“On my mother’s vanity there was this big round box with these marabou feathers, and I was always fascinated by them. They used to use the feathers to put on powder. She also had a tube of red lipstick beside it and I thought that was the coolest, most elegant thing I have ever seen in my life. I remember putting the feathers into the powder and applying this super thick layer all over my face until I was completely white. Then I tried putting on the lipstick perfectly but I think I ended up looking like a demented geisha girl.
Growing up I would paint my two sisters. I was addicted to the Munsters and The Addams Family and I would copy those haircuts or Spock’s point on “Star Trek”. I once I got into big trouble because I cut the point on my sister’s forehead crooked. It looked ridiculous; I basically cut off all her hair. I was always goofing around, putting makeup on myself and changing my skin tone. I wanted to be like Lily Munster and I would take powder from my mom and add food coloring to make it green and put that on my face. I was obsessed. Not only was I was obsessed with the most beautiful things in makeup but I was really into things that were witchy or gothic looking. In the 70s, punk and goth were in and I went full-on with that whole look.
My sister knew a gentleman who owned a whole bunch of hotels in Vancouver, Canada – where I’m from – and in the hotel there were strip clubs. This was during the early 70s so these were classy clubs, more like burlesque with the costumes and a grand stage. It wasn’t like it is now. I would do really cool makeup on the girls and they would be in costumes and dance around. My sister at the time was learning to be an esthetician and he said, “why don’t you girls come to the strip club and teach these dancers how to take care of their skin and do their makeup.” My sister would do their skin and I would do their makeup, depending on what their costume looked liked. While doing this, a magazine heard about me and my first cover was with a very well known model from Europe who had come to visit her grandmother in Vancouver. I just kept getting work after that.
I never went to school to be a makeup artist and to be honest, if you want to be a really good makeup artist, you have to have the eye. If you don’t have the eye, you can go to school all you want but you won’t get the eye for it. In fact, I’ve never even assisted. I wished I did because I probably would have learned a lot more than I do know now but I definitely have my own style. I’m really into beautiful skin and I work at highlighting the skin, giving glow and texture. Minimal on the eyes and I focus on one feature — luxe lashes or a big brow or a strong contour — but it’s never a full face of glamatron makeup. That’s not my style and that’s not what I’m known for. The natural skin look comes from me growing up in Vancouver with clean air, clean water, and clean food. In a way, I’ve always worshipped that end of beauty in a woman because we’ve really gone overboard in how much makeup we put on ourselves and also what’s in the makeup. We don’t pay enough attention to how toxic some of these ingredients are.
My career started with the Vancouver Magazine cover and I kept getting all of these local jobs from that exposure. Once I got bored of that, I thought, where to next in Canada? So I went to Toronto and did everything there was to do in Toronto and I remember working with Robert Sloon and even Lloyd Simmonds, who is now at YSL. Canadians have a nice little record of doing well for themselves in the beauty department. Then I went to Europe and cruised around in Germany and I used makeup as a way to travel around and not really care about what I was doing. I was literally learning as I went. Depending on the job and whether or not I could grasp the idea, was how I went about learning.
Through my travels and experimenting with different jobs like German catalogues and covers for German Vogue and British Vogue, I kept thinking to myself, I need to continue moving on and that’s when I thought, how about New York? At this point, I started getting sick and it only worsened. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I had panic and anxiety attacks, I couldn’t sleep at night, I was tossing and turning, I couldn’t digest food, there were a whole slew of symptoms. In all honesty, this could have been anything but I got a hair analysis and a very extensive analysis of my blood work. When I went to pick it up, the technician asked if I worked in the cosmetic industry and I said, “Yes, why?” He said, “I see this a lot. It’s the chemicals in these cosmetics and I’ve seen a few other people with the same results from the cosmetic industry.”
From that point on, I started to really study and research and began asking questions. I ended up starting a website in 2004, talking about the whole cosmetic industry and some of the toxins used. The website was called BeautyTruth.com and I received a lot of press from it. A lot of people were asking me, “What should we use?” and that had me looking at these so-called natural brands. At that point in my life, I was becoming a raw foodist and thought these natural brands weren’t really up to par. I started playing around making my own formulations. With the help of a friend of mine in Canada who used to work for a paint factory, I began to formulate my own products. I was still experimenting with the models, trying to figure out what was and what wasn’t working, and I finally found a lab that would do a minimum run.
Here in New York, I landed Victoria’s Secret because of Gisele. I would put olive oil on the model’s skin when we were shooting, instead of vaseline and baby oil. Their skin was so soft and it photographed beautifully as well. I started getting known as the Organic Girl. I didn’t want to use harsh chemicals on their faces and the girls started listening to me. I introduced an organic skincare line to some of these girls, so my credibility was becoming better known. Gisele is a big advocate for clean makeup and healthy eating and we would be on set, I would be doing her astrology chart, and she’d be requesting me for jobs. She has stood by me this whole time and I love her to death. She has been very supportive and I have to admit, one of the most supportive people in my life. Miranda Kerr has also been a big advocate of my line. I met Miranda Kerr through Victoria’s Secret. Her and I are inseparable, I take care of her little dog Frankie, and she has her own organic skincare line, which I also promote with RMS Beauty. We have a synergy that works really well. Karoline Kurkova is another one, Evita, Anne V., they’re all using healthy makeup and a lot of these girls will wear my products in their daily lives.
As a makeup artist you still have your synthetic colors and heavy silicones for when you need to make the body really, really shiny — there’s a slew of products you really need to have to be a professional makeup artist, so you can’t go all green in your kit. The green stuff I keep for everyday use for the girls. My products work great for photo shoots but they do have their limitations. If I need to do extra coverage, I’ll use heavier coverage but I’ll add my Un Cover Ups into it so it doesn’t dry out and there’s more of a glow to the skin. It preserves your face better throughout the day. When I do Gisele for the MET, I use all my own makeup except for the mascara. Her skin is beautiful and when you have beautiful skin, you don’t want to cover it up with a mask. Your skin needs to breathe, it’s a living force, and Gisele is the perfect example to go to the MET Ball not completely looking like a made-up mannequin. She looks glowing and makes her relatable to the public. People love her. She’s not threatening, she’s not sculpted to death by contour and highlights. You can do that but it has to be minimal, so your skin looks radiant.
I knew I was doing well when I started working with the big guys, like Mario Sorrenti, Mert and Marcus and Glen Luchford. These people are the best in the business and they have their team, but I find that I’m in the running when a member of their team is missing. That alone has given me a sense of acceptance that I’m good enough to be working with these people. These same people also hire me because they want beautiful makeup and not something way off the wall. I’m pretty good at what I do and Sorrenti, for example, loves how I do skin. There’s never a problem when I work with him because he really likes my style. One of my best jobs was when I did Self Service Magazine with Mario in Fall/Winter 2007, with all the big girls — Edita, Lara Stone, Liya Kebede. A couple different covers came out and that was my first big job with him. It helped my career tremendously. That was my “Aha!” moment.
Everything with RMS came as a surprise because when I started, I had no sales people, no PR, I had nothing. I just wanted to go by word-of-mouth, just to see where the line went organically. I launched the line at the end of 2008 with 18 products — 6 eyeshadows, 6 lip-to-cheek, 3 Un Cover Ups, 2 lip balms, and a luminizer. Hands down, the luminizer is my best selling product and in second, the Un Cover Up. I will be going on QVC with my Un Cover Up. A lot of people don’t realize that I finance all of this myself. If I didn’t, the product wouldn’t be as good as it is today because I obsess over the ingredient quality to perfection. We tried it with cheaper organic ingredients and it doesn’t turn out the same. The quality of these ingredients is like a life or death situation, as to how the end product turns out. It’s unbelievable. We have a new product coming out really, really soon. We just introduced a beauty oil, which is amazing and we have new powders that rival the Make Up For Ever HD Powder coming out too.
I couldn’t not do makeup anymore. I have to do makeup. It inspires me to continue with the line. Every time I work with a model, I try something new and they tell me they want it. So I also have a bronzer coming out and I used it on a model the other day and she wanted to take it home with her. It’s really nice to hear your peers approving what you’re doing and supporting you. It’s an amazing feeling.” – Celebrity makeup artist and founder of RMS Beauty, Rose-Marie Swift
*top image: Model Doutzen Kroes and Rose-Marie Swift; bottom image: Rose-Marie Swift