If you were granted the task of painting Lady Gaga’s face, one would assume you to be of the highest creative order. It’s fortuitous then, that Sarah Tanno is supremely talented. It takes a consummate creative to immortalise Gaga’s wild imagination and creative spirit through makeup, and Tanno is up to the task.
A member of the exclusive Haus of Gaga and Lady Gaga’s “creative partner,” the makeup artist has creativity 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 she is one of Marc Jacobs Beauty’s prolific 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 word with the brilliant Sarah Tanno.
Tell us a little bit about your background and career path, how did you get into beauty? Did you have a background in art at all?
I have always been into makeup, as long as I could remember I was fascinated by it. I wasn’t very confident growing up, so I really learned that makeup could help me express myself. Soon everyone would ask me to do theirs. From there, I worked at countless makeup stores, went to makeup school for special FX and then just started the grind. I was never going to give up on my dream. I have worked very hard to actually be able to live off of just being an artist and there is no better feeling than that.
Did social media play a role in this? And how do you view the role of Instagram and social media in beauty? Is it detrimental at all?
Social media was never around when I started with makeup. I didn’t have any of these tools. We would only work for trade for photos and have to hand carry our portfolios to share our work. Now I think its part of the job. I don’t think I’m the best with social media, I still feel new to this way of working. I come from the old school way of things where being on set is sacred and you never share BTS and definitely NEVER ask talent to take a photo. Now it’s almost part of the job so I think it has become a detrimental part of what we do in beauty. Now people almost look at your Instagram following instead of your talent, but in the end, talent should always outweigh the following.
How can a woman explore her identity and herself through makeup?
I think that is special to each woman and means something different to everyone. Makeup is a power. It can build your confidence, help you to show your character and even be an escape. That is the beauty of what a simple lipstick can do for a person.
How do you explore yourself through your art?
An artist is who I am, so I think I express that in anything I do. Whether I am planning an event, decorating my home, packing my kit, or doing the makeup – I think I control everything I do with my inner artist.
Do you believe the human face is the greatest canvas of them all, and why?
I do. It has this beautiful power to show the world how you want people to perceive you. No one you just meet knows who you are. They don’t know that you are a beautiful person on the inside. I think it’s important to show the world how you want people to see you, so it is your greatest canvas.
Your work skews towards the conceptual and experimental, particularly when working with Lady Gaga. How do Gaga’s looks come about? Is it a collaborative process with her, or do you devise them solo? I’m really interested in the creative process, and how that comes about with two highly creative artists.
I call her my creative partner because nothing I do would happen without the collaboration. That’s where the Haus of Gaga came from. A group of friends that create together. Everything from styling, hair, makeup, and even a song or a feeling has a part in a look.
What has been your favourite look to date?
I have to say the Countess from American Horror Story. It wasn’t just one look, it was 68 to be exact but that was an amazing opportunity to create a really great fashion makeup story on television.
You take so many beauty risks, do you believe taking risks is the key to good makeup? Or what do you believe is the key?
No, I don’t think it is the key to good makeup. I think technique and believing in your vision is the key to good makeup. I love to take risks because I love to do the opposite of a trend and start a new one, or just elevate a moment.
You have an amazing talent in the art of transformation. How do you plan? What prep goes into it and how long does it take? What and who inspires you for these?
OMG I do a ton of research. I watch movies, I have a huge library of inspiring books I love so much I could cry talking about them. I often practice on myself. Sometimes I need to be alone with my makeup to figure something out. I like to do all of this before I even present an idea.
You have proven the incredible transformative power of makeup. How do you believe makeup can transform someone? And is this only for good?
I believe you should only use makeup to transform something if you feel it’s needed to make you feel good. I don’t ever think it is needed but it’s a powerful thing to know that you can.
What is your approach to beauty?
I love makeup. I love beauty and those things don’t always go hand in hand. Sometimes my approach to beauty is to leave it alone and not do a single thing. Other times I will build a contraption to stick on your eye if I feel like it needs it for the moment. So, with that said my approach to beauty is whatever the moment is. I want to add to it but not take away from it.
Do you believe in beauty rules?
You have a wonderful way with colour. What are your tips when it comes to colour, and more specifically clashing colours? What are your favourite colours to clash?
I love to clash colours. Pink and red are my favourite colour combination. I love colour and I think it has to make sense for the person and every element of the event for it to feel right.
How can we approach playful colour in the everyday?
I think just trying a colour of lipstick you haven’t tried before or doing your eyeliner in a plum instead of brown is a subtle way to introduce colour into your process.
Texture is integral to your work. How can the everyday woman incorporate texture into their own beauty routines?
I think it’s also about dimension. If you add a matte to the crease and a shimmer on the lid it creates dimension and texture. Adding a cream blush to the cheeks and lips creates a soft touchable texture. These are all very approachable for any woman.
There has been a swell of imaginative colour and texture on social media and in real life, and brands like Marc Jacobs have been revolutionary in this. Girls and boys seem to be taking more risks with beauty than ever before, do you agree? And why do you think this is so?
Brands like Marc Jacobs have created a conversation for what the power of beauty can do for your soul. I think more brands should have a motive like theirs and that’s why everyone feels more confident to take a personal risk.
Can you please share a unique makeup trick or tip you swear by?
If you have puffy eyes use cold spoons to de-puff them.
The famous desert island question; but you’re stuck on an island of your choice, with whoever you want. Where are you? What three Marc Jacobs items do you pack? Who would you invite? And what would you do? And what would be your signature beauty look?
I wouldn’t go to an island without my Marc Jacobs Velvet Noir Major Volume Mascara. I would also bring my favourite Marc Jacobs New Nudes Sheer Gel Lipstick in Role Play as I could use it on my cheeks and lips, and my Marc Jacobs Highliner Gel Eye Crayon Eyeliner in Blacquer so I can do makeup, draw on people’s faces and also write home. I would take my fiancé Tim, my Mom, brother and the Haus with me for sure. This is already the most fun group so we don’t need much to have a good time. My signature look would be my smile because I have everything I need in the ones I love.