Beautiful People: Way Bandy

To call him a beauty pioneer is no overstatement: Way Bandy was the first superstar makeup artist. And for photographic makeup techniques, you could say he started it all…

When fashion photography first became a thing, models mostly did their own hair and makeup, or maybe they stopped by a salon to get a new “do” (or a wig). But as the industry developed, beauty pros started working in the studios, and making images became an increasingly team art form.

And that’s where Way Bandy came in. Professional makeup techniques were usually borrowed from the theater, but Way was trained as a portrait painter, so when he went through Christine Valmy’s makeup school in 1967, he was likely thinking in more subtle terms. At least that’s what he brought to the photoshoots he worked on: makeup somehow became simultaneously softer and more glamorous in his hands, and his faces always looked as though the glow was from within. Even when the model was as troubled as Gia Carangi:

He worked with everybody: Avedon, Demarchelier, Elgort, and most famously, Scavullo. Just about every Cosmo cover from the seventies and early eighties features Way Bandy’s makeup, as do an astonishing number of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar covers. He was part of making some of the most iconic images of the era as well, working on faces ranging from Farrah Fawcett to Iman to Sophia Loren to a very young Madonna.

Way Bandy was also a teacher to every other makeup artist who came after him, including me. He wrote and illustrated two books on his techniques, Designing Your Face and Styling Your Face. Way broke makeup down to it’s simplest terms: a few colors and the planes of the face. He even eschewed naming brands of cosmetics, talking of cream and clear liquid colors. Which he may have mixed up himself, since no one was selling those mixtures at the time.

Commercially available makeup was pretty ghastly in its formulation then, and Way pioneered the blending of shades with a little moisturizer or toner to get the color and texture just right. He also was an early promoter of a beige skin tone at a time when almost all foundation shades were much pinker than real skin. Somehow pink was considered “a glow of youth” color in makeup, but it was fast becoming completely inappropriate, especially since models of diverse ethnic backgrounds were showing up for work.

Coming up with beige and tawny colors enabled a more natural look in fashion photography, but that’s not all Way did: most of those those oh-so-glamorous Cosmo covers were done by him as well. He explained the glamorous look in his book, but for full effect, you’d really have to be there. Which is why we’re lucky that this video exists:

In life as well as work, Way was on the cutting edge: he had reinvented himself in New York, and would not divulge his real name or real birth date. He got into health food and pure living to the extent that he was well known for never getting sick. Which made it all the more shocking when he got very sick very quickly. He and his friends had known about AIDS, and although being gay was stigma enough then, he made sure that his cause of death would be publicly known, to reduce the mystery surrounding the then-new epidemic. There was even a bit of a kerfuffle in his native Birmingham, Alabama, when the man whose name was really Way Bandy kept hearing about the death of “Way Bandy” from AIDS. But as sad as his death was, Way’s fame allowed people to talk about AIDS more openly, and to push through the politics slowing its research.

As for me, I was heartbroken to hear about Way Bandy’s death: during the summer of 1986 so many of my fashion heroes died from this terrible new disease. But Way was special to me: through his books he was my first makeup teacher, and since we were both Birmingham renegades, he gave me hope that life doing makeup could be bigger than the counter at the local mall. Even though I never met him, I felt I knew him well.

But in a way, Way Bandy isn’t dead at all: his creative DNA is in every decent makeup tutorial out there. Most if not all professional makeup artists study his techniques, and it’s now a given that makeup artists should know to blend colors to match diverse skin tones. Anyone who puts on makeup well at all owes much of what they know to him, whether they’ve heard of him or not. The beauty and subtlety of Way’s makeup raised the bar for how beautiful a person could look, in a photo or in real life.

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