By definition, Stella McCartney is a minimalist. She’s known for her vegan, animal-free leather and classic silhouettes that are simple yet elevated — and she raised the bar for sustainable fashion. Now, the designer is giving the same treatment to the beauty world as she introduces her simple skincare line, STELLA, which embodies her eco-conscious ethos.
“I want to deliver uncompromised products that stand shoulder to shoulder with all the other products out there that aren’t taking the same [sustainability] measures we are,” McCartney says.
In partnership with LVMH, McCartney has debuted three products: the Reset Cleanser, Alter-Care Serum, and Restore Cream. The formulas, which feature a refill system, come in reusable bottles made from recyclable glass that look chic on a bathroom shelf.
But the luxury doesn’t stop there. McCartney enlisted the help of master perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, whose namesake brand, Maison Francis Kurkdjian, is an industry favorite, to create a custom scent for the line.
We sit down with the designer-turned-skincare entrepreneur to discuss the evolution from her original line to the current one, her desire for a better cleanser, and why her parents — yes, the iconic Paul McCartney — would forgo deodorant.
How has your own approach to skin care changed over the 14 years since you launched your first skincare brand? Did that experience impact the direction of STELLA?
It hasn’t changed too much — I’ve always loved skin care and wanted to create my own line. I feel so privileged and lucky that I’m able to come at it again. When I did it before, it was too ahead of its time, and people didn’t understand what I was doing. Creating your own skincare line was unheard of, and my whole career, up until the last couple of years, I had to fight, push, and challenge. It’s only now that I feel that I’ve landing at a place where I feel comfortable asking questions like what’s the source of this ingredient or fabric. I don’t want to interact with anyone who won’t ask those questions of themselves or of the industry.
It’s been a crazy journey, but the way I approached skincare is the same as I approached fashion. They come from the same place, but also couldn’t be more different. My core value system comes from living in harmony with nature and challenging sustainability. Cut to now, 14 years later, it’s been a completely different experience. I have more ingredients and sources to play with and far more information.
Which product did you set out to create from the start?
I have a problem with the cleansers that are out there. I think that is a hard product to find. Personally, if I want to clean my skin after wearing makeup, I don’t ever want to have to invest in a makeup remover. I find it to be redundant, and it makes my eyes water for hours. And I don’t like one-sided cleansers. I also found cream cleansers to be too creamy, and they require a cotton pad to remove it. So I made this one a perfect mix of [foamy] and creamy. It makes the skin feel squeaky clean, but not tight and stripped of natural oils.
Why did you elect not to have a separate eye cream? Did you set out to create a multitasker, or was the serum’s efficacy around the eyes a happy surprise?
It’s so interesting. I start my work from an instinctive place, and I’m no spring chicken. I have a daughter who’s 15 years old, and I think this product crosses over every gender and every generation, because it’s so just simple and delivers. I didn’t want to add the extra step of using an eye cream and patting it in. I want to have something that I could put everywhere, and it doesn’t sting my eyes or feel sticky and greasy. I’m quite demanding of my skincare.
Why did you decide to include a fragrance in the line, and was there a conversation about the sustainability of that component?
Yes, we openly had the conversation about it, and the fragrance element was a bit tenuous. I kept saying no fragrance, no fragrance, no fragrance. That’s old and French. To my team’s credit, they were like, “Okay, we hear you.” They showed me the products without the fragrance. And when I smelled the base, it was such a buzzkill. It’s not a desirable scent. The cleanser was a bit soapy. There was no way to change the core formula, because we’d arrived on the best of the best.
Then I said, “We can add the tiniest bit of fragrance.” We’ve included the barest amount, but it’s the most natural scent with the most minimal ingredients; I fought tooth and nail for the lightest possible fragrance. We loved the challenge of finding a beautiful scent without falling in the trap of the classic fragrance way. When we came to Francis Kurkdjian, we gave him a large list of things he couldn’t use, and he came back to us with a super-essential fragrance. It only has 12 ingredients.
I love that you collaborated with him. Did you guys have a relationship prior?
No, and I was just so excited to work with him. I do love fragrance, you know. I just want to make the best and cleanest product. My approach is if I can do it and it’s there, I’ll do it. If I can’t do it clean, and it’s damaging, I won’t touch it. Fragrance is not the cleanest. I mean, Greta Thunberg is probably not wearing a perfume, and I respect that. I even explored the oils, but then it made the products greasy.
But to be able to work with Francis was such an amazing experience. The way in which I saw and smelled the fragrance was so honest and pure. It brought back so many personal experiences and memories. My 11-year-old thinks it’s addictive. And Francis said it’s changed his way of making fragrance.
That’s no easy feat. Can you recall an early memory tied to caring for your skin?
My mum and dad didn’t really use much. They were very pure and radical and pioneering in that sense. They didn’t wear deodorant. They never smelt, but just were very clean and always in nature. My mum [Linda McCartney] wore very little makeup, and she was probably the most beautiful woman on earth. You should check her out — she’s super cool. But her skin care routine was nonexistent, really. I know she used products, but it was as clean as it could be. She would make her own oils from our roses and stuff in our garden.
I remember when I was about 13 years old, my mum gave me a cleanser, and I was like, “What is that?” That will always stand out as a core memory for me. It was never a household filled with clutter and products. It’s funny because my older daughter just loves all that stuff, and I’ve leaned away and become more like my mum as I’ve gotten older. I’m sort of sad because I feel so bad and like a terrible mother as if I should take her beauty shopping. I can’t deliver that to her, but I can deliver this skincare line to her.
STELLA by Stella McCartney will be available at selected online stores and at stellamccartneybeauty.com.
This article was first published on Harper’s BAZAAR Singapore.