It's not so often that television makeup looks like something that could be found on the cover of W magazine. While bleached brows, dramatic lip colors and wild slashes of eyeliner play well on the runway and in editorials, TV shows skew toward smoky eyes and natural tones — the sort of makeup that serves to enhance an already attractive actor's features, making for a slightly more appealing version of real life.
Thank god for "American Horror Story." With its current season, "American Horror Story: Hotel," which aired its second episode on Wednesday night, the series delivers a powerful dose of high fashion to the small screen in the form of Lady Gaga's bloodsucking Countess.
"I wanted her to look like a bomb Daphne Guinness, a model that could be on the cover of Vogue Italia shot by Steven Meisel," says Sarah Tanno, Gaga's full-time makeup artist, who came on board for the show. "I think that's why [show creator] Ryan Murphy wanted me and Frederic [Aspiras, Gaga's hairstylist] on it. He wanted somebody who could really interpret fashion and elevate the show."
Drawing on references from a wide range of decades — the '20s, '30s, '70s, '80s — Tanno created a look that's both sophisticated and unnerving: highlighted skin, bleached eyebrows, eyeshadow winged toward the temple and thoroughly blended to hollow out the eyes, gloss on the lids and blood red lips. (Skip the mascara.) Tanno bounced between lipsticks but says she used shades from Besame Cosmetics, which she discovered through the show's other makeup artists.
"I had noticed Emma Roberts's color last season [in "AHS: Freak Show"]. I'd never seen a brighter, more perfect red," she says. "The head makeup artist gave me this lip palette and it's been my favorite thing."
For those still searching for a Halloween costume, Tanno has some tips for transforming into Gaga's countess for a night. If you're not into bleaching your eyebrows, tamping them down with Anastasia's brow wax before covering them up with Kevyn Aucoin's Skin Enhancer will do the trick. Trace MAC's Teddy eyeliner along the outer corners of the upper and lower lash lines, then take a small blending brush to pull it upward, softening the edges as you go. Moving toward the nose, carve out the crease with the warm brown tone in Charlotte Tilbury's Sophisticate eyeshadow palette, but leave the eyelids bare — a dab of Elizabeth Arden's Eight Hour cream will give them a nice sheen. For Gaga's skin, Tanno favors Giorgio Armani's Luminous Silk Foundation in a pale shade, along with Tom Ford's Shade and Illuminate Duet for contouring.
Aspirational as The Countess's look may be, Tanno says she typically skips face powder in the interest of keeping Gaga's skin looking touchable. For an actor, a little bit of vulnerability is never a bad thing.
Correction: Lady Gaga's hairstylist's name is Frederic Aspiras. A previous version of this article misstated his last name as Aspira.