When it comes to makeup, organic lines get no love. People often overlook brands that boast all-natural ingredients, and instead, gravitate towards products that strategically shroud a long list of chemical components behind their sparkly, svelte exteriors. Of course, this decadence rarely translates to what’s inside, acting as an illusion of efficacy for a concoction of who knows what. The reality is, in the world of cosmetics, we’re always choosing between organic and oh la la.
For Kirsten Kjær Weis, the desire to fuse natural makeup with luxury stemmed from her upbringing in the countryside of Denmark and experiences as a makeup artist. Having spent her youth on a farm, Kjær Weis developed an appreciation for nature and a yearning for travel at a tender age. This wanderlust led her to Paris to study makeup and later, to other corners of the world, where she worked on movie sets and photo shoots for nearly 20 years. As clients continued to fuss over makeup that caused allergic reactions, Kjær Weis’ frustration with breakout-inducing products grew, fostering an itch to foray into cosmetics. She saw a niche in the market for color cosmetics with organic formulations and modern packaging, and for seven years, poured herself into Kjær Weis, her forward-thinking, visionary line.
Launched in the spring of 2010, Kjær Weis offers a solution to the aforementioned predicament by marrying organic and luxury makeup. Celebrating a philosophy grounded in clean formulations, sustainability, and aesthetics, Kjær Weis is certified by the CCPB, the Italian organic certifying authority, with each product consisting of raw materials, natural preservatives, and pigments extracted from the earth (honeysuckle, gardenia, and rose, for instance, are included as anti-aging properties). These all-natural components are packaged in metal compacts, which are housed by red lacquered cases reminiscent of dainty jewelry boxes. Designed by Marc Atlan, the compacts are chic and refillable, evoking a certain lavishness, as well as further echoing the collection's emphasis on sustainability. Thanks to Kjær Weis, we can now add an organic, sustainable oomph to our cosmetic bags.
We spoke with Kjær Weis before she jetted off to Stockholm, Oslo, Budapest, and Bucharest to promote her brand, which she affectionately refers to as “the fruit of a labor of love.” Though her collection currently comprises cream blushes, eye shadows, and lip tints, with mascara slated for a fall release, she hopes to eventually expand to a full line, covering all the cosmetic bases from brushes and foundations to eyeliners and powders. And frankly, we can't wait.
You’re in Denmark right now?
Yes, I have warehouses over in Europe so I’m here overlooking a few things. And I’m from Denmark originally so it gives me a chance to go home and say hi to my family.
So you split your time between New York and Denmark?
I’m mainly in New York, but the warehouse is out of Denmark and the manufacturer is over in Italy so I’m in Europe like every two months.
What’s next on your travel itinerary?
I’m actually going to several places here in Europe because I just launched in Stockholm, Oslo, Budapest, and Bucharest. I’m going to these four cities to do press and training so I’m excited about that. It will be fulfilling to see the stores that the line will be represented in and to talk to the salespeople so that they have an understanding of the line that they’ll be able to share with future customers.
That’s really admirable how you’re so hands on with your line.
It’s like this little brainchild of mine so I feel like going out there and explaining the story behind it. It’s probably beneficial for the people out there selling it as well. And I think it’s fun so it’s very rewarding for me too.
Tell me about this little brainchild of yours. What was the idea behind it?
I wanted to create a line that didn’t have any artificial ingredients, but still could perform as well as conventional makeup in texture and color. That, combined with my desire for chic packaging that didn’t necessarily scream 'green,' was the idea behind Kjær Weis. You know, an organic cosmetics line that could hold its own next to big brands in the department store in terms of both efficacy and design.
What sets Kjær Weis apart from other cosmetic lines?
The fact that it’s organic is a big part of it. What also makes it different and more of a niche product is the combination of the outside with that green inside. In other words, it has a distinctive design packaging with a green formulation, and personally, I don’t think that really existed before this line. There were and are organic lines out there, but...
...They don’t incorporate packaging with their whole mantra.
Exactly. Not in the same way at least. I mean I don’t feel like they do, and maybe people totally disagree with me, but from my perspective, our equal emphasis on the outside and the inside is what makes Kjær Weis stand out.
Let’s talk about the inside. Kjær Weis is Certified Organic by the CCPB, the Italian organic certifying authority. What does that mean exactly?
It means that each product consists of 95% of the certifiable organic ingredients or more.
And you go through the CCPB because your manufacturer is based in Italy?
Yes, that’s correct. Unfortunately, I think it’s a little confusing for people that there isn’t a worldwide standard, where there are equal certifications so whenever you see a certain stamp, you know exactly what it stands for. It all depends on the country, but ultimately, they’re strict everywhere.
What was the certifying process like?
It took a lot of patience. The CCPB are very serious about what they do, which I admire. I love that they just don’t hand out organic certifications; you really have to earn them. For instance, I have an eye shadow now, where we use bamboo silica to get that sort of silky feel. The bamboo grows in the wild, and even though it never sees fertilizer or anything like that, the CCPB won't call it organic because it doesn’t grow in a civilized area. They wouldn't give me an organic stamp on that eye shadow. Instead, they gave me a natural stamp, which means 70% of the ingredients are organic.
Regarding your ingredients, do you personally choose them or do you work with a team?
I work with a team because the ingredient side of things was not really my expertise. I had done a tremendous amount of reading about it, but I don’t actually have an education in a lab so I didn’t know how to produce things so that they hold up, have a shelf life, etcetera. So I worked with a team that knew how to put a basic foundation in place for a cream blush for instance. And from that cream blush, I would go in and say, ‘Well, I want it to be a little more moist. Can we try and add a little bit more shea butter?’ and whatnot. With my team, I fine-tune each product.
What are some of the most interesting ingredients found in your line?
For me, the most interesting ingredients are the ones that create the creamy textures like the beeswaxes and shea butters. It’s hard for me to pinpoint the most fascinating ones though because I see the line as a symbiosis of all these beautiful, natural materials that we bring together to create makeup formulations that actually work. We’re able to go out and source in nature what is necessary to beautify at the same level as silicones and artificial dyes. It’s a holistic experience of sorts. It’s just fun really.
It sounds fun, putting ingredients that you find in nature into a big stew and finding the right colors and textures. Can you tell me about some of the challenges of working with organic ingredients?
Basically, they’re live materials. They change from harvest to harvest. It’s like you can’t pick two apples from a tree and expect them to be exactly the same. Once you have a formulation in place, which is based on one harvest, the big challenge is that the next time you do that particular formulation, it will come from another harvest, which means it will be slightly different. And every time you do a new batch, you can’t do a new formulation because that would mean redoing your labels. So every time you do run a new batch, it takes a lot of fine-tuning to get it exactly as the previous one both in texture and in color. I typically say that Kjær Weis is the closest you can get to a handmade piece in the realm of makeup.
That sounds like a labor of love.
It really is because you have to dive in there and make sure you adjust, adjust, adjust until you have it as close to the previous batch as possible. Of course, the colors might vary, but they can’t vary that much. There has to be a doable margin where it doesn’t change too much. That’s the challenge. And then there’s always being able to get the materials, like what if we had a really bad harvest? Are we able to get the same amount? Since we’re working with organic ingredients, we can’t call up a factory and say, ‘I’d like another 20 kilos of this please.’ With conventional makeup, you don’t run into these issues.
You mentioned earlier that the line’s green formulation was equally as significant as its design. Let’s talk about Kjær Weis’ packaging. Didn’t you work with Marc Atlan on it?
Yes, I always loved the work of Marc Atlan, who had done the iconic Comme des Garçons bottle, but I was hesitant to contact him because I thought I would be too small for him to be interested. Long story short, I eventually contacted him because whenever I was holding one of his products, I had a certain feeling in my gut, and I wanted to have that same feeling when holding one of my own products. I explained that to him, and it just worked out.
What was your vision for the packaging?
When Marc and I first started working together, I wanted it to be sustainable and glamorous, which I later realized was a lot to ask all in one. Unfortunately, all the biodegradable and recyclable materials didn’t have that glam factor. They always looked a little too granola for me, but Marc found this metal, an alloy of metal actually, called zamak, and I fell in love with its look. Since zamak isn’t recyclable, we decided to employ a refillable system, which means that you can buy the product once and just keep refilling it. All of a sudden, it was just like wow, we were able to do it all. The packaging is sustainable, and it still has that oomph.
So, how long did it take you to realize your line?
It was a gradual thing, but obviously the two main components, the inside and the outside, had to come together. That took seven years, but in retrospect, when I think about it, it hasn’t felt like seven years. And I think that probably is testament to the fact that it was the fruit of a labor of love.
And it’s still a work in progress, right? Right now, you have cream blushes, eye shadows, and lip tints. Are you planning on adding more products to the line?
Yes! There’s an organic and refillable mascara coming out in the fall. And in 2013, we’ll introduce a cream foundation and powder. I intend for Kjær Weis to grow into a full line, but since I started it on my own money, I really had to begin with a selected kit. I also thought it would be more fun to start with color, as opposed to five foundations, especially when you’re a brand new brand, so I just started with some of my own favorites.
Speaking of favorites, what’s your favorite product from your line?
I don’t have children, but I think that would be like asking someone to pick from their kids. [Laughs].
You’re right, that was a difficult question. How about this: Which product was the most tedious to make?
The cream blush, definitely. Getting the right texture, where it has a glow and sheen without being too greasy or shiny looking, took forever. The eye shadow was ultra fast in comparison to the cream blush and lip tint, which took a long time as well. To have the lip tint like a long lasting ChapStick, but with a hint of color, was difficult when we couldn’t use silicone.
Will you be introducing more colors?
Yes, for spring, four colors just came out: one lip tint, one cream blush, and two eye shadows. And for fall, it’s going to be one blush, two lip tints, and two eye shadows.
And you’re sticking to your palette of natural colors?
There will be some colors that will have more of a pop to them, but it’s not going to be like a M.A.C collection. Kjær Weis has a more natural approach, with some off colors that I think will enhance the line yet still beautify. With my background as a makeup artist, I prefer colors that are flattering instead of cuckoo or fun. I have this blue that’s coming out in the fall, but it’s a flattering blue. It’s a blue that I would wear, and I don’t wear a lot of color.
What is your idea of beauty?
As much as it sounds like a cliché, I believe that beauty is inside out. It’s what you eat, what you drink, how much you sleep. And then of course there’s the positive outlook on things, which shows up in your face. I would say beauty is what you feed yourself, be it food or thoughts. Aside from that, I really think less is more. That’s why I prefer cream based makeup because instead of covering the face, it lets the skin be shown. For me, it’s more about enhancing what you’ve got and then maybe adding a dark eye or a fun lip. Bring out your personality. Really, beauty just starts from the inside out, and I can’t emphasize that enough. You need a good canvas for any good painting, right?