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Master Class: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on Her New Beauty Brand

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's new beauty brand harnesses the insights gleaned from the model-actress-entrepreneur's multifaceted career.

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, 34, is a British institution, having worked with Marks & Spencer for more than a decade, collaborating on makeup and lingerie collections for the brand, and appearing in campaigns, and on the runway, for Burberry. She’s also well-known far beyond British shores as a former Victoria’s Secret Angel and a runway model for brands including Prada, Givenchy and Louis Vuitton. Ten years ago, she branched into film with roles in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Now, she’s ready to add another line to her CV: beauty entrepreneur.

This month, Huntington-Whiteley, a mother-of-one who lives with her longtime partner, the actor Jason Statham, in Los Angeles, is launching Rose Inc. a collection of multitasking, eco-conscious color cosmetics. The line is vegan, cruelty-free, and packaged in refillable cartons and recyclable bottles with rinse-off labels made partly from hemp. Huntington-Whiteley has teamed with the longtime beauty executive and entrepreneur Caroline Hadfield, and Amyris, the biotech company that develops and produces sustainable ingredients for a variety of industries, on the project.

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Here, she talks about creating the new collection; the power of her community (she has 13 million followers on Instagram) and her eponymous beauty and wellness platform, also called Rose Inc., which she created in 2018; the highs and lows of the entrepreneurial life — and her particular talent for sitting still, and listening, while having her own makeup done before a shoot.

How long had you been thinking about launching color cosmetics?

Rosie Huntington-Whitely: A really long time, to be honest. I’d launched a color cosmetics line in the U.K. with Marks and Spencer, and it was a great experience. I’ve always loved makeup products, and then, with Marks & Spencer, I realized how much I enjoyed the process, the NPD [new product development], research and formulation aspect of it. And I loved building a brand, a consumer product, and being able to tell a story around that product. I think a lot of the time people would associate me with fashion, which I love, but with beauty, there’s an aspirational aspect and there’s also an accessibility bit, which fashion doesn’t provide, necessarily.

Why did you launch the Rose Inc. content platform before developing products under your name?

R.H-W: When I launched Rose Inc. in 2018, I really wanted to do something on my own that was not conventional. I wanted to launch a business — not a collaboration, not a license deal — but something I could really own. Building a network and a community, being able to speak to experts, connect with experts, feature and, highlight people — it’s been an amazing thing. The content platform has been an amazing thing, and I can’t imagine building this brand the other way round.

Also, I wanted to take my audience on a journey with me through beauty. It was about cementing my authority within the industry, and my passion for beauty. I think a lot of the time we see celebrities — in beauty, skin care or fashion — and you think to yourself: ‘Well, apart from the fact that you wear makeup every day, I didn’t know it was a diehard passion of yours. And if it’s not a diehard passion, then why should I believe in your product?’

I think community first is just the way to go. It’s so much more authentic, and it’s allowed us so much opportunity to dive into all the data and statistics. We’ve been able to see what brands sell, what my audience is buying into, what articles they’re clicking on and responding to, which influencers, which people, which experts, they’re interested in learning about. You get so much market research right there. And I think by the time we launch, the Rose Inc. audience will be very excited about it — I hope.

Why was transparency so important with regard to ingredients and packaging?

R.H-W: Before I met Caroline, what I knew, and what I felt really sure of, was that if I was going to launch a brand, it had to stand for something, it had to have legs beyond me being a celebrity founder. I wanted a brand that could live without me, a brand that had enough integrity to carry itself.

I also think that consumers today are craving more and more transparency from brands across the board, whether that’s in fashion, food or beauty. As consumers, we are so much more aware. We pick things over a bit more, we ask the questions, we have high expectations from our brands, we vote with our dollar, we understand these brands stand for something beyond just the product.

Right now there is a huge demand for packaging that is eco-conscious. But it’s not easy — otherwise everybody would be doing it. And there’s not a one-size fits all solution. It will require a lot of innovation and science in the forthcoming years, and Rose Inc. is committed to that.

What was your vision for the products? What niche were you looking to fill in this overcrowded market?

R.H-W: We’re really thinking about makeup as skin care. I wanted formulas that were really performative, easy to use and loaded with benefits. As someone who wears makeup every single day at work, and for hours, I wanted makeup that was going to work for me. I’ve had years of terrible acne breakouts and skin issues from wearing tons of makeup for work, so I collaborated really intensely with the team saying, ‘We’re going to have this makeup on our faces all day. What can we pack the products with that is beneficial for our skin?’ We hope to encourage and support people wearing the products, and to aspire to the standards we set as a brand.

Can you talk specifically about some of the products?

R.H-W: Pretty much everything is multipurpose, from our blush that can be worn as a lip product, to our brow gel that has ingredients to help with hair regrowth, and conditioning the hair. And I’m really proud of our concealer. I haven’t really worn foundation since we’ve created this concealer as it gives you enough coverage. I can dot it around my face and it gives me that lovely daytime coverage, and it can be worn over foundation, too. It’s a lovely sort of liquid formula so you can do a lot with it.

I believe women are multi-faceted, we’re busy, and we’re on-the-go people. So we want the most out of our products, and — also — I don’t want an instruction manual as to how to put on my makeup. It’s supposed to be a fun process. Someone with zero skills should be able to apply a blush or a foundation just as much as someone who is doing that amazing full, artistic glam. I don’t want to spend an hour doing my eyeshadow. I’d like to put something on quickly, and then be out the door, feeling great.

Can you talk specifically about the debut collection?

R.H-W: It’s called the Modern Essentials Collection and you’ll see it’s four color products and two skin care products. I believe these six curated products give you instant results in a really fast manner. You’ve got the toner, which is great for resurfacing the skin, and a gentle exfoliator. And then you have this very hydrating primer-meets-moisturizer serum, which is just going to add that instant bouncy fluffiness to your skin, but is also a very indulgent cover for evening.

The brow gel, cream blush, lip crayon and concealer are the four color products which I feel like, whether I’m doing something really mundane like going to the post office, or whether I’m dropping my son off at school or I’ve got an important meeting in town, these products are going to make me feel instantly pulled together and polished in a matter of minutes. They’re easy to use and can be in my handbag. I can put them on in a pinch, and they give me, and hopefully my customers, instant results.

How much time do you spend putting on makeup on any given day?

R.H-W: It really depends. Some days I have five minutes to get out the door and then other days I have an hour. I love doing my own makeup. I see it as “me” time. I love the creative process, playing around with the stuff I’ve been sent, or stuff that I’m trying out for Rose Inc. It’s a creative experience and I love the transformative nature of it. So day-to-day if I’m going out to work for meetings, I’d probably carve out an hour for myself from getting out of the shower to being fully dressed. If I’m running out to do the school run, it’s like “Eyebrows in the car — and hopefully no one will see.”

How good are you at having your makeup done for a shoot or a big event?

R.H-W: “Ha! I must say I am renowned for this — and you can ask any makeup artist who’s done my makeup before — the one thing they comment on is how great I am at sitting still. And that proves the point that I just love having my makeup done. I am a dream to work with, because I sit still and just ask them questions about the formulations. These 20 years in a hair and makeup chair have led up to this moment of launching the collection.

How did you meet Caroline, and how did you know she was the CEO for you?

R.H-W: It took a long time. When I started Rose Inc. I spent a long time looking for the right partner and I kissed a lot of frogs. I looked at different ways of building up a brand. I looked at raising money, self-funding and potentially partnering, so any partner was going to be very important. I met with a lot of different people. Caroline and I had already worked together on a brand when she brought me in as a spokeswoman for the baby and mother care line Pipette, which she founded. I was blown away by the integrity and the standards the Pipette team and Amyris had, striving toward a much more sustainable future in products and consumer goods.

Caroline gave me a call one day and said: ‘I’d love to talk to you about partnering.’ And I was a little frustrated with myself for not having thought of it first! I like to be the proactive person as I’m an Aries. At the time, I didn’t know Amyris could do color as well as skin care so Caroline and I sat down. She said they’d been doing a lot of work in the color space and had a lot of research that would allow us to be innovative with color. So that was it. Caroline has worked in lots of different aspects of the industry, she has founded her own brands (including Biossance, with Amyris) and had also worked with conglomerates.

How big do you want Rose Inc. to get?

R.H-W: At this point, I just want to get the brand off and launched and out to the world. Now it’s up to the customer, the audience, to tell me what they think. I’m so lucky to get to go to work every day, although it’s not an easy thing. I’ve worked hard over the years, and it is stressful at times. It’s a hustle and a grind every single day. You cannot anticipate it until you’re in the thick of it, and your name is riding on something, and you’re just so committed and passionate about something that you just can’t help but get emotional. But it’s super fulfilling! Even if I go to bed with a million things whirling through my mind, I wake up the next day ready to get up and tackle those things. Work is important, and I love that saying that you need to find a job where you feel that you’ve never had to work a day in your life.