Lady Gaga’s Makeup Artist Sarah Tanno On the Singer’s Beauty Evolution, the Oscars, and A Star Is Born

Meet the woman responsible for Gaga's beauty evolution over the past decade.

A Star Is Born Red Carpet Arrivals - 75th Venice Film Festival
Elisabetta A. Villa/WireImage

Over the past 10 years, Lady Gaga has had just as many different phases of style, if not more. There is a now a Gaga era for every mood; a different aesthetic for every day of the week. While much of that is due to the pop star turned actress’ gift for constant reinvention — stylistically, sonically, and creatively — it’s also in part thanks to her makeup artist Sarah Tanno, who has worked with Lady Gaga since 2009, when her hits “Just Dance,” “Poker Face,” and “Bad Romance” ruled the charts, and she dominated the red carpet as a meme queen. From that point up until now, Tanno and Gaga have worked tirelessly to never repeat the same looks and, this past year when Gaga embarked on the A Star Is Born press tour, they took their ability to surprise one step further: Instead of playing to the shock factor, Gaga and Tanno opted to highlight the icon’s natural beauty in an understated yet gorgeous way. The recent Grammys were a prime example of that, where Gaga paired a disco gown from Celine’s Hedi Slimane with a low-key smoky eye and a pink lip. In anticipation of this year’s Oscars, where Gaga is poised to be the red carpet highlight yet again, Tanno explained the inspiration behind her recent Grammys look (and the surprising thing about it you may have missed), Gaga’s hidden talent, and what we can expect from Gaga’s first appearance at the Oscars as a nominee.

How did you start working with Gaga? Her day to day manager at the time remembered my portfolio from three years prior when I had done a job with her for Fergie and thought Gaga would like my style. Yes, back then you had to carry around a portfolio of your work.

What was the first look you collaborated on? The very first time I did her makeup was for one of her last shows of the Fame Ball. I was so nervous and I remember not having much time. She said to me, “Live your eyeliner, Breathe your lipstick.” So I gave her a huge winged liner and a bright pink mouth you could see from across the club. I now have that quote tattooed on my arm, because that day changed my life.

How do you approach each look? It usually starts with what she’s wearing. We have a tight group of creative friends she calls the “Haus,” and we all collaborate closely with Gaga for every moment, whether its a performance, red carpet or video. We all bring what we think is our strongest ideas to the table and then work off of each other, we present them to Gaga and then she elevates it to where its supposed to be. We have a tremendous amount of trust in each other which I think makes us the team we are.

Who are some of her favorite icons beauty wise? Where else do both of you look for inspiration? She loves Daphne Guinness! For inspiration I often watch films, look at old runway shows, look through my extensive book collection. I spend hours in my glam room trying looks on myself before I try them on her for big events. During the press tour for A Star is Born I was looking through my favorite Helmut Newton books during that time. Its always the perfect balance of classic and glam.

Gaga has undergone so many transformations—does her current era feel like it will stick around longer? What is your favorite Gaga era? It’s hard to say. I really love where we have taken her glam over the past year, but we really are two people who are not afraid of makeup. She is fearless about trying new things which basically makes me the luckiest artist in the world. This has got to be one of my favorite Gaga eras so far. I’m also really looking forward to creating the next one.

What kinds of conversations did you have going into the press tour for A Star Is Born? Did her character Ally factor into how you approached her red carpet looks? No, she really wanted to feel like herself. I never wanted the makeup looks to be too expected. She still had to walk the carpets and feel Gaga.

How did her look evolve throughout the press tour and awards show season? I don’t know that it evolved through out as much as we told a story for each event.

When she goes to an awards show, what kinds of products does she bring for touch ups? I always send her off with the lip products I used, a few tissues, and blotting papers.

What was the inspiration behind her gorgeous Grammys look? She was wearing Celine and Hedi Slimane has such a specific vibe. I wanted her makeup to not be too far of a departure from his aesthetic, but still be fresh for a red carpet. I decided to just use a smudgy black liner on the outer corners of her eyes using Marc Jacobs Beauty Highliner in Blaquer. I went with no mascara or lashes which I know is a bold choice for a red carpet, but it really felt right to us and it’s one of my favorite looks.

What was your favorite look of this press run? Venice Film Festival I think was my favorite carpet ever. I know it was one of my more paired down glams, but she looked so radiant and happy. It was a moment I will never forget. I felt so proud of my friend and so lucky to be there with her for her first movie premiere.

What is her day to day beauty look like when she’s not in front of cameras? We love to play around with or with out the cameras. She is such a chameleon there is really never one look. Gaga is also a great makeup artist in her own right. Sometimes I sit there and watch her do her own. She loves makeup as much as I do so we really have a great time with it.

What is her daily beauty routine like? I’m sure you have noticed she has incredible skin. She is great at taking the best care of it. She loves sheet masks and takes pride in her skin care routine. She also has an amazing facialist named Joomee Song who does some really advanced massage techniques to tighten and helps with inflammation and circulation.

Are there any beauty trends you both would avoid? Never! We prefer to write the trends and then to break them.

What’s the most extreme thing you’ve both done together in the name of beauty? David Bowie Grammy’s tribute. I had to recreate some of Bowie’s most iconic looks on her face and then they were projected on her face with intel technology as she sang the opening. The day of the show I did six makeup changes!

Have you ever had any beauty mishaps together that you’ve rallied through? I don’t think there was ever a real “mishap” when it comes to makeup. I will say that figuring out the process of covering all her tattoos on American Horror Story was a really intense and not my favorite. Tattoo coverage took me forever to figure out a formula that would work.

Does she ever cover her tattoos for the red carpet? Sometimes I’ll cover her tattoos for red carpets if it fights the dress or feels right for the story we’re telling that night. We actually covered all her tattoo’s for the Golden Globes when she won for her role in American Horror Story.

What’s something that would be surprising to learn about Gaga? She’s an awesome makeup artist!

How often does she do her own makeup? Does she ever do her own makeup for red carpet events? She’ll do her own if I’m busy or if she goes out to dinner. Sometimes she’ll send me a photo and I’m always super impressed. There is also nothing she can’t do. She’s an artist in every way.

Will she have more than one beauty look for the Oscars? I honestly don’t know yet. Still cooking up some ideas.

How will you be approaching the Oscars red carpet? Will she continue with her natural glammed up look or do something different? I really am not sure. It’s such an important moment in her career. Whatever I do I want to make sure it’s something she can look back on 20 years from now and still love it as much as she does this Sunday.