Sarah Tanno likes to break rules. So much so, the ultimate rule-breaker, Lady Gaga, recruited her to be apart of the exclusive Haus of Gaga, namely, her inner sanctum. For the makeup artist, it would seem creativity is in her blood; translating ambitious artistic concepts to the face with the utmost ingenuity. She’s a force of the industry, the conceptual brain behind Gaga’s Countess in American Horror Story – it was a task which gifted her the 2016 Creative Arts Emmy, as well as Make-up Artists & Hair Stylists Guild Award for the year, not to mention an outpouring of critical acclaim. In fact, many of Gaga’s iconic looks have come down Tanno, in what is a collaboration for the beauty ages.
Along with Gaga, her loyal client base includes Gigi Hadid, Dakota Johnson, Suki Waterhouse and Michelle Monaghan, and she has worked with leading photographers Steven Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Inez & Vinoodh, Ellen Von Unwerth, Collier Schorr, Chadwick Tyler, Rugh Hogben and Paolo Roversi to name but a few. Editorial credits can be seen in Harper’s Bazaar, V, Elle, L’ Officiel Homme, Wonderland, T Magazine and Dazed & Confused, and recently the beauty virtuoso has been named Marc Jacobs Beauty Global Artistry Ambassador. All in all; she’s a beauty force to be reckoned with; a brilliant mind articulated in one of the most expressive ways, through makeup.
Here, a very honest beauty dialogue with Sarah Tanno.
Why beauty initially? Were you artistic as a child?
Ha! If my brother knew I was saying this he would kill me! When I was little I used to put on these fashion shows and make the whole family watch before dinner when I had my crowd. I used to put makeup all over my little brother and dress him up. I was the worst! It was always beauty, art and being obnoxious.
Who was / is your inspiration?
In life, my mother; the way she lights up any room and makes everyone smile and feel better about themselves. In my career, I’m inspired by all the great artists that have been beating faces for decades. I respect the process and everything they have done to pave the way for the new generation.
Do you have a particular muse?
Lady Gaga has been my muse for years. I look up to her as a person, a friend, a creative partner and as the incredible artist she is.
Your trajectory to the top was (seemingly) very fast – were there any hurdles you faced and how did you overcome them?
Am I? I never thought of it like that. I am still working so hard and would never feel like I’ve made it to the top. I can’t tell you how many hurdles there were. At one point, I thought that was all there was. There were times I had to choose eating or buying a Vogue Italia. I’m sure you can guess which one I chose. My good friend from Ohio, Erin Parsons, and I would meet at Union Square and sit on the floor and look at all the editorials and talk about our struggles and how we wanted it so bad. She used to make soup out of Ketchup packets so we called our struggles “Ketchup Soup” lol . She is soaring right now working for Maybelline and is an artist I’ve grown up with and look up to. How cool two chicks from Ohio get to do what we do now! It’s been a struggle till the past few years for me. I’ve had to move home and start over several times. It’s hard, but there was never an option. I live and breathe what I do and just feel lucky I get to do this for a living.
who is your favourite canvas to work on?
Any lovely face that sits in front of me is a favourite canvas. Having the opportunity to enhance what’s before me or create a character – it’s all a new challenge.
How do you decide on a beauty look for your clients? For example, with Gaga, is it a collaborative process?
It is always a collaborative process. I love to work with the stylist, hair stylist and the client to get on the same page. When they say it takes a village, it’s because it takes teamwork. If I have an idea for makeup and the hair doesn’t go with it, the whole look is wrong. It’s important to trust your instinct but also your team.
Can you give us any insight into your creative process and how you conceptualise a look? For example, the Countess in American Horror story?
I have a different process for every type of job. For AHS creating the Countess took a ton of creativity and homework. Frederic Aspiras (Gaga’s longtime Hair Designer) and I worked closely with costume designer Lou Elrich to really talk about every scene. Then I would pull references and make mood boards of my vision for the character. Then we would bring our ideas to Gaga and it all elevates to where it should be. We decided her character would have a different vibe and style for each love interest in the season. It was the most challenging and most rewarding experience. I did 68 original glam looks in one season. I am tired typing that lol.
With Gaga, for example, you often work to ambitious, Avant Garde concepts for stage – how do you see stage makeup differ to every day? Can women still apply stage beauty tenets to the everyday?
When I’m creating a look for stage it’s much different than something like a red carpet. I wouldn’t use many of the things I do for stage in the real world. You have to layer to make everything stay for two hours of dancing but find a balance of it being big and dramatic enough to see far away, and look beautiful on a LED screen.
Are you actually friends with any of your clients? Who’s in your “squad”?
Of course. I wouldn’t work with someone I didn’t like. I would call any of my clients my friends. But my “Squad” is the Haus of Gaga.
Although it may be hard in such a successful career, do you have a career highlight or defining moment?
There are so many that are special to me. The first time Gaga introduced me as her makeup artist to a group was a pinch-me-moment. Winning an Emmy for makeup in AHS, Shooting the cover of V with Steven Klein, doing Gaga for the Super Bowl Halftime and becoming part of the Marc Beauty family are some of my favourites.
Three top tips when it comes to makeup? (For example three things you will ALWAYS do or tell your clients to do)
Always take the time to prep your skin. Exfoliate your lips. Curl your lashes.
Favourite makeup rule to break?
All of them.
If you could only do one beauty look for the rest of your life, what would it be?
That is the meanest thing you’ve ever said to me haha! I don’t think I could answer. Maybe that is why I don’t really think I have a “signature style” or I don’t think I do. I love to shake things up.
What’s the biggest myth / mistake you see women do when it comes to their makeup?
That highlighter fixes anything. I see some girls in Los Angeles running around in the day time with this insane beaming highlight that could direct air traffic. It’s too much.
We’re a little behind down under, what should we be wearing coming into Summer? And what should we put to bed?
I think it’s all about skin. Beautiful flushed skin that looks radiant and like you pinched your cheeks fresh. Goodbye to the contour highlight overkill.
What’s your trend forecast for next year?
Big eye liners, bold lips, clean glowing skin you can actually see.
Your three desert island products from Marc Jacobs Beauty?
My Highliner Gel Crayons, Le Marc Liquid Lip Crayons and a ton of Velvet Noir Mascara!
Is there a great multi-purpose trick we can use with the Marc Jacobs beauty?
I use all the Highliners as shadows. They are super creamy and have enough play time to blend them out with amazing colour pay off. Or, I’ll use them as an eyeshadow base because they are so long-wearing.
Do you see Marc’s aesthetic similar to your own in any way?
YES! I’ve always loved Marc as a designer and when the beauty line came out it just made sense to me. That is why it was such a natural progression for me to work with Marc Jacobs Beauty. I love the rule breaking, boundary pushing attitude in beauty and fashion.
You typically have a very theatrical aesthetic, but then sometimes we see a much cleaner look – what do you prefer?
I love all ways of beauty and I don’t really want to ever be known for just doing one thing. I love to do super creative makeups but I also love moisturiser and some lip balm. It’s hard to know when to be able to walk away so things aren’t too much. So, THANK YOU for noticing that I do both lol.
You have a wonderful way with colour, what are your tips for women wanting to wear colour? (Particularly if they’re afraid)
Its just makeup there is nothing to be scared of. Colour is such a wonderful way to express the way you feel or bring something special to your look. My advice is to start simple. Maybe doing a classic liner but in a shade of blue or purple instead of brown or black. Dare to go bold and wear a shade of lipstick you’ve always wanted to try. I promise it will make you happy.
What’s your take on the way social media is influencing / shaping beauty? Is it detrimental at all?
I think it really has changed the industry but I don’t know if it will last. It all really has to come back to the artistry. Not everyone can throw makeup on them self and call them self a makeup artist. Influencers and makeup artists are 2 different things.
Finish this sentence: To me, makeup is…a way to become who you are, or want to be. It could be an escape or a way to feel like a better you.
Finally, you’re throwing the ultimate slumber party. Who do you invite (can be dead or alive) and why? And where would it be?
That is a tough one. OK, maybe Gaga, Amy Winehouse, Courtney Love, Elizabeth Taylor, Cindy Crawford, Jennifer Lawrence, Edie Sedgwick and Val Garland. So random, but I love all these women for being fearless and their sense of humour or special character traits. I would love a slumber party at The Factory.