I sat down for a cup of chamomile tea (with lots of honey), and a chat with the inimitable Rose-Marie Swift before a sold-out appearance at the Santa Monica Detox Market. A fast talker, and unflinchingly honest, she assured me I could repeat anything she said, and insisted that I not sugar-coat anything.
Tell me how you became a makeup artist?
Oh my god! That was a complete fluke. I never even thought of being a makeup artist my whole life. When I was younger I wanted to be a model. I was in the day of Margot Hemingway and all those girls with the big eyebrows, blonde hair, you know, the big full lips. Freckles—all that stuff. I didn’t get anything obviously. I would have done better back in the ‘40s or ‘50s. I was doing my own makeup on the few jobs that I did get. In Vancouver, where I’m from, my sister was becoming an esthetician. She knew a guy who owned a whole bunch of hotels. Now remember, this was in the 1970’s. I was born in 1955. I’m 62 now. So in the hotels they had clubs, and in the clubs they had a stage with a pole, and they had strippers. But it wasn’t like the stripping nowadays! It was burlesque. It was classy. They were showgirls. They asked my sister to show the girls how to take care of their skin better. She said, “Rose-Marie you’re so good at makeup, why don’t you just teach the girls how to do their makeup?” So I said ok.
So you started teaching them, and then how did you segway into editorial? What was your big moment?
With doing all these girls, I found a label-free cosmetics company. I used to buy the little colors—they looked like MAC, exactly like MAC—I’d buy them for 80 cents and sell them to the girls for five, six dollars back in those days. This company’s makeup artist had a job with a big famous model, but he was sick. So he asked me! They knew I was a makeup artist, but they didn’t know what I was doing. So I’m walking in there not knowing anything about the industry. I did her makeup, and it came out on a cover, and I started getting jobs.
So your first real gig was a cover gig?
I’ve had luck, honey. I’ve had so much luck it’s beyond. It went berzerk from there.
When did you have your “aha” moment about going green?
Well I was always green. Even as a kid. I’m from Vancouver, Canada. We had woods in the back. We grew all our own vegetables and fruits and all of that. You know where apples taste like apples? Apples are pathetic nowadays. It’s a joke. So I’ve always been on a health thing. It was just part of the way I was.
With the makeup, that was a little bit of a different story. I started getting really sick. Tired. You know I had candida, and my immune system was down. Every kind of makeup I touched would be burning on my lips, or stinging my hands when I used it. I went and had a really advanced hair, blood, and urine analysis. When the lab handed it back to me they asked, “Do you work in the cosmetics industry?” They knew because they consistently saw the chemicals from cosmetics in people who do hair and makeup.
So once you decided to switch—once you realized it was a problem—when was the moment when you knew you had to start your own line?
I didn’t want to start my own line. I never thought of it. What happened was I created a website exposing all the chemicals in the cosmetic industry—all the myths. It’s called www.beautytruth.com. And it got so much press! Everybody said, “You can’t post that website! You’ll never work again in your life!” That was in 2004. But it catapulted me into another level of a makeup artist that had something to say. People kept asking me, “What should we use?” I started studying what was out there and what the “so-called” green brands were.
At what point when you started researching did you realize you needed to do it yourself?
Very soon. Because I started looking at these brands and I also realized they were lying. You’d see brands with ECOCERT certification, and yet there would only be one organic ingredient in the product. It pissed me off because that’s a blatant lie. When people see ECOCERT they think it’s organic. Boy is that so far from the truth! I’m a little obsessed, a little over the top, about having integrity.
When you started RMS what were your priorities?
Well, I was coming from a raw food background. I wanted it to be equivalent to what I learned in the raw food industry about what is done to food, and about what is done to oils and butters and all that stuff, you know? And the difference in quality in having a coconut oil that’s really properly raw and food grade, rather than one that’s been fractionated and adulterated and hydrogenated and all the other crap that they do to oils. I wanted high quality raw ingredients.
Organic is a guarantee of safety, not quality. I realized that right away on the first batches we were making. They were getting organic coconut oil, they were getting organic shea butter. But it didn’t feel right. That’s when I started studying how oils are sourced and processed.
And as a makeup artist, what were your priorities?
My priority was to do a makeup that did not make girls look like hags within three hours. These girls, the models, they’re 17, 18 years old. It was like, what the hell is happening from that first moment I put on these traditional cosmetics? Three hours later it would look so dry, and the makeup would age the skin. It pissed me off because that meant I had to retouch more. I’m a lazy makeup artist—I’ll be the first one to admit it. I don’t want to retouch all day long on a shoot. I want it to go on, be on the skin, to look like skin, and not be caking up all around the eyes—you know lips bleeding and everything. I started studying all those ingredients, and I realized, oh my god, this is all synthetic crap! The skin doesn’t want to deal with synthetic ingredients. It’s like eating synthetic food.
Did you formulate yourself?
What I did is I kind of formulated myself, and I collaborated with my friend in Canada who worked for a paint factory. She knew how to do the percentages, and I didn’t. I told her what I wanted in it, and how it’s supposed to feel, and it went back and forth for a long time.
So, she didn’t even work in cosmetics?
I think that’s why RMS is so unique. She didn’t come at it like a traditional cosmetic chemist.
Yeah. And in fact, she was surprised when I started researching the coconut oil, and changed from her organic coconut oil to my organic coconut oil, which is cold centrifuge rather than cold pressed or hydrogenated or fractionated like the cosmetic industry’s.
Tell me why the cold centrifuge coconut oil is better.
It’s completely raw. It doesn’t heat up. Cold pressing—those machines heat up to high, high temperatures. You’re not getting all the benefits.
And I’ve heard you talk about how the cold centrifuge doesn’t congest pores in the same way. Will you touch on that?
Everybody says to me, “Oh, coconut oil clogs the pore.” And I go, “Yeah, it does.” And they look at me and ask, “Then why the hell are you using it?” 'Cause I don’t use that kind of coconut oil. It has not been fractionated. It has not been hydrogenated. It has not been refined in the traditional way.
And what about you, as a person? What is it about you that allowed you to be a pioneer and visionary in the green beauty industry?
I’m an Aquarian. We’re the future thinkers. We’re visionary, and we’re also humanitarians. This is why I care about the environment. This is why I’m freaking out all the time about GMOs. And also, I don’t have a husband, I don’t have kids. I’ve got no one really to give my money to. And so you know I’m just spending all my money on making sure I use the best ingredients that you can get in the industry. Because the cosmetic industry does not have quality ingredients. Everybody wants to pocket a profit. And they’ll do everything they can at every turn.
Do you have a signature aesthetic as a makeup artist? Is there a way people describe your work?
Well, less is more, obviously—that’s more my philosophy. But my signature thing is dewy, glowing skin. I made it big in the business because of my skin. I’d get called in to do beauty tv commercials and things like that because the model would show up with really bad skin. I use my products and my ingredients and make a big difference. When you’ve got the models freaking out about how their skin feels and how it looks and how it’s being photographed, that’s a big bee in my bonnet, so to speak.
"WELL, LESS IS MORE, OBVIOUSLY—THAT’S MORE MY PHILOSOPHY. BUT MY SIGNATURE THING IS DEWY, GLOWING SKIN."
You’ve spoken about women shopping for CHANEL and RMS at the same time, and I know RMS is a staple in many model and artist kits. Why do you think RMS competes so effortlessly?
At the beginning when I was a green brand I used to get pissed off. I said “This isn’t a green brand, this is a makeup brand.” I kept getting categorized in a division that, at the time when I started, didn’t have any respect from anybody. They heard green and they’d shut off. This is why I made my products white with just the logo. Everybody said, “You can’t do that! You gotta have something green. You gotta have a tree on it, or a piece of moss, or a piece of wood.” I’m coming from high fashion. I’m working with Gisele and Miranda, and doing some big campaigns. Now I’m winning awards with CHANEL and NARS and the whole gang. I feel more comfortable now because now we’re being recognized. It may not stay on 24 hours like the products with all those toxic chemicals, but I’m where I want to be. Not just being put off in the poor little green sympathy corner.
It’s easy to get obsessive when you go green.
Women are all obsessive, whether it’s with food or working out. When I get makeup artists saying, “I want my makeup kit to be green,” I say, “Don’t.” You have to be prepared, and some of the green products don’t stand up to the capabilities of the stuff with the heavier duty chemicals. You know, you’re not going to get a waterproof eyeliner to jump in the ocean for a photoshoot, and if you’re not prepared for that you’re in big trouble. You’re going to have photographers mad at you, the client’s mad at you. You gotta be prepared. Plus you need really heavy duty pigments sometimes. You know, I’m making makeup for the normal woman that I see on the street.
What’s your approach to living naturally?
Oh my god, it’s a nightmare in this day and age. It’s so sad. I could cry. Nobody cares anymore. It’s all about profit. And as soon as people start waking up and smell the coffee about what’s going on, the better they’re gonna be ‘cause we’re headed down a really dark path. We’re being slowly, methodically poisoned to death because of money and greed.
How do you find balance, or are you a purist?
You know, I am usually really, really careful. I kind of watch my intuition, so I know when I’ve overdone something. When I feel it in my body, I know to do a little fast again and get some of the toxins off from traveling where I haven’t had access to a raw organic juice and things like that. But I do very strongly probably 80/20 or 75/25. I’m obsessed with vegetables anyway, and I don’t eat meat. I haven’t eaten pork or beef or lamb or any of that heavy-duty meat for over 30 years.
You look amazing, so whatever you’re doing is working.
I’m telling you meat really ages you. It’s really hard for the body to digest. You can tell the people that don’t eat meat. You can tell on their skin.
You’re still a working artist with a successful, growing brand. How do you stay sane?
Oh it’s hard sometimes. It’s helped to have my sister with me when I travel. We’ve gone to Japan together, all over Europe, now I just dragged her off to New Zealand and Australia. She’s more grounded than me. I give her energy, and she grounds me and makes me a little more emotional than I would normally be, because I can really turn off and be quite aloof.
"I WANT THE SKIN TO COME BACK! YOU CAN DO YOUR EYES UP LIKE CRAZY, AND LASHES FOR DAYS, AND BIG FULL LIPS IF YOU WANT—BUT LEAVE YOUR SKIN LOOKING BEAUTIFUL. SKIN IS SENSUAL AND SEXY. STOP COVERING IT UP."
What do you do for self-care?
For self-care? You know what. This is going to sound really weird, but I had a healer tell me this once. I need to literally sit in front of stupid tv shows. I watch things like The Andy Griffith Show, and I watch like, Deadly Women. I love Roseanne and Judge Judy. I need to zone out. It lets me empty my brain.
I love it. Your self care is sitcoms. So you zone out and watch TV...are there any little rituals that you do?
Well, I meditate. When I’m really freaking out I have to sit down and meditate, or I’m a mess.
You’re so dynamic and energetic. Is it hard for you to sleep at night? Is it hard to turn it off?
Yes, it’s hard to sleep. But I can just kick in and do what I need to do. I have a lot of energy in my chart. Well, I guess the universe is keeping me alive for a long time to do what I need to do. (laughs).
Where do you see the beauty industry going?
Well, let me tell you. It’s going to have to clean up its act. And it is very aware of it. Believe me. I already know by who’s calling me to see them. Who wants to talk to me. And I’m talking big people in the industry.
That’s good news though, right?
Yeah. And I’m not talking about just cosmetic companies that want to see me. I’ve definitely had a few of those. I’m talking about some of the scientists and formulators for some of the biggest brands.
What would a perfect world look like to you?
You know, I would love to say right now, “Oh my god, go really, really clean.” Of course, I want it to go cleaner. But, I want to see the brainwashing go away. The fact that people think cosmetics are all safe. And that the Instagram makeup trend would go away. I want the skin to come back! You can do your eyes up like crazy, and lashes for days, and big full lips if you want—but leave your skin looking beautiful. Skin is sensual and sexy. Stop covering it up.