My introduction to NYC-based makeup artist Kirsten Kjaer Weis’s self-named makeup line was back in mid-2015. That’s when Aillea owner Kathryn Murray showed it to me in her newly opened boutique in downtown Denver. I was over the moon about the product: I thought the packaging was gorgeous (more on that below), the pink and apricot blush tones were beautiful, and the foundation felt amazing on your face. Last year, I told Kathryn that if Kirsten ever wanted to do an event in town, I would be happy to host it for her.
So, this past Tuesday, I got my chance when Kirsten visited Aillea to introduce her latest product, The Beautiful Oil – a wonder potion that moisturizes, has anti-aging properties and can be used to prime the skin before applying foundation (it also smells divine). In addition to learning about the oil, Kirsten taught a master class on how to create a flawless complexion and the perfect smoky eye. Before the evening got under way, I sat down with her to chat about her makeup line, the importance of design and what new products she has in the works.
GAB: You have such a beautiful makeup line. I love the packaging.
KKW: Thank you! I’m happy to hear that because I love design. I don’t see why it shouldn’t be pretty.
GAB: What impresses me is that the compacts have such substantial weight –they’re really luxurious – and yet they’re so easy to pack. You can tell that your line has been really well thought through.
KKW: I think it’s important – I think design matters. It has a purpose. I remember doing a small market survey before even starting and asking 200 women, “How important is packaging to you?” Two-thirds came back and said that it’s actually really important, but that they were kind of embarrassed about it. And I was like, “Why? That’s not embarrassing.” I mean, why would you buy flowers? They’re going to die in a week and be a complete waste of cash. But they move you - that’s what it’s about. It makes a difference when you pull something out of your bag and you’re excited about it.
GAB: Even the way the blush or foundation compact open is cool.
KKW: I have always been a fan of the Comme des Garçons perfume bottle – you know, the one with the silver tube? Obsessed. So I thought, “I’m going to try and contact the man who made it and see if he can help me with this.” And he is the one who designed the compacts. He thought this was a really interesting project, because he had never really worked on a color line before. It was a challenge to do something that was sustainable and needed to have a very luxe look. But he took it on and delivered.
GAB: So, what made you want to do your own line in the first place?
KKW: It was literally from working in the field all these years and seeing things first hand. As a makeup artist, you show up on set with your kit and it has your favorite products from each brand. Then the model sits down in the chair; you start to get to work and the model would always pinpoint something and say, “Oh my God, you can’t use that foundation on me – I’ll break out from it.” Or the mascara will irritate their eyes. It was always something. That’s really what made me start, because I didn’t have any natural brands that I could add to my kit. They didn’t perform.
GAB: I never used to associate natural brands with being “makeup lines” because I didn’t know of any that were pigment heavy, say like Nars, but I think your line is totally on par with a brand like that.
KKW: What has served me well in terms of the formulations is that I know what works out in the field. The product has to work - otherwise, nobody is going to care that it’s certified organic.
GAB: Do you ever get involved with the formulating?
KKW: I feel like I have a knowledge and interest about naturals, just because I have such an affinity for it, but when I started on the line I was smart enough to know that I’m not a formulator. So I teamed up with someone in Italy, who had been in the natural world for many years.
GAB: What’s most important to you about a product?
KKW: I’m all about textures – they’re key for me. That was one of the wake up calls in terms of starting to formulate in naturals, because it’s like being in the wine industry: Every harvest is different and that has an impact on the final outcome.
GAB: What happened exactly?
KKW: When I launched in 2010, I launched with three blush colors. When I started formulating the blushes, it took a while to get the texture we really wanted. It’s difficult because conventional brands just put silicon in everything so the product has that perfect slip.
Once I had OK’d the samples, we put them into production. That’s a huge investment! Then when I saw the product, it was much drier than the ones I had approved. I knew something was wrong. What happened in this particular case was that the shea butter we had gotten for the production was a different batch than the one we had for the samples. So the fat content – the oil – was way lower.
GAB: Big mass brands don’t have this issue, do they?
KKW: When you work in synthetics there’s never any change. You can just call up the factory and say, “Hey, I need another 10,000 pieces.” You don’t have to worry about it. During this episode is when it dawned on me why natural makeup had never really taken off: You need the performance to be consistent. It needs to always be the texture you’re grown to love – the color you’ve grown to love.
GAB: You’re like a chef!
KKW: Yes! I always say, “I have a Michelin chef in the kitchen,” because the formulators are excellent. But you really have to stay on top of things.
GAB: So, now you have body oil in the works?
KKW: That will come out in 2018.
GAB: Any other upcoming product launches you can tell me about?
KKW: This fall we will launch lip and eye pencils - a first for us. I think they’re really lovely.
GAB: I’ll be excited to try them, because by midday my eyeliner starts smudging underneath my eye and I look like a raccoon. Can you give an eyeliner beauty tip as we wrap up?
KKW: Sometimes a pencil or a liquid can look a little hard, so you can soften the line with powder eyeshadow. Currently, we use our eyeshadows for eyeliner with an angled brush and we just mist the brush with a little water - you don’t want it to be too wet. This way, when you dip the brush into the color, there’s no extra powder dust and the brush really picks up the pigment.
This interview has been condensed and edited.