Story By Katie Canales | Photography by Meghan Garner
Sammi McKee has never taken a makeup class in her life and yet she was the only makeup artist from Texas to work Fashion Week in New York and Los Angeles in Fall 2015.
Recently relocated to Sola Salons from her Downtown Bryan location, Sammi the Stylist has earned a reputation with her high-definition hair color expertise, currently decking out her own hair and eyebrows in a purple-pink hue. One such hairstyle can take anywhere from four to 10 hours to complete. “When you get known for doing one thing, everybody comes to you, which is good, I enjoy it. I enjoy doing something completely different,” says Sammi.
Sammi worked in the dental field for 10 years before pursuing her more creative endeavor. While living and working in Brenham to let her daughters finish high school, Sammi chose to commute to Charles and Sue’s for hair design school. Her first year out of school, she won the top producer of the region award at her former Brenham hair salon.
A self-proclaimed overachiever, Sammi sought makeup artist education outside of school, turning to soap opera characters’ makeup, among other influences, and teaching herself. “I’ve always been really blessed in the fact that I can see something and duplicate it,” says Sammi.
Sammi was constantly in a learning environment during Fashion Week this past season, observing makeup artists from around the country and how they performed their craft on models. “I feel like if I stay within the industry, I tend to trust that information more,” says Sammi.
Sammi befriended a woman on Instagram who admired her work and, and after a year of communication with her, was invited to New York. Little did she know she had met the recruiter for New York Fashion Week’s makeup stylists. “I didn’t get on any of her professional pages, I didn’t even think about it,” says Sammi.
Sammi’s makeup artistry on models during Fashion Week was featured in both Vogue and Forbes and she was invited back to style models’ makeup February, March, and April of 2016 in New York’s, Los Angeles’ and Atlanta’s Fashion Weeks, respectively.
Fashion Week requires a fast-paced, demanding level of work from designers, models, hair and makeup stylists, and everyone else involved. One model, having been awake and walking in shows since 4am, couldn’t even manage to stay awake in the makeup chair. “She kept falling asleep, and I was holding her head and putting on the eyeliner,” says Sammi.
Back home, Sammi also does makeup for photo shoots, magazines, and engagement and wedding photos. This past November, Sammi had a tear sheet for the retro and modern pin-up themed magazine Delicious Dolls and will also have another one in February.
Sammi is most known for doing an intense smoky eye, though she’s able to tone it down for her neutral-inclined clients. “More dramatic makeup is the way I tend to lean, and I guess it’s really worked out with the high fashion because it’s super dramatic,” says Sammi.
Sammi shares a space at Sola Salons Studios with makeup artist Leanna Hale, with whom she collaborates often for weddings and other events. The two do their own separate photo shoots with other artists. “We always come back together and bounce things off of one another,” says Sammi.
After years of makeup and hair styling, Sammi is able to visualize what would look best on a client in her chair by considering the shape of their face, eyes, lips, and personal preference. “You have to learn how to help them tweak it and make it fit them,” says Sammi.
While 90 percent of her daily work is performing high-definition color on her clients, Sammi also works on men’s hair and even beard trimming as part of her repertoire.
Sammi also speaks at events in the community, including a Texas A&M University sorority fashion show and various high schools. She explains how she didn’t always have approval from others of what she’s doing as an artist. “Now the same people that were the ones telling me, ‘You shouldn’t, you shouldn’t’ are now the ones telling me, ‘Oh my God, that’s so great, I can’t believe it.’”
After experiencing life in New York for fashion week, Sammi says she fell in love with the city. Once her youngest daughter graduates from high school and is settled in college, Sammi plans to move to New York to continue doing makeup, hair styling, and collaborating with photographers and other artists for photo shoots. “I always knew that I wanted something more than living in a small town,” says Sammi. “I wanted to be more than what I was supposed to settle for.”