The Social Artist: Sandy Linter on How Disco Launched Her Life in Makeup

Photo Credits: Simone Silverman

Sandy Linter is asked pretty much the same two questions every day: What does she remember about Studio 54, and what was it like to date Gia?

The 71-year-old has the response down to a science: First, she rolls her eyes—in the kindest way possible— then, she offers a quick lesson in how to refer to the larger-than-life club.

“It was Studio or 54, but never the two names together. You told the taxi to take you to Studio or 54 and they knew where to go.”

“I used to work a full day, go home, and my neighbor, hairdresser Howard Fugler, would come over and say, ‘You’re going out!’ And I would say, ‘Put me together!’ He would do my hair and pick out my outfit; I almost always ended up wearing springolators. That was the fashion!”

Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Linter says she got through the disco’s infamously tough doors because Fugler, their mutual friend, and she knew the formula: “A straight guy, a gay guy and a girl who was practically nude. They saw us and knew we were ready to party. We were always in.”

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Then, there is the subject of Gia Carangi—a not-as-succinct tale that Linter prefers to keep private.

“I met Gia on a shoot with Chris Von Wangenheim in 1978. I was doing the makeup and they asked me to hang around afterward to take some photos. I said ‘sure’ very stupidly and very emphatically before I realized we were going to be nude against a chain-link fence. I didn’t have a choice after that! How could I back out? The rest is history.”

Photo by Deborah Turbeville/Conde Nast via Getty Images

While she’s proud to be associated with both subjects, the makeup guru has since chosen to live in a world “post-disco,” and her focus now, at least when it comes to her career, is on the digital age.

“I owe so much to Instagram. I was popular in the first place because I had this bleach-blond hair and I looked like Debbie Harry. I stuck around because I was good at makeup. I’m still here because I have so many cool things to share on social media.”

In the morning, the first thing Linter does is scroll. “If I can’t relate to what other people are posting, I look through my own stuff and post what I’m feeling. Those are the photos that always get the most likes.”

Her personal archive is best described as “almost never-ending,” a well-preserved history of albums, prints, tear sheets, and— her personal favorite—the Polaroids.

“I would take my SX-70 Polaroid camera everywhere. It was amazing and the colors have held up so well. I loved seeing people and I saved everything I shot—it was never hard to get the shot. I was always around interesting people; I was with Warhol at a diner any night of the week. It was such a scene, and one thing would always lead to another.”

Polaroid Courtesy of Sandy Linter

EARLY MOVES
Growing up in Staten Island, Linter knew she had a talent when her mom, a secretary who “stacked Vogue on the nightstand and had a bathroom covered with products she didn’t know how to use,” started asking her to do her makeup before work.

“I started copying the makeup on myself when I was 15—that’s how all makeup and hair experts start—and next I thing I knew, I was in Bloomingdale’s behind the Kenneth counter. Mr. Kenneth owned a beautiful brownstone on 54th and Madison where all the celebrities went. Jackie Kennedy, Barbara Walters and all the names were his clients. So, by default, they became my clients. I never had to knock on doors. I never had to suffer from lack of confidence.”

It’s that confidence, Linter says, that got her to the next step in her career. “All I ever knew, all I ever had to know, was just a little bit more about makeup than my clients.”

“There were very few makeup artists in New York in the ’70s—it was like the Wild West in a way that it was so open. I never had to network! I never had a business card, yet I always had the best jobs. I coasted until MAC came along, which gave way to droves and droves of makeup artists. After that, nothing was the same, but it was a positive change.”

SQUAD GOALS
A photo shoot in 1977 also changed Linter’s professional course, setting up another important relationship. More than 40 years later, after all the Studio 54 and Gia stories have been told, it is still a story that makes her tear up.

“I was in Santo Domingo with Vogue and Iman was there. I had worked with her a few times before and we were sitting by the pool under one of those tables with an umbrella.”

“Then came Christie [Brinkley], introducing herself like she always does, with that big smile. I can still remember telling myself, ‘This is the most beautiful girl you have ever seen. You have to remember this moment.’”

Yet life continued. Linter remembers doing shoots with Brinkley over the years. “She was a very popular girl. She got married, she had children, she was doing her thing and I was doing my thing.”

Then, a few years back, New York colorist Rita Hazan mentioned to Linter that she was doing Brinkley’s hair for an event.

“When Christie walked into the salon that day, I was ready for her. I did this NARS Cruella red lip on her that I’ll never forget. It was great—here I was, 40 years later, working with another model, a model who is still here and not going anywhere!”

Brinkley is also one of Linter’s favorite subjects to post on Instagram, and Linter shows up in a fair share of Brinkley’s posts.

“This whole social media thing feels like a continuation of the story I’ve always done. It feels very much like survival mode,” she says with a laugh.

“Sometimes I forget the names, but I never forget the makeup.”

Photo Courtesy of Sandy Linter

Watch Sandy recreate one of her favorite makeup makeovers at newbeauty.com/sandylinter