Sam Fine is an artist. His canvas? The faces of some of the world’s most gorgeous women: Vanessa Williams, Iman, Tyra Banks, etc. In his 1999 book Fine Beauty , the handsome Chicago native explained how sisters can create red carpet worthy looks in the comfort of their own homes and his follow up video, The Basics of Beauty, addresses common concerns amongst African American women and breaks down the tools and techniques needed to create flawless faces.
The celebrity beauty king is wearing another crown these says: Creative Director of Fashion Fair, the legendary brand created by Johnson Publishing Company founder Eunice Johnson. One of the exciting offerings marking the prestige brand’s 40th year is the Sam Fine Fashion Fair Supreme Color Collection, which debuted last month. Here, we caught up with Fine to discuss the new line, his thoughts about working with such a storied company and why Black women still need a a makeup brand to call their own.
EBONY: First of all, congratulations on your signature line! This has got to be an amazing time for you.
Sam Fine: Thank you, thank you. You can’t be a person of color or a makeup artist without being familiar with Fashion Fair. I’m a kid from Chicago, so of course I’d know about the Johnson legacy. I was raised around it. It was the Johnsons, Oprah and Michael Jordan! I mean, come on! I had the pleasure of working with Eunice Johnson for Ebony Fashion Fair ads with a few top models. You don’t realize that you’re in the presence of an icon and a legendary trailblazer until it’s too late.
EBONY: That’s exactly how I feel right now!
SF: Whatever! [Laughs] Working with her was so fun; it is so engrained in my memory. It was such a big event for me. I just felt like it was like a homecoming, and things were coming full circle for me [since working with her in the past]. So you can only imagine how I feel about becoming the Creative Director at Fashion Fair…They could have gone and picked up a beautiful celebrity or a top model, but they came to an authority. That was a huge feather in my cap.
EBONY: What is the difference between being the creative director of a beauty brand and being a spokesperson for a brand?
SF: It is very different. I feel like, in many ways, I was a talking head before. [As a spokesperson] you don’t have a part of the product process. So this is really an opportunity to put my fingerprints down in a way. To be able to have the first co-branded collection that they’ve done, during their 40th year in business is major.
EBONY: What do you feel the Sam Fine Signature Collection is offering to women of color that other brands are not?
SF: I’m a makeup artist. I shop everywhere. I have three sisters and a mom at home— I know what it’s like shopping for color and high-end pigments and formulas [for Black women.] I always tell my clients, “You have to remember: women of color are ‘color already’.” Everything has to blend in with their already deeply hued backdrop. What’s different about my collection is that it’s highly pigmented. I know we hear “highly pigmented” a lot from many brands. But, I’d like to think that anyone who knows my work, from Iman to Jennifer Hudson, knows that I don’t skim.
EBONY: Yes, we know you don’t skim Sam!
SF: This collection is definitely a reflection of that return to color and really, it’s Fashion Fair’s legacy! I still have eye shadows that I used on Tyra from Fashion Fair when she was 21, when they were going for strong blues and I couldn’t really find a blue eye shadow [for Black women.] This isn’t anything new to Fashion Fair, but I don’t think the industry often thinks about women of color. It’s 2013, and we’re still an afterthought. They don’t base their formulations on thinking, “Is this brown going to show up against Iman’s skin?” I’m taking that mindset to the lab when I create products. I’m filling in some of the gaps that I needed as a makeup artist.
EBONY: How do you feel the brand’s longtime customers will react to your new line?
SF: You know, I still want to court her. She is my mom, and she is my sister. Of course, my mom’s sitting there saying, “I’m not going to wear purple eye shadow, Sam.” I get that. But I don’t think I did anything that would offend or distance myself from [FFC’s] existing consumer. There are clearly beautiful reds, like the Dynasty Red (lipstick), and beautiful berries.
EBONY: Where do you think Black women are in regards to our confidence with our beauty?
SF: I think that they’ve become more confident. When you look at Rihanna and Nicki Minaj; I mean these girls are wearing color in a way that I haven’t seen color shown before. When I came up working with Brandy and Tyra and Naomi Campbell, nude was all the rage. I don’t think that nude will ever leave us because it’s such a subtle statement, but when you have Rihanna and Nicki Minaj and other celebrities wearing strong colors, I think that does give us permission, in a way, to wear it. There’re also more cosmetic lines that are showing our faces. So I think that helps us to dream a little more, to find a different vision for ourselves. We’re able to see ourselves in a myriad of who we are.
EBONY: I believe that makeup also allows you to become the person you want to be that day. I can feel punk rock; I can feel glamorous. You once said, “Makeup is a personality, and everybody’s personality is going to be a bit different.” How do you feel your signature line is speaking to the various personalities of Black women?
SF: We’ve got eight lipsticks and two quads. This is a small collection to begin with, so instantly I had to think about the dark lipsticks, the brown lipsticks, the nudes, the reds, the colors, and the vibrants. I had to think about matte shadows, shimmer shadows, iridescent shadows. I had to put all of that into one thing. It’s not actually average to see a quad with three different formulas inside. It speaks to versatility. Even the brown lipstick, the Cognac [shade], has flecks of gold in it that none of the other lipsticks possess. Each woman who would want to wear the red would want to wear it without any shimmer. But the brown, to me, is so flat; I wouldn’t want a woman to wear it that way. So I infused it with golden flecks. So there are a lot of little personal tweaks in here that speak to individuality. Which color do you wear, Melanie?
EBONY: I wear the Moroccan Spice and Pink Parfait.
SF: Oh nice! Moroccan Spice and Pink Parfait, to me, are indicative of the newness of the collection. It’s not that Fashion Fair doesn’t have vibrant colors, but every era has kind of “it” colors. I feel like those are two of the strongest trend colors in the collection, so it’s interesting that you gravitate towards the two of those: Moroccan Spice, the vibrant orange and then the Pink Parfait.
EBONY: It’s funny because I grew up watching my mother wear bright orange lipstick. She never really wore makeup, but she did not leave the house without her bright orange lipstick. So I think I kind of inherited that from her.
SF: We also have to remember that our mothers didn’t have foundation offerings and powder offerings in the way that we have them today. When we looked at our moms, it was always about a brow, or it was about a lip. They were participating in the best way that they could. That’s why Fashion Fair was really a beacon of hope for them, because they could go to a line that would embrace their beauty.
EBONY: It’s crazy to think that recent generations have been spoiled a bit when it comes to makeup.
SF: That’s part of our cosmetic history, we were raised getting perms in the kitchen; we know what burnt hair smells like. But with makeup, I don’t think our moms and grandmothers could pass that information down because they didn’t really feel armed with that kind of information.
EBONY: Where do you hope Fashion Fair will move forward to from this moment of re-invigoration?
SF: You know, it’s a legacy brand, so you look at where they’ve come from and where they have to go. Clarissa [Wilson], our president, often says that this is a brand that’s been asleep for a minute. The beauty of re-invigorating a brand this way is that everything’s new. Fashion Fair has more opportunity today to show you this and it leaves so much opportunity for bronzers, and color packages and technology that weren’t available before. So I look at Fashion Fair continuing its growth and stepping into its newness…It’s a wonderful opportunity for me. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the consumer who enjoys newness and feels that they are being spoken to with the colors that they can wear. It’s crazy because when you’re rushing hard to meet a deadline or working to create a new collection in no time, it’s easy to forget that you’re a part of a very special moment. And I’m just so grateful for that every day.