Cher, Eternal Beauty Chameleon, Just Wants to Have Fun

Winter’s first snow is expected in Brooklyn this week, which means, at last, it’s Moonstruck season. Flurries falling on Cher’s dark curls is the defining image of the 1987 movie, which saw a fresh wave of attention in the pandemic’s early months. The scene is a romantic tug-of-war. Cher plays a bookkeeper in a sensible, if lackluster, engagement; Nicolas Cage is the fiancé’s hot-blooded brother, intent on wooing her after the opera. “We aren’t here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. Stars are perfect,” he says, her exhales forming clouds as her resolve starts to slip. “Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit!” To a smitten Loretta Castorini (and the rest of us world-weary viewers), the man has a point.  

Cher laughs into the phone. “Can I tell you, I was supposed to be crying in that part; I was crying because I was so cold! I set my coat on fire because I was so cold,” she says in a recent call, quick to get to the real talk. Off camera, there were small heaters for the actors to warm up between takes. “But I got too close to mine and singed my coat.” 

The joy of Cher is multi-layered: It’s her lancing one-liners, the catalog of songs for every mood, her offhand stardom and outsize style to the max (and sometimes the barest min). That is how she has held our collective focus for the past half-century, from stage to Sonny & Cher to miles of red carpet. It’s also what brought her together with Saweetie in the new MAC Cosmetics campaign, Challenge Accepted—an appeal to no-limits beauty. “I’m like this lipstick,” Cher says in the launch video, holding up a deep pink tube. “When I’m on, I’m on.”

Cher in the new MAC campaign, with makeup by Isamaya Ffrench.

Courtesy of MAC Cosmetics.

Lately, for the 75-year-old, it’s more online than onstage. With shows on hiatus, she instead lent her voice last fall to the Biden get-out-the-vote effort and cofounded the nonprofit Free the Wild. Her sense of self—fearless, steadfast, occasionally prone to standing too close to a flame—is what cements her in people’s hearts. The same goes for her style, a parade of transparent gowns, bare midriffs, and Vegas-worthy headpieces, even at the buttoned-up Academy Awards. As Cher lays out below, her philosophy—like the Moonstruck monologue—waves away rules. Her continual evolution also calls to mind 1990’s Mermaids, in which Cher plays a mother of two (Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci) with a ’60s bouffant and an itch to hit the road. “I’m never growing old,” she says, in bed with a new lover. He shrugs. “Well, time catches up. What can you do?” She claps back, “Keep moving.” 

Vanity Fair: Looking back on your style across the decades, there are so many dazzling Bob Mackie designs with beads and sheer fabrics. How did those fashion choices shape your approach to makeup? 

Cher: The makeup didn’t change as much as you would think—because the dresses and the outfits were so outrageous that, most of the time, my face kind of stayed in a relatively normal way. Always lashes, for sure, but I never had a strong mouth. I still don’t. It never fit me. And I always had kind of plucky eyebrows. Maybe with Kevyn Aucoin, makeup got more colorful because Kevyn was all about color. And when I did the shoot for Vogue where we had to go into the desert, and Ara Gallant was the makeup man, it was a lot about color. But the dress that I wore to the Met Gala—we called it the Time dress; it’s kind of the naked dress that people copy today—my makeup was just plain. 

Clockwise from top left: With Sonny Bono at the 1973 Academy Awards. The Best Actress winner in 1988, for her role in Moonstruck. In Mackie’s sarong look in 1974, when she presented an award. His fierce design for 1986.

Photographs from Alamy, Getty Images.

One makeup moment did feel exuberant: It was the 1974 Oscars, where you wore a tropical-print sarong and bandeau top, along with lavender eyeshadow, pink blush, and those mega lashes. Maybe that was the outlier?

You’re right. But also the outfit was very, very colorful, and I think it did call for that. When I was younger, at one point I was making my own makeup. I probably could have killed myself if I kept going. I wanted this piercing blue, and I made it in a double boiler. I don’t even remember what I made it out of. It was fabulous, but I’m sure everything was carcinogenic!