Way Bandy was at the top of his profession.

He had touched such famous faces as Catherine Deneuve, Raquel Welch, Lauren Hutton, Farrah Fawcett, Barbra Streisand, Gloria Vanderbilt, Cheryl Tiegs and Cher.

Dress designer Diane von Furstenberg once said that he was "absolutely marvelous."

Elizabeth Taylor once said he was "like an artist using a palette."

Known as one of the fashion world's top makeup artists -- commanding as much as $2,000 a day -- Bandy made up Sigourney Weaver during her publicity tour for "Aliens" and Nancy Reagan for a photo session with top fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo.

Last week, Way Bandy died of AIDS. And he wanted everyone to know it.

"We knew what Way's wishes were about disclosing the nature of your illness if it helps saves lives," said Maury Hopson, hairdresser, friend for 17 years and coexecutor of Bandy's will.

Hopson said he and Bandy had talked about it a long time ago. "We've spent many, many years together as very good friends," said Hopson. "We were never lovers . . .

"Whether it's donating organs, anything that can be done, it was something that we wanted to do. After it was determined what it was he was dying of, Dr. Catherine Hart almost proudly announced the reason for his death."

In May, Bandy and Scavullo flew to Washington from New York to shoot pictures of Mrs. Reagan, four of which will be part of the "10 Most Beautiful Women" spread in the September Harper's Bazaar, due to hit newsstands next Tuesday.

Bandy's agent Helen Murray said Bandy and Scavullo spent several hours with Mrs. Reagan at the White House. Elaine Crispen, the first lady's press secretary, said yesterday the session was considerably shorter.

"Maybe he was with her 15 minutes. She uses very little makeup," said Crispen. She said she and Mrs. Reagan had discussed Bandy's death on the plane to Santa Barbara, Calif., where the Reagans are vacationing.

"She had seen the obit in the paper and was surprised and sorry," said Crispen. "She knows there was nothing more than a handshake. And we've all been told by the medical community that you can't contract the disease that way."

Public awareness was part of Bandy's motivation in wanting people to know he had a disease that so many fear. Yet, it was something he was unable to achieve in his lifetime.

"I worked with him two weeks before he died ," said Scavullo yesterday, "and he looked fine."

Scavullo was scheduled to do a shoot with Bandy on Aug. 6.

"When he walked in," said Scavullo, "I knew he was ill. He looked like an El Greco. He was painfully thin. He must have been sick, but nobody noticed. No one knew he was sick. He never showed any signs. And then in two weeks he wasted away. He did the whole thing very beautifully. He was very strong. Very gallant. I hope that I can face death one-half, one-tenth as well as he did. He was cracking jokes. He didn't want to upset anybody."

But Scavullo said it was frightening.

"My first instinct was not to let him in my apartment and then I thought, you bastard," said Scavullo. "So I took him up and massaged him and gave him tea, and gave him love and support. I knew when he was in the hospital he wanted me to hold his hand. So I did. And I'm glad I did. My first instinct was to run. Thank God the better half of me came through."

Bandy was admitted to New York Hospital the day after the shoot, under the care of Dr. Catherine Hart, daughter of Kitty Carlisle Hart. That Saturday, Aug. 9, Bandy turned 45. Four days later he was dead. He has been cremated, and no formal memorial service is planned.

Bandy was meticulous about his diet -- even to the point of soaking his fruit in a bleach solution to remove the pesticides. He ate his last Big Mac, he once told an interviewer, in 1969, and preached the virtues of good nutrition and fat-free food.

He was born in Birmingham and graduated from the Tennessee Technological University with a degree in education. After he moved to New York in 1966, he was hired as a makeup teacher at a modeling school. Three years later, he was hired by Charles of the Ritz, and in 1971 left to become a free-lance makeup artist and consultant to cosmetics manufacturers.

It was during these years he became so popular -- his credit frequently seen on the pages of the best fashion magazines. In 1977 he wrote the bestselling "Designing Your Face," a makeup guidebook.

For most of his life he was a firm believer in holistic medicine and meditated regularly; he hadn't seen a doctor in 20 years. He loved to read, he loved opera, and he loved to paint.

"He was so far ahead of his time," said Carlotta Karlson Jacobson, Harper's Bazaar beauty editor, who met him 13 years ago when she was working for Seventeen magazine.

"He was already eating only vegetables. He had given up meat and was very, very concerned about his diet."

And maybe because of his strict diet, thin physique and penchant for privacy, no one, not even his closest friends, seemed to know that Bandy was ill at all until just a few weeks before his death.

"I think he probably started losing more weight than usual," said Hopson.

"Way was one of those people who believed he could not be too thin. He preferred to look like a Giacometti sculpture. He dressed in oversized clothes -- it was his style to be reed thin -- and he usually always dressed in black or white. I said to him, 'You haven't become too rich, but you have become too thin.' And he said, 'I know. I know. I really should put on five pounds.' And I said, 'Try seven.' "

Hart said Bandy told her he had had pneumonia symptoms for three weeks, but she said it must have been more like several months. "Obviously his life style was predisposed to AIDS, but there wasn't anything in particular toward the end that provoked the disease."

* Murray became his agent in September 1985. She said Bandy's spiritualism had a great influence over her. "In fact," she said, "he had an enormous influence over anyone he met. It's so hard to describe. I always thought that Way knew something I didn't know."

She remembered the moment she met him.

"I was 19 years old and working for a photographer . . . I will never forget my third day at work when he walked into the studio and it was like a light was around him, he was so famous to me."

* Bandy was kind and private, friends say. He liked to spend winters in Key West and summers in Nantucket.

"One of my favorite, favorite memories," said Hopson of the Nantucket days, "was sitting in a grassy knoll with a pond in front and then the dunes and then the ocean and eating lima bean sandwiches. There were lima beans, scallions, homemade mayonnaise and homemade bread. And we sat in silence looking at the pond. It was like an Andrew Wyeth painting. Those are the kind of moments you had with him. The famous women had those kinds of times with him, too."

Hopson said Bandy had finished writing a second book, entitled "A Makeup Lesson With Way Bandy," which Hopson hopes to have published. The proceeds would go to the Way Bandy Memorial Fund for AIDS research at New York Hospital.

Hopson said Bandy had also devised a fragrance, which may be marketed, but there are no formal plans for that. Money from sales of the fragrance would also go to the memorial fund.

"His death was so wondrous and so joyous in a way," said Hopson. "He died in a very courageous way and with great dignity. There should be no reason for anyone dying in shame because their body fell apart on them."

Hopson remembers him with pride.

"The only time I really fall apart is when I walk into my kitchen, grab my coffee and start punching his number on the phone. We talked on the phone 10 times a day. And so those habits are the things I have difficulty breaking."