THE INTERVIEW : KIRSTEN KJAER WEIS
BY KHANDIZ JONI
Pioneering organic beauty brand, Kjaer Weis, truly delivers a luxury product. Refusing to compromise on their ingredients, or the colour payoff that is sometimes symptomatic of organic beauty, this luxury label has also nailed their presentation. All delightful offerings come wrapped in super chic, sustainable packaging. What’s not to love!
We chat to the founder, Kirsten Kjaer Weis about her eponymous brand, colour inspirations, traveling in Ireland and her love of dark chocolate.
First and foremost, how do we pronounce your surname? Having a name most people mispronounce, I feel it of fundamental importance to get going on the right foot!
It’s pronounced Kir (as in the cocktail Kir Royale) Whise, with an accent on the W and not a “V” sound, synonymous with more Germanic dialects.
You have managed to create a brand that ticks all the boxes. Organic, performance driven, and ultimate luxury. As Malcolm Gladwell suggests, people who achieve great things are considered 'outliers' and his theory goes that an outlier has to have certain factors in place - at the right time – to become a success. (Obviously alongside the enormous amount of hard work and dedication it takes to build a brand)
What are the factors that contributed to you being able to create such a hugely successful brand?
It was written in the stars. There was a shift happening, and despite many people not being able to see how a store like Whole Foods Market would work at the time, it did, and consumers were becoming more aware of what they were eating and putting into their bodies. Working as a makeup artist in New York, I saw that there was a huge gap in the market for something that offered the same in beauty. Having grown up in Denmark, on what was essentially an organic farm (there was no need to label it organic back then, it’s just how things were), I always had an affinity to nature and natural products. I started working on the idea back in 2003. Lots of people told me that it was ready long before I felt it was ready, and suggested that if I didn’t act quickly, someone else would fill the gap. But, I trusted my intuition and only launched in 2010 as my perfectionist nature wouldn’t let me take something to market that wasn’t exactly right.
Surely as a makeup artist working in NYC, you were well placed to get your product in front of the right people?
I knew a few beauty editors back in Denmark, but it wasn’t the case in NYC. While I was well respected makeup artist, working on wonderful shoots and campaigns, I wasn’t on shooting for Vogue every other week, so getting my products in front of the right people in NYC wasn’t as easy as many might expect.
What were the challenges you faced starting up your brand?
I would say there were lots in a sense, because when you start a brand and it’s something you have never done before, you ask yourself “where do I even start?” It’s everything from finding a formulator to knowing about certifications to working on the packaging, so you have to just start somewhere. The challenges in my case were to find a formulator who was willing to do a private label with me and had an incredible understanding of the natural world and I was blessed to team up with a family run company in Italy and they are the ones I still work with. That happened fairly fast, probably within the first year of me getting started. I also faced challenges with packaging, as I wanted something sustainable that didn’t look it. It’s very, very tricky to find a material that oozes luxury that is also recyclable. The organic beauty industry is typically a 'little crunchy' in terms of the packaging. It was also very challenging perfecting the textures without the use of silicones. That’s one of the toughest things in colour cosmetics because women (and makeup artists) have grown used to that perfect glide that’s never too dry, never too oily and gives the skin an 'inner glow'. So that was one of the toughest challenges. In retrospect, it would have been good to start the brand with somebody, because being your own cheerleader constantly is tiring. But on the other hand you get to deliver something exactly how you want it without the conflict of someone else having their own ideas about things. It has to be a labor of love, because with all the time and money you pour into your own business, you will burn out if it’s not something you absolutely have to do. If that feeling is inside of you, it just becomes a part of you.
When you're not working, what's your guilty pleasure?
Ooh, I have a few, but I don’t feel particularly guilty about them. Let’s start with food, dark chocolate is a favourite and I love love love a lovely glass of wine! I think my 'guilty pleasures' are actually things I do for me. I love going for a massage and a facial, it can feel self indulgent, but I think it is essential to my wellbeing. I love to travel, seeing new places and cultures. My boyfriend is Irish so I try get to Ireland whenever I can because I think it’s such a stunningly beautiful country.
Which other makeup brands that stand out to you as an artist?
Having been trained in makeup at a prestigious Paris makeup school in the 80’s, I was taught that you put layer upon layer of makeup so you looked like you were about to step into a theatre play, even for day time makeup! When Francois Nars came out with glow sticks back in the 90’s, he really inspired me. It was an 'A-HA!' moment for me that you could put glow back into the skin and I never looked back after that. I was inspired by his take that makeup didn’t have to be matted down.
Now, because I am not hugely keep on all the synthetic chemicals in makeup brands, I am far more inspired by skin care brands that really step out of the norm in terms of what is considered green and non-performing. One brand that I hugely admire is May Lindstroöm. I think she is absolutely phenomenal with what she is developing. For me, she is the Rolls Royce of skincare.
Do you still work as a professional makeup artist?
No. Running the brand is full time now. If there is something really special that comes up, I will still consider it and I obviously do the makeup for our own imagery but I stopped about a year ago working as a full time makeup artist.
Being able to finally just fully focus on the brand is something I am really enjoying. Still having our brand image shoots allows my creative side some time in the light, which is always nice as an artist.
What was the first product you took to market?
There were three! We launched with cream blush, lip tint and eye shadow.
If you weren’t a makeup artist/owner of a beauty company, what would your dream job have been?
I would be an interior designer or an architect. I love interior design because I love creating a space, a home.
What is your source of inspiration when you are contemplating a new product?
It’s many things in a way, but I will typically go up to the Garment District in New York and dive into the old fabric shops, theres a lot of old school fabric stores to dive into. You come across colours you just never knew existed. A lot of older movies, John Cassavetes films always inspire me. I am inspired fashion... and flowers. I love love love flowers.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? From anyone about anything.
It’s not from one that I know, but it’s from an author that I love very much called Joseph Campbell. He always says “Follow your bliss”. Going back to being a female entrepreneur, and not having kids, we are often ask questions that men wouldn’t have been [asked] or stigma’s that men wouldn’t [face] and I am not saying it as fact. I actually get to choose and I don’t need to follow the normailcy of what is expected of a women. I grew up with a determination that I want to live the way I want to live and so, follow your bliss is the best advise that I have read because it resonates with objective.
What's next for Kjaer Weis?
We are launching our first skincare product, The Beautiful Oil, in late Jan 2017.
What sets The Beautiful Oil apart from other beauty oils out there? And why did you decide to launch a skincare line?
Adhering to the Kjaer Weis principles the formula is 100% natural. It masterfully combines the highest quality olive oil, jojoba oil, almond seed oil and rose dog oil but the real point of difference is its hero ingredient never used in skincare before, the super ingredient of Dioscorea Batatas, also known as 'the healing root' or 'Radice di Luce'.
The Beautiful Oil is not simply a stand alone skincare product. It works in conjunction with the makeup so it was a natural progression in the line.