Astrologer Rose-Marie Swift Has A 10-Year-Old Cosmetics Brand. Maybe You’ve Heard Of It?
The world might finally be catching up to Rose-Marie Swift. “Did you see the new Pantone color is Living Coral?” she asks. “Excuse me. They got that from me. I’ve always used that word. Nobody in a million years is going to use the word living unless you’re in the raw food industry. You want living, healthy food. That’s why the Luminizer is Living Luminizer because it gives you a glow that looks real. It doesn’t look like a come-fuck-me cheekbone.” Well, maybe she’s still a few steps ahead of many of us.
In the decade since Swift introduced RMS Beauty, the makeup artist and astrologer has expanded the brand’s selection from 18 products to more than 145 clean highlighters, lip colors, eye shadows and face oils, and launched the cult-favorite line at coveted beauty retailers around the globe, including Sephora, Bluemercury, Nordstrom, SpaceNK, Follain and The Detox Market. Beauty Independent spoke to the controversial entrepreneur about RMS Beauty’s big break, suspect ingredients, the green beauty movement, the intersection of astrology and beauty, lobbyists doing desksides and why she’s holding on to ownership of her brand.
What was an early watershed moment for RMS Beauty?
Being taken on by Mickey Drexler with J. Crew in January 2013. We got written up right away because we didn’t force retailers to buy 24 of each SKU or carry the whole line. We said to hell with that, let’s get our brand out in a different way. We started putting out little signature sets for smaller companies or smaller stores that wanted us and couldn’t afford big sets. It works; it gets you out there.
When J. Crew got us, we had a curated selection for them. They were promoting us on their sales [phone] lines, [touting Living Luminizer was] why the models have such a beautiful glow. They said, “It’s RMS Beauty Living Luminizer.” We’d have people calling us saying, “I just talked to the people at J. Crew, and they said that the models’ glow was Living Luminizer. I want some.” We thought, “Holy shit, [look] what’s happening here with them promoting us on their telephone customer service line.”
They took full advantage of that. They realized people [were] asking about that glow [and thought] let’s get that glow into the store. So, we did. We did a couple of really natural lip balms that a lot of the makeup artists use. Being in the industry, I know all the makeup artists, and they like my brand. I’m really lucky because, if they don’t like your brand, you’re in trouble. WWD wrote it up and a bunch of other big industry magazines, too. That catapulted our brand and what I was doing.
How many J. Crew stores did RMS launch in?
A ton! Mickey met me, and he liked me. He wanted to help me out because I was new and doing something different. Their first order was huge. We almost died, it was the biggest order we ever had. We were all excited. They actually put us in England because England also had J. Crew for a little while.
The brand is no longer at J. Crew, right?
One of the problems was it wasn’t properly displayed. They would have [the brand] in among the clothes. The boxes are white, so they ended up becoming very dirty. It was definitely a visual problem toward the end, but. they didn’t care. They just kept ordering. Things started to fold for them, and that’s when it petered out. Now, they want us back. They asked us to do more stuff again.
What are some challenges you’ve faced building your brand?
The biggest problem at the beginning was packaging. I would say, “If you show me plastic packaging, I’m going to lose my mind on you guys.” Of course, they kept sending plastic packaging. I finally found an old mold that had probably been done in the 50s and 60s. I found that, but they only had big, high lids. Then, I actually found the food-grade lid that’s for little samples of mustard. They’re not the best quality, but I wanted that low profile, and it had a tight grip on it to keep it airtight. That was really important to me.
When we started talking to people, they’d go, “You’re a green brand, you have to have a leaf on there, something green that looks like running down a field of peonies,” or whatever. I was like, “No, no, no, no. Once I do that, I wipe out the whole audience.” If I can do a brand that doesn’t look like it’s green, I’m not wiping out 90% of the audience. People were attracted to the visuals of it, and they didn’t know it was green. It opened it up to a different market. If I would’ve just gone the green route, I would probably still be just sitting in little green stores only.
The other problem was labs. Labs are impossible. Back then, they didn’t want to do it, but I was very lucky because my formulas were done by me and a friend. I had a friend in Canada who worked for a paint factory. She put together the formulas. I told her what I wanted in them and, then, we started mixing. I owned my formulas right from the beginning. I wanted the 50s-style pot of rouge. I hate powder. I see the models dry up after two seconds on set with this stuff that stays on all day.
When I first went around to the magazines, I was crying when I got home. I worked with these people and the wall that I hit was unbelievable for quite a few years. I’d get in a little token pitch of a green thing. Nobody ever wrote me up giving me any relevancy to the industry.
Now when I go into the magazines, the big executive editors want to meet me and talk to me. I have a hard time with my PR, saying, “We gotta go, we gotta go,” because once we start talking, people love all the stuff I have to tell them.
Any stuff you can share?
Recently I went to Sweden. When I go in and start talking, people realize, “Holy shit, she knows her stuff,” and they start opening up to me. Do you know that the industry is having lobbyists go around to the editors? This is one of the big editors in Sweden. She says they’re sending lobbyists around to the editors to say these chemicals [in beauty products] are all safe, they’ve been proven safe.
Then, I was going to one of the biggest magazines in New York. I said, “I have a question for you.” I did it without my PR people there. I told her that I was just in Sweden, told her the story. She goes, “They come here, too. They’ve been coming in and defending the chemicals, saying this stuff’s all great, don’t believe what’s going on, the internet out of control.” That is a fact; this is major news.
One of the big editors said to me the other day, “I can’t take it anymore. We are sick and tired of these people coming in with private label brands.” They can just buy it already premade and put a label on it. Even some of the green brands are doing that because there’s private label now for green.
[Editors] say they’re sick and tired of the bullshit they’re being fed down their throats to get a sale for these brands. I hear [the brands] talking, too. At Bluemercury they have sales meetings, where [brands] get half an hour each to present to the head sales people, and I hear other big brands saying how they have organic ingredients, [they’re] clean. One time I was so pissed off I left, I wouldn’t even do [my presentation] because I was so upset. This is a big brand. I’m not going to say who it is, but they’re going into all the head sales people from Bluemercury telling them this is organic and natural and they don’t have parabens. They’re doing this all over.
When I come in for my go-sees they’re never a problem because I don’t lie about my brand. I don’t say it lasts 12 hours on the face. I’m not going to say the mascara doesn’t run if you’ve got an oily lid. I just look at people and say, “Hey. Oil removes makeup. Duh.” But everybody wants a quick fix cosmetic pill and they want it to last forever and they don’t realize the damage they’re doing to their bodies in the long run.
Your opinions on cosmetics ingredients aren’t always embraced. What are some of your opinions that haven’t necessarily been unpopular?
Here’s a perfect example: oil. Oil, in general, has been slandered by the cosmetic industry for years. You don’t want oil in your products. Why? Because oil’s not good for the skin. I’ll tell you exactly why it was “not good for the skin”, because jojoba oil is now $95 a gallon wholesale. Water and petroleum products are free. That’s why the cosmetic industry says oil is bad for the skin. It’s a complete money agenda. It has nothing to do with the reality and the truth. These are huge companies. They are not going to use all these expensive oils. They don’t give a shit. It’s all about money.
Take hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid, to me, is one of the worst things to put in a makeup formula because if it’s not really high quality, it causes stickiness and beading. So, when you put makeup on top, it all floats around and beads up because they’re using cheap shit. I don’t want to say a brand, but you know who. They have hyaluronic acid for $10. Are you kidding me? I would hate to think what that is and where it’s from. And one size does not fit all. All coconut oil is not the same. Yes, coconut oil can clog the pores, for sure. It depends on what kind you use. Hyaluronic acid is good for the skin, but it depends what quality you use.
Silica is another one. Synthetic silica causes a lung disease called silicosis, and they’re putting it in cosmetics. Who’s regulating the industry? Nobody. The only thing regulated in the beauty industry is synthetic color, and they don’t use that nasty synthetic color anymore. Therefore, it’s basically self-regulated. You think anybody’s honest? Hell no.
I think I’m the only one who’s honest, and the only reason I’m honest is I’ve got nothing to lose. I’ve got no kids. I don’t have anybody to give my money to. I don’t do drugs anymore. If my brand went bankrupt this minute over something I say, I’d be upset a little bit, of course, because I’m trying to put out something good, but I wouldn’t care. I would not keep my mouth shut in order to save my brand.
What do you think of the green beauty movement?
It’s great that it’s gotten so big, but I think a lot of people are just jumping on the green bandwagon and putting out products that basically knock off a lot of other people’s products, including mine. They don’t know anything about what they’re doing. Labs are dishonest, too. We’ve fired labs. I’ve sworn at chemists because they lie. Just last week, I said, “That’s not my coconut oil.” [The lab responded,] “Yes, it is.” Later, I phoned where I told him to get the coconut oil from, and they didn’t. Right there, that’s a lie.
I love the fact that people are paying attention now. People are starting to wake up. People are starting to realize, not just in the green beauty industry, but, in life itself, we’re being told non-truths. The green industry is benefiting from the knowledge that people are receiving from different avenues: social media, celebrities.
Do you see makeup artists turning more to smaller, clean makeup brands?
They all wear my shit, but they’re all too scared to promote me. I see them put on a whole big thing for, let’s say, Tom Ford, and they’ll just do a quick Insta Story of the stuff I sent them. They want a contract. [Some] have to wait for everybody else to say it’s good. Some people are more honest, and they will do a nice plug for me. It’s the big ones [who] tend to go after the possibility of getting a contract.
I’m getting press now beside YSL, Chanel, Pat [McGrath] and Charlotte [Tilbury]. I’m happy I’m not put in the green vein anymore, where a magazine would do a little piece, “These are the green lines,” and it’d be me and 100% Pure. Now, I’m in the bigger press beside the big guys, and that’s exactly what I wanted.
When did that change happen?
In the last few years, it’s really turned. I’m not put in the green category anymore. I’m literally just put as RMS Beauty, so nobody even knows it’s a green brand. That’s what I wanted because you’re losing half your audience if you just keep throwing out all this green stuff. I always say to people at the green beauty stores, “What we’ve got to do is get into the Sephoras and the Bluemercurys, and change those people’s attitudes.”
The thing is to keep putting out products that are conducive to what’s happening in beauty. I have an advantage over a lot of green makeup brands because I’m an actual makeup artist. Some of them are missing in textures and coloring. There are a few that do know what they’re doing, but there are many that don’t. I don’t think a lot of them are going to have very good staying power.
RMS is carried by a range of retailers from Follain to Sephora. What’s it been like to enter different retail environments?
Surprisingly, it hasn’t been very hard. We are doing very well at Sephora, but we didn’t give them the whole brand. We were very careful to curate what we were giving them. We did not want to get lost in that huge sea of beauty products. Think of all the brands that go bankrupt in there. You can’t just jump in there full-on without a parachute.
Bluemercury has been great for us. They’ve expanded us more and more. Japan is killer for us. We love our Japanese market. We’ve also been asked [to be carried] by a lot of other big retailers. We have turned down a few of the bigger ones because we just thought, “No, not yet.” Some of them we turned down because we don’t want to dilute the brand. We’re very careful about where we are.
Why do you think RMS is doing so well about Japan?
Your product has to go through strict testing in Japan. They don’t miss one ingredient in your product. A lot of brands will never make it past the testing stage in Japan. The Japanese government really cares about their people. Japanese women tend to really care about their skin, and they don’t want it all covered up with crap. They like a little bit of the glowing skin now. It used to be they wanted it all white. That’s gone. Luminizer kicks ass there. They don’t do makeup like you see on Instagram. It’s not their world. They can relate to my world, and I can relate to theirs. They also really seemed to like my personality, which is interesting. They like that I speak up and have different ideas.
How do astrology and beauty mix?
If I do makeup for really famous people, I get very nervous. And sometimes celebrities can be very difficult. So, [astrology] saved me because I’ll say, “What sign are you?” I’m a professional astrologer. I’ve been doing it since I was 15. I will say to the person, “What time were you born?” I’ll have them in the palm of my hand because everyone likes to hear about themselves.
It has helped me handling people on set. I like to know what sign the girls are because, then, I know how to handle them. The photographers, too. In the industry, let’s face it, you’ve got to be intuitive. If you’re not intuitive, you’ll never last. You’ve got to pick up the energy of the shoot, the energy from the photographer, the model. You have got to feel it from them. That way, if they’re not feeling it, you can start moving around and manipulating that energy into something more positive.
RMS is self-funded. Would you ever take on outside investors?
Most [investors] think their way is the only way to do it, and we don’t agree with that outdated mode of business. They like to follow what everybody else is doing. We’re like, “No, we’re doing it the way Rose-Marie Swift wants to do it.” Whether I’m right or wrong, I’m definitely doing something that’s making changes. We have had a few people we do really like, but we don’t need the money. I don’t need to be cruising around in a Ferrari to show off.
I want to have a nice brand that I like. I don’t want to put pressure on myself or my team to put out stuff fast and make extra money. We do it at the pace that we feel comfortable. We will eventually probably bring in some bigger money, but, so far, everybody wants a majority. That isn’t going to happen. As soon as I give somebody a majority, I’ll be out because I don’t like being told what to do or being bossed around. I’m an Aquarian. That’s what the problem is.