We are on the cusp of a revolution in beauty and gender. One of the foremost artists behind this revitalization is Sam Visser, a young queer makeup artist who has already worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, including the Kardashian-Jenner family, Bella Hadid, and Kaia Gerber. He was also recently selected by Dior as a Beauty Ambassador, an honor he calls “humbling.”
At 21, Visser has achieved milestones of success that many makeup artists spent their entire career working toward—but his youth belies his decade of experience. Visser’s first formal makeup training began at 12, when he was in the sixth grade. At that time, a mentor surprised him with a last-minute invitation to a David LaChapelle photoshoot. “I begged my dad to drive me to the [shoot],” he recalled, which didn’t start until 6 PM. For a middle schooler, that is homework and dinner time; for Visser, it was a window into “what the art world really looks like.” He was dazzled by LaChapelle’s practical special effects, likening the set to a movie production. It would also be a glimpse into Visser’s own future.
At 16, Kris Jenner discovered Visser’s work on Instagram. He was selected to work with the famed matriarch for a one-off shoot, though his talents soon became apparent and he was offered a full-time position with the Kardashian team. “That taught me a lot,” he said of working with the family, and laments how their style of contouring, bronzing, and high glam “[is] dismissed by the fashion world.” From an educational standpoint, Visser says that “the technique of their makeup...is heavier, but if you can translate that into a different style, it is one of the most insightful ways to learn makeup.”
He’s taken the lessons of the Kardashians straight to heart. A quick scroll through his Instagram portfolio reveals a fascination with bright colors and smoldering eyes; he doesn’t shy away from applying metallic finishes with matte skin, or Siouxsie-inspired eyeliner with glossy black lips. There is playfulness and whimsicality in Visser’s work—1970s queer disco moments are explored next to hyper-feminine doe eyes from the 1960s. And it’s all filtered through today’s rejection of gender as a defining trait in one’s expression and lived experiences.
After all, Visser’s style is inextricably linked with his personal politics. He is adamant about representing the full range of human subcultural expression through the democratizing power of makeup; during our conversation, we both joked about how “gender is totally fake,” though it’s not a joke at all—it’s a radical notion that upends our entire cisgender heteronormative power structure, but seems so simple in 2021. In Visser’s Beauty Notes interview below, he discusses battling acne in his teen years, and why he keeps an ice bucket on set whenever he’s shooting with Bella Hadid.
What are makeup products you can’t live without for work?
The Dior Rouge Blush, especially in the color 999. I think red blush is so special, it’s the most ’70s thing ever, and it looks amazing on everyone’s skin tone. It’s a powder, but almost blends like a cream. I’m also obsessed with the Dior Lip Oil—it is so sexy, if you want that juicy, glossy lip.
What is the one makeup or skincare product you think everyone should own?
Sweet almond oil is the savior of my skin! I had the worst acne, and a friend told me about this. You can buy it at Whole Foods, and you can put it on your face, on your ears, on your whole body, and it literally gives your skin the most beautiful, glowy finish. It’s a great base for makeup, because you can mix [foundation] with the oil, and it will give you light natural coverage. Just beautiful, buttery skin.
Who is your beauty icon?
That’s such a hard question! If we’re going to talk about celebrities, I’m going with Marilyn Monroe, Grace Jones, Marlene Dietrich—she’s a huge one for me. David Bowie, absolutely. He is such a pioneer with makeup. Steve Strange, and the whole 1980s underground punk scene from the UK—they are all icons in their own right.
What is the best bit of beauty advice you’ve ever received, and who was it from?
Wash your face! My mom said in the 1960s or 1970s, she read this Seventeen magazine article that said if you don’t wash your face, and touch your hands to your face, it’s like putting your face onto a stack of pancakes. I don’t think my mom has ever had a night in her life where she hasn’t washed her face since she read that article.
I love pancakes, and I am never going to look at them the same way.
Right? I love pancakes in my mouth, just not on my face!
What are some of your must-have skincare products, beyond the almond oil?
Organic rose water—it’s a great refresher and I use it under makeup. It doesn’t make people break out. I absolutely love the clear Dior Rouge lip balm, because it hydrates your lips and the packaging is so beautiful. You can wear it under [face] masks, and it’s not goopy so it won’t stick to the mask because it is very emollient. It works the hydration inwards.
What is your skincare routine, especially as you struggled with acne in your teen years?
Whenever I’m doing my own makeup, I always wash it off with freezing cold water. Ice cubes are amazing, because they tighten your pores up so much. The more you shock your skin on the cold spectrum, it boosts your collagen; it makes you look so fresh and awake and alive. Bella and I do it before every shoot—we have an ice bucket on set. I also love my ReFa Carat Roller. It’s been my savior since not being able to get facials, and I use it as a sculpting tool. It drains the lymph nodes in your neck, and if you grind your teeth, you can massage it in circular motions on your jaw under your cheekbone, above your jawline to release all that tension. You’ll feel it in your ear—it’s therapeutic for everyone.