Former Smashbox Exec Michele Gough Baril Launches Skincare-Makeup Hybrid Range Iris&Romeo

When Michele Gough Baril met rescued racehorse Romeo, she decided to ride off into the sunset, leaving her high-powered beauty career behind her. Now, after a few years of quiet reflection, horseback riding and shoveling manure, she’s decided to return to the industry as a brand founder.

Gough Baril was at the height of her career as Smashbox’s head of consumer marketing when she met Romeo. “I was working 80 hours a week,” she recalls. “I wasn’t married. I didn’t have kids. I was obsessed with my career. I don’t know that I had the healthiest lifestyle. I’d never been around horses. Then, I met this former racehorse, and I was hooked.”

Gough Baril started waking up daily at 5 a.m. to drive out to the Southern California community Topanga Canyon, and take Romeo into the hills and watch the sun come up before heading into the office at Smashbox. “I was slowing down and meditating, allowing myself to finally connect with this deeper part of me that I could never hear because I was always in such a rush,” she says. The moments of meditation led Gough Baril to question and eventually quit her “set for life” job at the Estée Lauder-owned color cosmetics brand.

Iris & Romeo
Iris&Romeo founder Michele Gough Baril with rescued racehorse Romeo

While out of the beauty industry, the former executive realized she wasn’t finished with it. She decided to launch a new brand aimed at women in the middle of their lives or, as Gough Baril says, their “power years.” Named Iris&Romeo for her mother and her horse, it’s kicked off with a five-in-one serum, moisturizer, sunscreen, and blue light and pollution protector that offers sheer complexion coverage called Best Skin Days. It took Gough Baril 30 iterations to get the formula for the skincare-cum-makeup product right.

Best Skin Days is the first of four products Iris&Romeo will roll out over the next 12 months. A lip product, concealer and cheek product will follow it. Gough Baril eschews rich pigments for natural-looking products that are easy to use and versatile to replace a handful of other products. “This is about creating a very simplified wardrobe of products,” she explains. “We won’t have a lot of SKUs. Everything will be multifunctional. Everything has to really be valuable in her life and meaningful. It’s not just about creating products for the sake of products.”

Best Skin Days is available on Iris&Romeo’s website for $64. The product will be the most expensive in the prestige brand’s selection. Since Iris&Romeo went live in June, Gough Baril shares sales have met the brand’s projections. She says, “Who’s buying is women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, mostly urban dwelling from the coasts right now, which I expected initially.”

“This is about creating a very simplified wardrobe of products. We won’t have a lot of SKUs. Everything will be multifunctional. Everything has to really be valuable in her life and meaningful. It’s not just about creating products for the sake of products.”

During Gough Baril’s days as a busy urban-dwelling woman working at Smashbox, she cut her teeth creating digital content at the dawn of social media. “There was this thing that had just started called Myspace,” she laughs. “All these bands were putting videos on Myspace, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we could shoot something in the studio really cheaply and stick it on Myspace and do what bands are doing but for our makeup brand.’”

Smashbox founder Dean Factor approved of Gough Baril’s digital initiative. She recalls, “He said, ‘Do what you want with it, Michelle, this thing called digital.’ It was like being at a little startup.” The edgy makeup brand was the first to post how-to videos online. The tutorials took off, and Gough Baril quickly moved on to Facebook and, later, Instagram. “It just kept evolving,” she says. “When Lauder bought Smashbox, one of the reasons they bought the brand was because of our capabilities in digital, content creation, and how we could really connect with consumers.”

Gough Baril is bringing her digital skills to connect online with Iris&Romeo’s target consumers, women she feels the industry has yet to address in a way that’s fully empowering. Calling most beauty marketing “fear-based,” she says, “How do I talk to this woman, but not make it be about age? It’s not about age and, yet, you’re in this certain period of your life where things are changing. It’s very much a time when we reset, and our skin is changing and we start to ask these deeper questions. It’s fascinating, and it’s rich with story and it’s rich with opportunity to create for this woman and do it in a really modern way.”

Iris & Romeo Best Skin Days
A 1.75-oz. jar of Iris&Romeo’s first product Best Skin Days retails for $64 and comes in four shades.

To support Iris&Romeo’s debut, Gough Baril raised $600,000 from cosmetic industry angel investors. She’s currently soliciting additional investment for the next phase of the brand. Though Best Skin Days just hit the market, Gough Baril is already seeking to improve the product, specifically by expanding the existing range of four shades by adding two more.

“We want to be inclusive, that’s our nature as women,” says Gough Baril. “Then, there’s the reality of what you’re dealing with. Initially, when you go out the door you have a limited budget. how can a little startup compete with Fenty?” She conducted multiple tests of Best Skin Days on different skin tones. She contends the product’s sheer, adjustable pigment is compatible with all skin tones.

Back in the beauty industry, Gough Baril is discovering entrepreneurship isn’t the same as operating inside a large established company. “It’s very humbling becoming a startup founder at this stage in my career,” she admits. “You start with these great ideas and idealism and a vision, and you come up against challenges in the supply chain, in the development of your products and the people you want to work with. You’re trying to execute the vision you have, and you just have to look at it as a process. It’s a journey, and you get closer and closer to the vision each iteration. So, we’re on the path.”