to understand where I’m coming from.
Who has been your favorite photographer to work with?
SL: It would have to be Albert Watson. I could do it day after day. I did work with Richard Avedon, and I could never be there every single day because he was moody. He had some dark moods. It just wasn’t for me. I got a vibe and I was out of there, because you know what? I wanted my life to be pleasant.
What about Helmut Newton?
SL: He was a little scary, too.
And Chris von Wangenheim?
SL: He didn’t live long enough. He died at 39. He was very, very correct. I was in awe of him, but I wasn’t afraid of him. And Francesco Scavullo. Loved. I used go into his studio, paint the most beautiful faces. And working with Debbie, of course, day after day. I also worked with Irving Penn. I did some studio shoots with him.
Who represents your ideal beauty?
SL: Elizabeth Hurley. She’s a true pro.
What is your make-up philosophy?
SL: When I first started, my philosophy was just to make women look sexy and hot. And to this day, if I make a woman up in the salon, she always comes back and says, My husband loved it. Really, I do it to turn people on. I come from the sixties.
For more vintage snapshots, head over to Sandy's account, @sandylinter, on Instagram.