There are nearly 350 YouTube tutorials on Lady Gaga's "Poker Face" makeup, and the most-watched—by Michelle Phan—has an astonishing 21 million views. But there's only one woman who truly knows everything about that makeup look, and that's Sharon Gault. You may not know her by name, but you've seen her work on some of the most famous celebrities in the world, including Madonna, Rihanna, Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, and of course, Gaga. She's been in the business since before some of her young clients were even born, and her longstanding collaboration with photographer David LaChapelle has resulted in some of the most talked-about Rolling Stone covers in recent years, including Britney Spear's first cover in 1999 (below left) and Lady Gaga's in May 2009 (below right). And if you want to ask Sharon whether she thinks Lady G is the new Madonna, well, she can actually give you an educated answer—Sharon toured with the Material Girl twice in the early '90s and appeared in her 1991 documentary Madonna: Truth or Dare. I caught up with Sharon via phone from L.A. earlier this week to talk about that endlessly-copied video makeup and how she earned the nickname "Mama Makeup."
How did you get your start as a makeup artist? I started out doing both hair and makeup. As a teenager, I studied photography and when I would shoot my friends, I would play around with their hair and makeup for the photos. I ended up getting a scholarship to the Vidal Sassoon Academy and in the '80s, I started working with hairstylist and makeup artist Eric Bernard, who inspired me to follow my dreams.
When did you decide to focus only on makeup? I like to bring a lot of products and references with me to shoots, and it honestly just became too much to carry everything I needed for both hair and makeup. So when the '90s hit and everyone wanted that over-the-top Oribe type of hairstyling, I decided to downsize and just focus on makeup. I’m childlike, so I like the artistic freedom of makeup. I love to paint and just have fun. I think that’s why I get along so well with David LaChapelle—we’re both eccentrics.
You toured with Madonna twice—first on her Blonde Ambition tour in 1990 and again in 1993 for her Girlie Show tour. How did you first meet her? I assisted makeup artist Francesca Tolot and hairstylist Peter Savic when they worked with Madonna on her "Vogue" and "Cherish" videos. Madonna just liked my personality, so I ended up going on the Blonde Ambition tour and helping Peter Savic, who styled her hair. I never did Madonna's makeup, though I worked with some of her backup dancers on the tour and they nicknamed me "Mama Makeup." I was very young back then and it was so exciting to be a part of all that. I felt so lucky to be traveling the world with Madonna.
Years later, you ended up working with "the new Madonna" as some call her, Lady Gaga. How did that come to be? Gaga and I worked on a little art film together before she became a big star, so she then hired me to do her makeup for her first videos, including "Poker Face," "Paparazzi, "LoveGame," and "Eh, Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)." I remember trying to get a hold of a specific brand of false lashes to use on her in "Poker Face," so I called the makeup company and said, "I’m working with this new singer, Lady Gaga, and she’s going to be the next Madonna.” And the person just laughed at me! But a year later, that same person said to me, "Sharon, I’ll never doubt you again.”
Did you come up with the idea for her "Poker Face" makeup? No, Gaga came up with all those makeup looks herself—I just followed her instructions! Except for the purple tears on her face at the end of "Paparazzi"—that was my idea. I used a purple lip gloss to create those drops running down her cheeks.
What do you think of all the YouTube makeup artists doing tutorials of your Gaga makeup? I’m so inspired by them! It's flattering to see them recreate my work. Their videos are fun to watch, and it's great to see a young girl like Michelle Phan who was once unknown now on contract with Lancôme.
Having worked with both superstars, can you answer the burning question: Is Lady Gaga the new Madonna? They're both legends! It’s amazing to see Madonna fans now loving Gaga, too. Even Lourdes [Madonna's daughter] loves Gaga! We need strong women who inspire young girls to think outside the box and be individuals, which is something Madonna inspired in girls when she first came on the scene, and now Gaga's doing the same. But as individuals, you can't really compare them. Gaga just loves to have fun with beauty and be different; Madonna likes to try everything and prides herself on being a real chameleon.