Sil Bruinsma

Posted by Irene Ojo-Felix | March 25th, 2016

Sil Bruinsma has been a rumbling force in the beauty industry thanks to his dauntless approach to makeup and subtle touch of eccentricity. Longtime collaborator, designer Thom Browne, has relied on the makeup artist’s beauty interpretations in order to push the limits of his already boundary-pushing collections. On the pages of Vogue Paris, Dazed & Confused, Love, and Garage he has highlighted a different way to think about beauty – alluringly delicate with an emphasis on “glamour and rawness.” The makeup maven has been able to convey his strong point-of-view about beauty as an unique, expressive means for character development of his model subjects. Unassumingly reserved yet artistically uninhibited, the Dutch master’s incredibly accomplished career has provided a lineup of creative work securely modern.

Joining forces with photographer Paul Maffi, caught up with the multi-talented beauty expert to discuss his career, his creative collaborations, and the surprising places he finds inspiration. With exclusively curated beauty visuals, models Dylan Xue, Odette Pavlova, and Olivia Jansing take on 70s and 80s club looks that are far from your ordinary night on the town.

Photos by Paul Maffi for
Makeup by Sil Bruinsma (Streeters New York)
Hair by Rita Marmor (Streeters New York)
Style by Lotte Elisa
Models Dylan Xue, Odette Pavlova & Olivia Jansing

Interview and text by Irene Ojo-Felix

Sil backstage at Thom Browne, photo by Betty Sze for

How were you introduced to the beauty industry?
I moved to Amsterdam in the mid-90s, met and began assisting a local make up artist who taught me the basics and I learned how to create looks popular of the Kevyn Aucoin days. People liked what I did and through asking for small projects, I built a name for myself. In the early 2000s, I started traveling to Paris to assist Peter Phillips on fashion shows in Milan and Paris—that made me move to Paris and after a couple of years I moved to New York.

What was the specific thing that motivated you to move to New York versus remaining in Paris?
New York is a much more open society, less language barriers—I have always been drawn to the States since I was a little kid.

Do you remember your first fashion industry experience and perhaps the nervousness along with that moment?
Veronique Branquinho, back when she showed in Milan. It completely felt like the big leagues—I worked with Peter on similar projects until he joined Chanel.

How has the industry changed from then to now?
Social media has changed everything in the last 10 years! In the 90s there was more attention on fashion than in the 80s where TV programs and newspapers began sparking the larger conversation on fashion, and since social media has amplified that.

There is an element of the 70s and 80s that many people living in that time were very forward, and while up to their interpretation, it was more about the fearlessness. There seems to be a sort of power to be able to depict yourself like that. What in particular draws you to this era?
It is all about the references: a combination of glamour and rawness. There’s a wide range of photographers and artists I’m influenced by. Some interests come and go but the polaroid portraits Andy Warhol, and to a lesser extent Robert Mapplethorpe, shot in the 70’s and 80’s are a constant. They are a celebration of individuality and from regular people to models, to drag queens, to monarchs, to Factory stars he managed to capture them in a way that is raw yet beautiful.

Are you more inspired by what has happened in the past or what is happening in the present to shape your future?
I do think that we have been in a time period where we reference the past, but I also think that is changing too. If you go on Instagram, you’ll see models that were popular in the 90s becoming visible again. There was a moment in the 90s that they showed different types of beauty, a lot of different skin colors, but all of that disappeared so quickly and was replaced by girls that look mostly alike. If you look at fashion now, there is a lot more inclusiveness than there has been in the last 10 to 15 years. More individuality, maybe akin to that minute in the 90s that was perhaps too early for its time to catch on.

What about individuality intrigues you?

I am inspired by people choosing their own. Their own look, their own thing, and what I like about make up is that when I create, I’m developing a character much more than showing five different types of eyeliner. For me it has to come from the person in my chair and when it’s a great model and there is that personality.

Individuality seems like a no-brainer, but within the past two seasons we’re seeing a push from that. What are your thoughts?

I like to see designers who are showing multiple looks, for example, the things that Riccardo Tisci is doing—but I also understand designers who want to present the image of an army and an all-encompassing look. It completely depends on the brand and their fantasy world.

Relating back to your runway work, is that why you’re drawn to clients like Thom Browne?
Thom Browne is a great client to work for. A brand who has a strong vision of things and dares to take risks. If Thom Browne listened to people 10 years ago, he would not be where he is today.

With new talent finding their way into the industry, have you leveraged social media to gain opportunity?

There are Instagram profiles that catch my eye, I use it personally and professionally mainly to show the world what I am interested in, but as a research tool I mainly use it to gather information on photography. I love the fact that it’s there.

With all of the collections reviewed on Vogue, even, you will see beauty trends and notions of what is beautiful coming out of Fall and Spring seasons more so than Pre-Fall and Resort. What do you think about this?

I think those are more commercial collections or interpretations of the main show and as a consequence less focus on hair and make up in those shows. If there is not a strong beauty message brands convey in these newer presentations, will it be more difficult for consumers to be interested in the product? I don’t think beauty has been affected that much by producing more collections per year. From a brand perspective, you either decide if you want to sell as much as possible or if you want to create a clear identity by not producing so much. I think it goes back to individuality and originality: sticking to what you believe in.

Pivoting back a bit, what connected you back to the original idea of different styles in portraiture between you and photographer Paul Maffi?
What I like about Paul is that he has a very loose way of working. He will grab a girl, place her in front of a window, and photograph her a variety of ways with a variety of cameras and film. He uses a lot of different techniques to get image he wants and edits accordingly to taste—a very organic way of working.

What was the inspiration behind the visuals you two collaborated on?

I looked to some of my 70s and 80s heroines like Nina Hagen, Debbie Harry, Tina Chow, Nancy Spungen, & Sayoko Yamaguchi. Not just their hair and makeup but more so their attitude and sense of style. Dylan, Olivia, and Odette have a natural presence and made the beauty looks their own. The portraits Paul shot feel like they could have been taken against a backdrop in a club and he managed to shoot it in a way that doesn’t feel precious. Ultimately, I think that this what I’m looking for in beauty. Confidence and doing what you think looks good on you, even if it’s against the norm. Daring to take risks. I love seeing a girl on the street who’s confident enough to wear make-up that is maybe not necessarily the prettiest, but tells you who she is. That’s the type of beauty I like to show in my work.

Are you particularly drawn to a certain type of beauty? A particular model?
I don’t have a particular type or model I see as the absolute beauty per se. I still look at Christy Turlington thinking that she is still the most beautiful girl in the world, but there are so many others. I imagine being in the subway; I see many different faces, some not super pretty, but I am still inspired by them.

Would you say there are more diverse representations of beauty now than there were in the 90s?
Totally! Different beauty looks, different beauty ideals. A more honest representation of what people are buying the brand. That’s why I love the process of casting because you see many races and ethnicities.

What’s next for you?
I would love to work on a make up line, whether I initiate it or for an existing brand, producing original visuals with a true character.

If there was beauty look that you would want to accomplish that you haven’t already, looking forward, what would that be?
That’s a hard one! I would love to look back at my work in the future to possibly say, “Ah, that was a real moment!”

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2 Comments to “Sil Bruinsma”

  1. Johanne Ruch says:

    Hi my name is Johanne Ruch I’m Haitian American I been living in the USA for 5 years now , I’ve always been interested in modeling for years , I’m finally sending applications out because everyone I’ve met keep telling me I should send a picture out and that I look like a model , I never felt confidence enough to do anything about it , I guess I do now.

  2. I am modeling make