It is easy to assume that people like Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Iman, and Beyonce Knowles achieve their peak beauty with little effort. In reality, they sometimes need help. Often that help comes from master makeup artist Sam Fine. Fine literally wrote the book on makeup and beauty techniques for African-American women. Through his work with big-name models and performers, as well as his efforts to educate ordinary women about how to look their best, Fine has helped change the way African Americans—and the cosmetic companies whose products they depend on—think about makeup. His ideas have played a huge role in teaching women how to accentuate the naturally beauty in a range of skin tones that was long neglected by the cosmetics industry.
Sam Fine was born on November 12, 1969, in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. He was adopted when he was six months old by the Denton family, who lived on Chicago's South Side. Fine knows little about his birth parents, beyond the fact that his father was black and his mother was Jewish. He grew up as Samuel Denton; only much later did he take on as his professional moniker the last name on his birth certificate. Fine was the youngest of the four Denton children, and the only boy among them. Growing up in a mostly female household, Sam was intrigued by the sight of his mother and sisters applying makeup and getting their hair done. "I used to pay my sisters $2 to let me style their hair," Fine was quoted as saying in a 1998 New York Times article. Fine remembered that they had to concoct much of their own makeup because so few products appropriate for dark-skinned women were available commercially.
Focused on Fashion at Art Institute
Fine grew up in a typical middle-class environment that included Cub Scouts, piano lessons, and vacation bible school. Because his sisters were several years older, however, he spent a lot of time alone, especially once they went off to college. Always artistically inclined, he turned to drawing as his main form of solitary amusement. His artistic skill attracted attention early on, and he won local drawing competitions throughout elementary school and high school. In high school, Fine entered a portfolio review. His work impressed the judges enough that they awarded him a summer scholarship to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he began to focus on a career as a fashion illustrator.
Upon graduating from Percy L. Julian High School on Chicago's South Side, Fine took the logical next step for anybody interested in a career in fashion: He moved to the New York area, taking up residence in Hackensack, New Jersey. His plan was to eventually enroll in one of the city's prestigious design schools, such as the Pratt Institute or Parsons: The New School for Design. Unfortunately, Fine was unable to swing the move financially, and he ended up returning home to Chicago within three months. During his short stay in the Big Apple, however, he managed to make a few industry connections. One of them was with a small company called Naomi Sims Cosmetics. He began doing some work for them on a freelance basis, and in 1989 the company invited him to work at their first New York City cosmetics counter, located in the A & S Department Store on 34th Street. Fine leaped at the opportunity, and at age 19 he moved to New York once again, this time settling in Brooklyn.
Second Move to New York Successful
In New York, Fine began to assemble a portfolio of his work by testing his skills out with aspiring models and photographers. His best friend at the time was an established makeup artist, who was able to provide guidance and career advice. In 1991 Fine began working as an assistant with top makeup artists Fran Cooper and Kevyn Aucoin. He helped out on fashion shows and photo shoots, which brought him into contact with top models, photographers, designers, and others who made the fashion industry tick. At one fashion show, Fine met supermodel Naomi Campbell, and shortly thereafter she called him at his cosmetic counter day job and asked him to work with her on People Magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" issue.
Soon after that, Fine's career began to flourish. He started working regularly with quite a few prominent African-American women, including Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, Tyra Banks, and Iman. In 1993 he landed his first makeup job for an Essence magazine cover, with actress Jackee Harry. Over the next several years, his work could be seen on the covers of such other magazines as Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Vibe, and Marie Claire. He increasingly evolved into the "go to" makeup artist for black women, and as a result he became the first African-American spokesperson for the Revlon and CoverGirl cosmetic brands. As his reputation soared and his client list ballooned, Fine became an important voice not just for particular products aimed at African Americans, but for a whole new approach to beauty. Fine's embraces and celebrates dark complexions and African-American features, rather than attempting to mask or de-emphasize them.
Book and Tour Reach Mainstream Audience
In 1998, Fine summed up what he had learned about making African-American women beautiful in his book, Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women, published by Riverhead Books. The book features makeup tips tailored for the range of African-American skin tones, and photos of the effects of those techniques on famous performers and models as well as ordinary people. Fine Beauty brought to the general public many of the concepts Fine had been applying successful for years to the faces of celebrities. Already one of the most sought-after makeup artists in the fashion and entertainment industries, by the turn of the century his name and ideas were well-known to African-American women in every part of the county, in every line of work.
Fine has further expanded his efforts to reach a broad audience. His "Fine Beauty Tour," sponsored by Essence, beauty retailer Sephora, AMBI Skincare, and nail care specialists OPI Products, brought a series of makeup seminars to women in at least 10 cities beginning in 2005. Also in the works are an instructional video, and his own line of cosmetics, both of which will likely further solidify Fine's place among the elite makeup artists of his time.
At a Glance …
Born Samuel Fine on November 12, 1969, in Evanston, IL; adopted in 1970 and renamed Samuel Denton. Education: Graduated from Percy L. Julian High School, Chicago; summer scholarship to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Freelance fashion illustrator, 1987-89; Naomi Sims Cosmetics makeup counter, A&S Department Store, New York, 1989; professional makeup artist, 1991-.
Web—Fine Beauty, Inc., [email protected]; samfine.com.
Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women, Riverhead Books, 1998.
Black Elegance, February/March 1998, p. 15.
Houston Chronicle, April 23, 1998; October 2, 2005, p. 3.
New York Times, April 12, 1998, p. 9.
"Celebrity Makeup Artist and Chicago Native Sam fine Returns Home for Educational Tour," Bahiyah Magazine, http://bwmmag.com/magazine/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=459&pop=1&page=0&Itemid=201 (February 15, 2007).
Sam Fine, www.samfine.com (February 15, 2007).
Additional information for this profile was obtained through an interview with Sam Fine on February 15, 2007.
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