Kriss Soterion-Blevens has done the makeup for every single primary nominee who has politicked their way through New Hampshire this season, except Donald Trump. "Donald Trump does his own hair and makeup," she said. "He usually comes ready. He’s expressing himself in his own style, and I’d never want to interfere with that. Maybe a little blotting powder." She’s never seen him with a makeup artist.
"He’s got his hair down to a science," she said. "He has a signature look he carries with him that is his look, and that’s far better than changing it up all the time."
The Donald, by modes far more mystifying than his beauty routine, is an anomaly. For the last six elections –– as far back as Jimmy Carter’s bid –– every single other presidential candidate has come to Soterion-Blevens for his or her New Hampshire primary makeup. In 2008, at the first Democratic debate on CNN ever broadcast in high definition, Soterian transformed Hillary Clinton’s look by eschewing typical red or nude lips. Instead she blended three shades on the spot, for a color that came to be known in the press as "the lipstick." The shades were three of Soterion-Blevens’s own shades from her line Kriss Cosmetics –– Firefly, Red Rocks, and Pleasure, and that simple mixing of colors had tabloid writers, beauty experts, and people watching at home wondering whether Clinton had surgery or just a really good night of sleep.
Soterion-Blevens with the Clintons the year she created "the lipstick." Image: krisscosmetics.com
Soterion-Blevens went on the road after that, becoming the Chief of Makeup for Special Events for CNN and went on the road for 18 debates straight in 2008. She claims the science of light reflection is the key to presidential makeup, and a good primer, like the one she formulated explicitly for TV, has been the key to deft political messaging for the candidate she’s been making up for decades. Consistency is key here, particularly for women candidates like Hillary Clinton, whose faces get consistently picked apart. For male candidates, appearing as if they’re well-rested and lively, but not wearing makeup, must be a constant. "Sometimes in the beginning, candidates don’t even care about makeup. But as we get closer to the general election, the heat is on," said Soterion-Blevens.
"The biggest correction is with skintone," said Soterion-Blevens. "It’s that drawn-out redness –– maybe they’re not eating so well so their skin is kind of ruddy, or they’ve got dark circles, or dim spirit. I like to lift everyone up with light tricks."
"I want to make people feel comfortable as they deliver the message of their lives."
Her brush wields influence; she spent September 11, 2001 at Logan Airport with Tom Brokaw, waiting for George W. Bush to reopen the airways for Americans after the attacks; she made up future president Barack Obama in the basement of the Kodak Theatre adjacent from her hero Max Factor’s original manufacturing plant. The Los Angeles Times has called her"the face of power." Soterion-Blevens has long channeled the strength of her artistry unto others: "I want to make people feel comfortable as they deliver the message of their lives," she said.
Sometimes, that influence lies in actions as small as lint-brushing during commercial breaks. "At the NBC debate, I was in charge of Bernie Sanders. HD is like a microscope, and anything from the air you’ll see it. All the producers will be watching intently, and then you’ll hear one of them yell, He’s got a lint on his lapel!" said Soterion. "He was regrouping and taking notes, and I was removing lint from his jacket."
Soterion-Blevens with candidate Ted Cruz in New Hampshire. Image: krisscosmetics.com
But this election cycle, Soterion-Blevens isn’t traveling with any network (though when Racked spoke to her shortly after the New Hampshire primary, she was coming off 170 hours of working for NBC, MSNBC, FOX, ABC, CBS, CNN, and Comedy Central), because delivering the message of her own life requires her to keep close to home in Manchester.
Less than two years ago, Soterion-Bleven’s step-daughter Amber died of a heroin overdose. The heroin epidemic is rampant in Manchester, with an estimated 2,000 incidents requiring the state’s Emergency Medical Services to administer the lifesaving drug Narcan.
Before Amber’s death in April of 2014, Soterion-Blevens was removed from the political experience, despite her key role in making up candidates for their appearances. She’d watch debates from a green room with the sound muted, looking for shine on candidates’ skin. But now, Soterion-Blevens uses her unfettered access to make political change. Soterion-Blevens now devotes the brush time she has with candidates to raising awareness about the heroin epidemic in New Hampshire and across America. She always starts with the same question: "Are you aware of the heroin crisis we’re having in New Hampshire?" The candidate may respond yes or no, but she’ll always follow up with, "I lost my step-daughter Amber to an overdose."
On March 10th, the United States Senate nearly unanimously passed the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA), a major piece of legislation targeted at the heroin and opioid epidemic in America. Republicans in the Senate originally fought against the plan to move away from punishment and toward recovery for drug offenders, and Republicans have majority in the House of Representatives. But Soterion-Blevens contends that all candidates –– Democrat or Republican –– have been receptive.
She always starts with the same question: "Are you aware of the heroin crisis we’re having in New Hampshire?"
"The whole tone of the conversation changes," said Soterion-Blevens. "As soon as I make it personal, candidates are passionate and empathetic. It deeply affected each and every one of them, especially because I see them repeatedly [for different events]."
"Amber’s story is so profound — she was incarcerated, she was a victim of human trafficking, she found gateway drugs, and then went to opiate pills on the street, and then to IV drug use," said Soterion-Blevens, "Her story touches everything the candidates are talking about –– our broken correctional system, all these people who slip through the cracks."
Soterion-Blevens wanted to help some of the people trying to reach recovery but unable to find a path. She approached Melissa Crews, a friend and a board member of Hope for NH Recovery, with an idea she had: a place for people battling heroin addiction to rest in a safe place while Hope for NH Recovery found open beds for them in detox centers. Hope for NH Recovery had already identified that need and invited Kriss to actualize her plan. As it stands, Hope for NH Recovery gets zero state or federal funding, so its existence had to be built on donations.
Soterion-Blevens used her extensive network of politicians and news anchors to raise $53,000 in donations to open a new section at Manchester’s Hope for NH Recovery Community Center, named Amber’s Place. Amber’s Place is a 16-bed site for people addicted to heroin who are in need of a place to sleep or rest while waiting to find a detox treatment, open 24 hours a day. Amber’s Place has been open since the beginning of March and has already placed five people in detox centers. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte held a press conference at the center focusing on New Hampshire’s epidemic.
Soterion-Blevens at Amber’s Place in February 2016. Image: Jewel Samad/Getty
"Kriss is an amazing fundraiser and she has this huge outreach of people that support here," said Crews, "It was perfect timing with the primary season."
On January 15, New Hampshire’s Drug Czar Jack Wozmak resigned from his position. Soterion-Blevens applied for the position and is in an active interview process to be the new Senior Director of Substance Misuse and Behavioral Health for the state of New Hampshire. Kriss is confident she’s got the experience necessary to address the community. She’s been on panels with Senator Lindsey Graham discussing the heroin epidemic; she’s advised Hillary Clinton’s National Advisory Commitee; the day after Trump announced he was running, she spoke at his first press conference in New Hampshire.
"We need a makeover in a completely different way now," said Soterion-Blevens. "And I can see the beauty in that."