There's something unmistakably European about Vivian Infantino, and it's not just her Italian name or the fact that she's sipping espresso in Gesine, a small, Euro-style café in Montpelier. She has a certain minimalist, European elegance: tall and lithe with angular features, with wispy, golden hair cut short. She's dressed simply in white jeans, a pink top, brown flats and no jewelry, except for a yellow "Live Strong" bracelet - in honor of her father, who died this year of cancer.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about her appearance, considering her profession, is the absence of makeup. Infantino is a professional makeup artist whose clients include Vermont politicians when they're filming campaign commercials. Though she's only lived in Vermont since 2003, Infantino is already handling some of the biggest names in both parties - though, understandably, she's averse to saying which ones. But her job is a real challenge in politics: to make everyone look good.
Infantino began her freelance career in Vermont in an unlikely way. Born and raised in the States, she moved to Milan, Italy, in 1980, where her first job was working as a fashion model for Giorgio Armani. This was shortly after the release of American Gigolo, which put Armani on the fashion map - he designed Richard Gere's wardrobe.
Infantino spent the next 14 years working as a model - a lifetime in that industry. When she repatriated in the early 1990s, she applied to Goddard College to get back into writing; she already had a journalism degree from Boston University. However, Infantino found life at the small college too isolating and moved to Montpelier.
In March 2004, she saw an ad in the newspaper from a company looking for a makeup artist. "I couldn't believe it," she recalls. "I thought, 'I'm not seeing makeup in Montpelier. I'm not seeing makeup in Vermont. Why would someone be looking for a makeup artist here?"
But knowing it was something she could do, Infantino connected with a woman who had started a company called the Makeup Artist Guild. Infantino soon discovered that Vermont is a major wedding destination, where there are always people looking for makeup artists willing to work on location at homes, resorts and B&Bs.
Infantino hasn't completely shed her Italian persona. Her mind occasionally shifts between English and Italian as she searches for the right word. But since moving here she's adopted some very Vermont characteristics, such as an interest in organic and holistic makeup and skin-care products. Armani would be proud.
SEVEN DAYS: Did you have any formal training as a makeup artist?
VIVIAN INFANTINO: Well, I modeled for 14 years. You have people working on you all the time. And, I was always a very kinesthetic person, so I'm very much aware of what people did when they touched. And, I'm very visual.
SD: What advice do you usually give to politicians you work for?
VI: Usually what I tell someone who's nervous about having their makeup done for the camera is, whether it's a politician or someone else, it's not about the makeup. It's about what the camera sees, and what the camera sees depends on lighting and other circumstances. So, what I'm usually doing is trying to make someone not shine, or get rid of circles. We're not trying to alter anybody or make their image more palatable. Because any of these politicians knows that when they're out on the street, they're not made up.
SD: Do you have party loyalties?
VI: This is my job, and there's not a lot of work in Vermont, so I will work for anyone who comes along. My work is bipartisan right now. I work for both sides . . . that's where the journalist in me comes in, to hear what people say about what's going on. I'm just paying attention to who's stepping up to the plate.
SD: How do people find you?
VI: It's kind of funny. I wanted to be a mentor here in town and . . . this woman who runs the program is a local person and her husband is Jeff Farber, a filmmaker. And the next thing I know, I was getting phone calls to do commercials. It wasn't the political stuff first.
SD: What challenges are there to doing politicians' makeup?
VI: I thought I would find resistance from farmers who didn't want makeup on, or codgers, or women who say they don't wear makeup. But when I explain that it's not about the makeup but about the camera, they say, "OK, do whatever you gotta do." And I usually do very, very well.
SD: How do you decide what needs to be done?
VI: Usually, I'm looking for lighting and even skin tone. There's usually pretty classic stuff you look for. Eyebrows always frame a person's face, whether it's a woman or a man. If you see that folks have very little or very light eyebrows, you want to give them something to create their frame. Most everybody, 99.9 percent of people - the way light falls, you're throwing shadows under your eyes, so you're trying to get rid of those circles. And you're going to define the mouth. If you don't have enough lip color on, you're going to try to let the camera see a natural color.
SD: What's the hardest thing about your job?
VI: My biggest challenge would be the non-Vermonter who comes up here and has expectations that you're never going to satisfy. I've done a wedding for some folks who were from the Palm Beach area in Florida. I got lots of emails about how natural and low-key they wanted the makeup to be. But when we actually got down to doing it, that comment coming from a different area geographically is very different than coming from a Vermonter. A little goes a long way with a Vermonter. Neurotic people from the city are never happy.
SD: What other considerations are there?
VI: Remember, it's not just makeup and the director. It's a whole team, whether it's a fashion shoot or a political shoot, and there's going to be some consideration of: What color's my shirt? Am I wearing a tie? Is it the right color? Is it too white-collar or too blue-collar? I teasingly say whenever I see Bernie Sanders - and I don't do Bernie Sanders - that I don't know who his hairdresser is, but he's got a pact with the wind! He's got a perfectly windblown thing that you couldn't replicate with a hairdresser.
SD: What projects do you most enjoy?
VI: I come from the background of journalism school, so every story is a great story; every interaction with people is a wonderful interaction. I think it ends up being an intimate conversation between two people, and that conversation takes place with the tools of makeup. So I know a little bit more about that politician or that bride. There's a level of trust that I'm able to get very close and touch someone's face. I'm just having fun . . . Somehow, because of how I do what I do, people come away feeling like themselves, not feeling altered or told to be different, but just who they are.
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