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- By Frankie Graddon
When it comes to beauty icons, few are quite as impressive as Gucci Westman. The Californian-born make-up artist has spent 20 years working with the biggest names in fashion and Hollywood, and is renowned for creating natural, radiant looks. In 2018 she launched Westman Atelier, her eponymous line of clean cosmetics, which has fast become an essential for celebrities and beauty editors.
Though Gucci’s talent is undeniable, so too is her generosity, ease and down-to-earth nature. When we catch up, she has just returned to New York from her winter break, where she lives with her husband, David Neville, the former co-CEO of Rag & Bone and co-founder of Westman Atelier, and their three young children, Petal, Dashel and Gray. Over the course of our relaxed conversation, we discussed going on the road with photographer Annie Leibovitz, how to get the Jennifer Aniston glow, and the challenges of creating a clean beauty empire.
How did you get into the beauty industry?
It was a funny story in a way because I always thought I would be a translator or professional horse rider, but when I was 18, I went to the French-speaking part of Switzerland to be an au pair. The mother of the family was a fashion journalist, called Anouk Ortlieb, and she would give me boxes and boxes of make-up to play with that she’d been sent. She also took me to a fashion show in Paris and I was just blown away. It was so exciting and such a romantic version of life. I decided then that I wanted to go into make-up, so she helped me find an amazing school in Paris called Neo Christian Chauveau. I stayed there for four or five months before moving to LA to learn how to do movie make-up.
Where does your passion for make-up come from?
I’ve always had an interest in make-up and I’ve always loved painting. I wasn’t allowed to wear make-up when I was younger – my mum wouldn’t let me. So, as soon as I left the house for school, I’d pile it on – I’d be wearing more make-up than anyone else! I used to do my friends’ make-up on the school bus and I always remember feeling really good when they felt beautiful. It was such a special, intimate moment where I was really connecting with women. I felt so rewarded.
Why shouldn’t make-up do more? That’s such a big point of difference with our brand, it really is therapeutic.
You launched your eponymous make-up line, Westman Atelier, in 2018. What was the idea behind that?
I’ve always had a desire to do something of my own. As a make-up artist I have so much experience with wonderful textures and formulations, and I really wanted to make a range of products that were as high-performing as possible and as clean as possible, with as many plant-based ingredients as possible. I also thought they should be active; I wanted them to do more than just cover, I wanted them to soothe, heal and repair the skin. I have rosacea and I was seeking products that would not just disguise it, but help it. Why shouldn’t make-up do more? That’s such a big point of difference with our brand, it really is therapeutic.
Westman Atelier is committed to using natural ingredients and clean formulations. Why was this so important to you?
It was incredibly critical that the brand was clean. We should feel that everything we put on our skin is 100% safe and will not compromise our health. It’s shocking when you do a deep-dive into ingredient analysis and you see that – oh man – you thought you were OK using a certain product, but it turns out you’re not. When we started this journey, our goal was to focus on the integrity of the ingredients and make the cleanest formulas that we could and the highest-performing products that we could. Really, I wanted to replace some of the products in my own make-up bag that I love so much with clean alternatives.
Where do you source ingredients from?
It depends on where the best ingredient comes from – we only want the best. We know where all of our ingredients are sourced. If we don’t, then we won’t approve the product until we’ve found out. Our labs are currently in Europe and all of our formulations meet the European Union’s rigorous standards for clean beauty. We’ve got an in-house chemist, which is hugely beneficial; as we go into new product development, she advises on what type of active ingredient we can use and how we can formulate without using the ingredients on our blacklist. We also have someone who traces our carbon footprint. We’re trying to do the best that we can – I think it’s time for everyone to step it up a little bit.
You mentioned your blacklist – can you tell us about that?
We have a blacklist of ingredients that we don’t want to use and are very strict about sticking to it. For example, I was adamant that I didn’t want silicone in our products. It acts as a barrier to the skin, so when you are working with active skincare ingredients it stops them penetrating the dermis. We’ve come so far from reality with silicone, it’s unbelievable; a lot of products feel creamy or buttery because they are 100% silicone. It’s also hard for the planet to break down.
I want to make women feel as confident and gorgeous as I can and I don’t ever want to disregard their integrity
Is there anyone you haven’t made up who you would like to?
Yes! I want to do Adele’s make-up more than anything. I think she is so cool, so beautiful and so incredibly talented. I would also love to do Helen Mirren’s make-up – she’s such a classy woman and so elegant.
You describe your range as a make-up wardrobe for women. What is the idea behind this and what should every woman have in theirs?
I just want make-up to be easy for women. It shouldn’t be complicated – there’s enough complication in the world – it should be effortless and intuitive. I would say that every woman should have the Super Loaded Tinted Highlight. It frames your face and makes you look bright and awake, plus the brush makes the application really amazing. I would also say the Eye Love You Mascara – which is epic – and a Vital Skin Foundation Stick.
What will we find in your personal make-up bag?
Currently, you will find my new Lip Suede palette [launching in the UK February 2020]. This has been a challenging but fun production and I am obsessed with the result. We were able to replace the petroleum-jelly wax base with plant-based wax, so it feels really good that it’s completely natural. The formula contains a super-high amount of cold-pressed cherry oil [16%] which offers hydration and can enhance collagen production. It also has 12% of protecting Marula oil. The pigment is strong, so it won’t let you down on a night out.
We all know that great skin starts with the prep. What skincare products are you loving at the moment?
I have sensitive skin so I have to be careful; I can’t have any fragranced products on my face so I avoid essential oils. I love cleansers from Pai and Goop and serums from Beboe and U beauty. For exfoliation I use Eminence strawberry and rhubarb dermafoliant with lactic acid in the shower. I really like the body butter and body oil from Mutha and Tata Harper does a lovely body scrub.
What’s in store for Westman Atelier in 2020?
There are a lot of new launches coming this year. Without giving too much away, we’re entering new categories, which is very exciting.
Can you tell us about your first big break?
I didn’t necessarily have one big break, I met various people along the way who helped me reach the big time. When I was in LA, I met [filmmaker and producer] Spike Jonze through a friend. We got along really well and I started working on videos and commercials with him, and then we did Being John Malkovich together. This was in the late ’90s when I also met [photographer] Bruce Weber. He booked me for Italian Vogue and told Annie Leibovitz about me. Two or three weeks later I got called to work on a Vanity Fair cover with Annie for the Olympic athlete issue. I was doing the mud for a mountain biker and I’d done so much research; I had, like, 10 different types of mud depending on what Annie wanted it to look like. She had me come in the day I arrived on location so she could see what I was going to do. I showed her and then an hour later, when I went back to the hotel, I was told they had cancelled the other make-up artists and I was going to be doing everyone for the cover. On top of that, Annie then asked me to go on the road with her for two weeks and do her Olympic book. That was a really big deal for me.
You’ve worked with numerous famous women over your career, but who was the first you made up?
Cameron Diaz was one of the first big names I did. After I worked with her on Being John Malkovich [in which Westman gave Diaz the make-under of a lifetime, transforming her into dowdy Lotte Schwartz] Cameron insisted that I do her make-up for a Harper’s Bazaar cover she was shooting in New York. It was such a beautiful cover and I couldn’t believe it; I kept thinking this would be my last job, my luck would run out and I’d just go back to LA.
But you didn’t return to LA, in fact you moved to New York and transitioned from film into fashion. What was that journey like?
I turned 30 when I was in New York and I decided that I was going to move there permanently and try to move into fashion. Grace Coddington [the then creative director of American Vogue] wanted to meet me and we ended up doing a shoot in Miami together. I remember, she didn’t say anything to me the entire time. Straight after that shoot, we flew to another in LA with [photographer] Arthur Elgort and [model] Stella Tennant. I still had no idea whether Grace liked what I was doing or not – she still hadn’t said anything. I remember getting out of the mini van at the airport and saying goodbye to everyone, then Grace got out and said, “I just wanted to tell you…” – I thought she was maybe going to say I’d done the worst make-up she’d ever seen, but instead she said, “I haven’t seen talent like that since I discovered Pat McGrath.” As soon as that happened, it all went crazy. I was doing every Vogue shoot with every editor – there was a period of two years when I did all the covers. Grace had me work with everyone; Steven Meisel, Mert and Marcus, you name it!
What is your beauty ethos?
I love connecting, woman to woman, and I always put her first. I want to make women feel as confident and gorgeous as I can and I don’t ever want to disregard their integrity. Of course, I love being creative, but when it comes to beauty as a whole, I like to always maintain the essence of the skin. I’ve never been a fan of loads of foundation and powder – I’ve never been into that heavy, transformational make-up look.
Aside from ingredients, what other conscious efforts are you making with the brand?
When we began developing the brand, we discussed doing a refillable stick. At the time, Barneys said refillables didn’t work and wouldn’t sell – as a start-up business (my husband and I have funded the brand ourselves), we couldn’t afford to take that risk. Now, our biggest goal is to become more sustainable and we will have refillable items late summer. I will be completely satisfied when we are 100% sustainable and refillable, so we’re working towards that.
What are the challenges of making a clean product?
Nothing in the cosmetics industry is fast, but it’s really slow when you customise everything. We’re always having to reformulate to make sure every ingredient is compliant with our blacklist, so products take around a year longer to be developed than normal make-up. The challenges are real, but I’m grateful for now as I think we have helped pioneer the conversation. It’s incredibly inspiring that there is so much accountability happening with brands at the moment.
How do you balance clean credentials with performance?
Our motto is always to include ingredients at the highest amount possible without disrupting the formula. At the end of the day, performance has to be the most important thing. The product has to work; it has to earn the trust of women, otherwise they aren’t going to care. If you leave your house and 20 minutes later you look like you don’t have any make-up on then that’s not OK.
From Drew Barrymore to Jennifer Aniston, Anne Hathaway to Reese Witherspoon, you have worked with the most powerful women in Hollywood. How have these women influenced you?
They have inspired me so much over the years; they’re such bad asses in their own right. They’re intelligent, strong, capable and confident – all of the things I really admire. I feel like they are all icons in their own way. I’ve worked with Jennifer Aniston for 20 years, she’s just turned 50 and she looks better than ever and is doing her best work. She really shows me that there is no limit to what you can achieve – if your vision is clear and you have your passions, then anything is possible.
Speaking of Jennifer Aniston, we are desperate to know the secret behind her glow…
That’s why I created the brand as a complexion system – I wanted to launch with products that would enable women to create that skin on themselves. She’s obsessed with bronzer and always has the Beauty Butter Powder Bronzer in her bag. She loves the Baby Cheeks Blush Stick and uses Poppet on her cheeks and Dou Dou on her lips. She always carries the Eye Love You Mascara in her bag and she loves the Super Loaded Tinted Highlight.
Another woman you work with a lot – and are good friends with – is Gwyneth Paltrow, who is also a clean beauty and lifestyle business owner. Have you been sounding boards for each other?
Gwyneth is the queen of everything! She knows everything about everything that I’m interested in. I am always asking for advice, like what cleanse I should be doing. She is the ultimate authority when it comes to luxurious, clean products. We’ve discussed a lot over the years, including how hard it is formulating products without certain ingredients. She’s been so supportive.
You collaborated together on Le Box – the GP edition, how did that come about?
I wanted to do a little make-up kit containing the three essentials that create the essence we love from various women. Gwyneth is super warm, she’s healthy, she glows, and I wanted to create something that I would use on her to enhance all those things. We were working together in the Hamptons last summer and I just said to her, “I want to do this. Can we do it?” And she was like, “I love it!” It was so fun, there will definitely be more.