Sam Visser discusses celebrity and the beauty of feeling great.
By Dominic Cadogan
Photographs by Ethan James Green
Styling by Katie Burnett
Make-up by Sam Visser
Hair by Sonny Molina
Sam Visser discusses celebrity and the beauty of feeling great.
Sam Visser was born to be a make-up artist. Growing up in Ventura, California, while other seven-year-olds were playing outside or causing mischief, Visser was locked away in his bedroom, watching video after video on YouTube and applying make-up to himself.
One day in a Make Up For Ever store he recognized make-up artist David Hernandez and marched right up to him. The boldness paid off and Hernandez became his first make-up mentor. He soon a picked up a second in Sharon Gault and, aged 12, found himself on the set of a David LaChapelle shoot (after begging his parents for hours).
Bitten by the beauty bug, just four years later while still at high school, Visser lucked out again, when Kris Jenner (matriarch of the Kardashian clan) discovered his talents on Instagram and reached out. Moving to Hollywood, he switched his studies to start his career – finishing school independently – an opportunity thousands of budding make-up artists would kill for.
A few years later – after adding Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey and Kylie Jenner to his client roster – Visser moved to New York, seeking out his own aesthetic and leaning into a glamour that traverses decades: soft hazy blends from the 1980s, fresh-faced nudes straight off a 1990s runway, and Y2K-appropriate glossed and lined lips.
With a decade of experience – and still aged just 22 – Visser was signed up by Dior Makeup as its US ambassador. ‘From an outside perspective, I’ve done all of these things, but I feel so early in my career,’ he says. ‘I’m grateful for everything that’s happened so far, but I feel like I have only scratched the surface of what I want to say.’ Aiming to expand his repertoire, Visser has been exploring image-making, giving him more freedom to curate the visuals he has in mind. Where he’ll go from there, only fate knows.
Dominic Cadogan: Did you know from a young age that you wanted to be a make-up artist?
Sam Visser: I didn’t even know what was possible or what a make-up artist did. I had grown up watching people on YouTube putting make-up on themselves, so I didn’t know that it was something you could pursue outside of your bedroom and that you could work on a set with other creative people. When I realized it was something I could pursue, it was a snowball effect that grew and grew until it turned into a real, tangible thing.
I read that you were on the set of a David LaChapelle shoot aged 12. How did that happen?
Sam Visser: I was being mentored by Sharon Gault. She took me in and showed me everything from an early age and I absorbed all of it. It was a really great experience to start off with. Seeing that environment really influenced me – it was so cool to see all these creative people making the most beautiful art ever.
What were some of your early breaks?
Sam Visser: When I was assisting Sharon, I shadowed her on a lot of different editorials. Then I actually began to work when I was 16 and left school. Kris Jenner found me on Instagram through a random picture of me with somebody whose make-up I had done. It was a great start in that world. I learned a lot early on about how to create make-up for the camera that would be seen all over the world; it was a great learning experience. I was living in Los Angeles at the time, so I started doing a lot of different celebrities: Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner. It was exciting, but it was almost weird to start in the celebrity world. I enjoyed doing that kind of make-up, but there was a rebellion inside me that wanted to take it somewhere else.
‘I always try to approach beauty in a way that isn’t something I’ve seen before – it’s always something different.’
When did you start finding your own aesthetic?
Sam Visser: I moved to New York and the world of fashion really opened up to me. I realized that you could have your own perspective as a make-up artist, and I started to explore all the ideas that had been brewing since my early days when I was doing crazy looks on myself and my friends.
Unlike many other beauty creatives, you don’t use social media as a source of inspiration. Why?
Sam Visser: Social media is a great tool, but using it as a source of inspiration is hard for me because it’s what is happening right now and I don’t want to follow trends or copy what’s already been created. My instincts about beauty should come from me, not from a phone, so I want to look beyond what’s happening there. I love seeing what other make-up artists, image-makers and creators are doing on social media, but it doesn’t inspire me.
How would you define ‘beauty’?
Sam Visser: I always try to approach beauty in a way that isn’t something I’ve seen before – it’s always something different. For me, ‘beauty’ is making somebody light up. I get excited when somebody I’m working with or the model in my chair feels really beautiful. It’s such an emotional feeling. It’s important to have conversations beyond the standardized version of beauty because feeling great is what is beautiful. If that means putting make-up on or wearing no make-up, using brow gel, or putting red paint all over your face – whatever it is, feeling beautiful is the most important.
What is the future of beauty?
Sam Visser: It’s undefinable. Ten years ago, you could have never predicted what is happening right now with make-up; beauty is so unpredictable. We’re at a point where we’ve put every possible object on our faces. It’s a free-for-all, but in the best way because everyone is so self-expressive. We just had a pandemic where everyone was locked up and for a lot of people their outlet was creativity. We don’t know what the next six months or 10 years will bring, but I’m excited to see what the result will be.
Taken from System beauty No. 1 – purchase the full issue here.
Models: Maca Cabrera at Heroes; Alex Consani at IMG Models; Molly Constable at Next; Muhammad Fadel Lo at Next; Somali Findlay at IMG Models; Arta Gee at APM Models; Sophie Koella at DNA Models; Momo Ndiaye at Fusion; Abény Nhial at Elite; Shanelle Nyasiase at Elite; Mase Somanlall at DNA Models; Thatcher Thornton at Heroes; Hang Yu at Ford. Nails: Shirley Cheng. Production: Second Name. Casting: Julia Lange. Set design: Ian Salter at Frank Reps. Styling assistants: Alex Hall, Jody Bain, Stephan La Cava, Morgan, Jimenez.