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EXCLUSIVE: Superstar Gwen Stefani Launches Beauty

Stefani, whose makeup looks are as iconic as her music, is finally launching her own beauty brand.

“Let me blow your mind,” said Gwen Stefani, when asked if it was true that she had worked as a makeup artist. “Are you ready for this?”

One of her first jobs while growing up in Anaheim, Calif., was at the mall working in the “plaza sportswear” section of a department store, the music superstar explained.

“It was basically an older women’s polyester pull-on pants kind of area,” she said, with a laugh. “I really enjoyed it, though, because what I loved was women would come in and be like, ‘OK, like, I need help. I don’t know how to put an outfit together.’ They were so happy and confident and excited that they had that help, and I liked that.”

But all the while, she was imagining herself elsewhere.

“I always wanted to be one of those girls,” she said, “one of those pretty girls who could be behind the beauty counter and look flawless. That was my fantasy.”

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That fantasy became a reality when the powers that be put her behind the counter at Ultima II.

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“Back then Ultima II had just revamped, and they did these nakeds, these natural colors,” Stefani remembered. “I don’t know how I got to do it. They didn’t teach me anything. They were just like, ‘Yeah, you can do it.’ Our mall was, like, a dollar mall.”

She chuckled, “It was the worst mall.”

The experience was fulfilling, though, and cemented her lifelong love affair with makeup and the connection between how one looks and how one feels.

“I have one memory of this woman who came in. She didn’t speak English, and her husband had their baby in his arm,” Stefani said. “She had a birth defect on her face, and it was, like, ‘Alright, let’s see what we can do here.’ And just doing her makeup, the joy that she had, the feeling of, ‘I didn’t know that it was even possible to have this feeling.’ Not even what she saw, but what she felt. That’s the feeling we all chase.”

Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani Sophie Muller/WWD

Stefani hopes to offer that feeling with GXVE, her first beauty brand. Pronounced “give,” it’s a reference to how she’s signed her name since high school, G with an X, a kiss.

GXVE will launch online on March 3, and at Sephora, its exclusive retail partner, on March 10. The line consists of eight products, priced between $21 and $48: an eye shadow palette in four color options; a pencil eyeliner in black and blue; two brow pencils in various shades; a skin care oil primer, and, of course, lipstick. Those familiar with Stefani’s longstanding career — and the always changing beauty looks she’s worn through her different musical eras — know that one constant is her love of a bold cherry red lip. Now, Stefani offers her own, a bright red lipstick in matte and satin, as well as a longwear matte liquid. More shades will follow post-launch.

“People have asked me my entire life, ‘What color lipstick are you wearing?’” said the 52-year-old. “That was the number-one question I’ve had in my entire career…and I would never tell people what color I was wearing, ever. I don’t know why, but I guess it was probably meant to be that I was going to do this one day.”

The brand is a partnership with Nikki Eslami, cofounder of Bellami, and New Theory Ventures, Eslami’s venture capital firm that invests in early-stage, women-led projects with a social purpose. Stefani, who hints to a “giveback” element of the brand, has been consulting with Eslami’s senior team as GXVE builds and grows its own, which currently includes a creative director, head of marketing and head of product development. The products are cruelty-free, utilize refillable packaging and meet the Clean by Sephora standards. Industry sources expect first-year sales to reach $50 million, a figure that Stefani and Eslami declined to comment on.

“There’s nobody else who could come close to being more authentic about makeup than I am when it comes to doing a line, because it’s what I’ve been doing my entire life,” Stefani said.

While there is no shortage of celebrity beauty brands these days, Stefani brings to the category a strong style credibility. From her No Doubt days to today, she’s continuously delivered bold makeup looks — and on stage, it’s all her own doing.

“I’ve always done my own makeup for live no matter what,” she said. “Even now, still….It’s part of my ritual. I have to do that to become the person I need to be to get up there and do what I need to do, which is, like, slap people around and give them the best night of their life. Makeup is part of that step to get there. And it’s not just for stage, but it’s also a part of my step to get to wherever I need to be when I wake up in the morning. Like, what creative version of me am I going to put forward?”

Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani Sophie Muller/WWD

Her love of adornment started young and is innate.

“Since I was a little girl, I have been makeup obsessed,” she said. “I don’t know why. I don’t know where it came from. But it was just born in me.”

Stefani remembers being five, watching her childhood best friend’s mother rummage through her drawers of cosmetics and throw Mary Kay makeup parties.

“It was just so fascinating to me,” she said. “I think because I’m such a visual person.”

She was studying art while writing No Doubt’s third studio album, “Tragic Kingdom” — which brought her and the band mainstream acclaim when it came out in 1995 with hits “Just a Girl” and “Don’t Speak.” She was 26.

“With No Doubt, we didn’t have stylists, makeup artists,” Stefani said. “We didn’t have budgets….Everything that I was when ‘Just a Girl’ came out, that’s who I was every day. That was the clothes I wore, the makeup I wore. That was my makeup bag in the video, my box.”

In the clip, she showcases several beauty looks, including a classic red lip, of course, Old Hollywood hair (a major inspiration), and a bindi — a detail that’s been called out for cultural appropriation, along her others, like pulling from Latine-rooted beauty trends and Japanese street fashion, Harajuku.

“A lot of people don’t realize that my dad worked for Yamaha motorcycles my whole life,” she said, discussing her influences. “He would go to Japan every year…and would come home with these treasures like Hello Kitty stickers and a geisha doll or a kimono, and that started my fascination with Japan.”

GXVE’s debut lineup.
GXVE’s debut lineup. George Chinsee/WWD

 

It comes from her attraction to culture, she said: “Every time I would be exposed to something I’d never seen before, or even just anything within culture, it would have a huge impact on me. It’s something about humans and how we’re so similar, no matter where we are in the world, but yet so different, and because of our families, and what we eat, and how we dress, and how we do our makeup.”

Back in the 2000s, Stefani was one of the first and few celebrities to venture outside of music, launching her fashion line L.A.M.B. in 2004, then the Harajuku Lovers label a year later. It was in 2007 that she introduced beauty, unveiling a fragrance, L, as part of L.A.M.B, followed by five scents for Harajuku Lovers, which was sold at Sephora. Later, she became a brand ambassador for L’Oréal, Revlon and Urban Decay, releasing a limited-edition cosmetics collection in collaboration with the latter. (She also filed to trademark the name P8NT at one point, which was quickly picked up by news outlets.)

With GXVE, three years in the making, she’s stepping out on her own, a decision she came to after her divorce from musician Gavin Rossdale. “Everybody that knows me knows that I had a really hard breakup and my family exploded,” said Stefani, who’s now happily married to country star (and fellow judge on “The Voice”) Blake Shelton.

“It was just the worst time of my life,” she continued. “That’s when I was, like, ‘I definitely know that I need to start something fresh. I need something that’s mine now that I’m free. I got to this point in my life, like, I need to do something that is completely me.”

Gwen Stefani
Gwen Stefani Sophie Muller/WWD

Music is her heart, she said, and fashion is a way to present an extension of her personality. “But makeup is different. It’s personal. It’s really hard to put into words, but it’s just so powerful.”

Reflecting on her early years, she said she was a hopeful, innocent and naïve girl.

“I do spend a lot of time thinking about the younger version of me,” she said. “I did a song a couple years ago, ‘Let Me Reintroduce Myself’ and looked back at myself a lot. When you’re around for a long time, and you’ve had success, you just think, ‘Wow, am I a cartoon version of myself?’ I have been a cartoon at certain points. I’ve been on ‘Saturday Night Live’ to be made fun of. You become a cartoon version of yourself and you kind of don’t know who you are anymore. You’re like, ‘Which version of me am I?’”

Today, it’s a new chapter as she prepares to introduce GXVE.

“I’m trying to just find my purpose and serve at this point,” she said. “I think that the thing that I want to share is that every day is a new chance to show a new version of yourself and get creative and make people feel good with that. And when it comes to beauty, there’s so many different ways to look at it. Are we talking about the inner beauty? I think the one thing that I can honestly say — and I would never be able to say this until now, because I’ve lived so long — is that the one thing that made me me was being me. Not trying to be anything else. I mean, flaws and all.”

Looking back, she’s been “so blessed,” she continued. “So, I really have been thinking about my giveback for a long time. Like, what am I going to do? What am I going to do to really give back, you know what I’m saying? I never thought I could make any impact on anyone ever, but now I feel like I’m at a place where I’ve learned enough, and I’m smart enough, and I’ve had enough experience. I truly know that with GXVE, people can know they can trust me on this. I’ve never done anything just to take from people. It’s always been an exchange. They’re going to give me this love, and I’m going to give them that back. This is going to be the same thing. We’re going to gift each other with GXVE.”

It’s her passion, she added.

“I feel like everything that I’ve done led up to this moment,” she said. “I know that sounds extreme. But if you really could get into my head and my heart and see what I lived, you would understand how clear it is that I needed to do this, and I have pretty big plans for it.”