Independent Spotlight is a new feature here at Fresco Phyrra. For our debut, I wanted to interview Mineral Makeup Maven Kristen Leigh Bell from Aromaleigh.
How long have you loved makeup?
I’ve always loved makeup… powder, lipstick, mascara… but I always wore what worked for me and didn’t try new things. Makeup was always required, but wasn’t how I expressed myself.
Most little girls love makeup. I vaguely remember some Tinkerbell nail polish, perfume and a “lipstick” that I had when I was probably around 5. And I remember collecting LipSmackers lipbalms and glosses in soooooo many flavors. I had long, curly hair and my mom dressed me in lovely little dresses. Then one day, my hair got cut off (the Dorothy Hamill bob was all the rage…) And from that point on, there was no more Tinkerbell. No more Barbies, no more desire for dresses. I just wanted to climb trees, build forts, read books and catch lizards.
Most of my life I’ve been far more interested in skincare than makeup, ironically! I started using the Clinique 3 step system in high school and my mother told me to always wear foundation and stay out of the sun to protect my skin. I did this, of course- but I didn’t wear much makeup. I was a chubby teenager, an orchestra geek, and basic all-around nerd. I knew I wasn’t pretty by my school’s standards, and I surely was far from popular- you had to look a certain way and own certain items of clothing to be that! And I knew I wasn’t skinny and couldn’t wear the cute clothes that the other girls did. So I rebelled and wore lots of black, long skirts, boots. At the time I was fully immersed in music, so what I looked like really wasn’t an issue. Who cares what they look like when they are listening to The Cure, Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and The Smiths 8 hours a day? Not me. I wore pale powder and red lipstick and mascara. That’s it.
© Maresa Wickham, All Rights Reserved
Even when I started modeling while in college, I wasn’t really into makeup. I’d wash the MUA’s work off immediately after a shoot. I had a great time modeling while I was in photo school- I had a perfect Louise Brooks bob that ranged from red to black depending on the season, and I was sought after as a model. I was even hired by DuPont for an ad that appeared in Vogue magazine’s April 1992 Anniversary issue. I got paid $800 for that shoot, and I was 21 at the time- that was probably the equivalent of $3,000 today. I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever done.
Modeling was a huge disconnect for me, as I was a chubby teen, so even though I lost a lot of weight when I went to college, I’d see the contact sheets and couldn’t really believe that it was me. It was, however- some solace for my conflicts about my weight and appearance. For the first time I finally realized that maybe I was pretty, or even attractive. I just feel sad that it wasn’t something I could see in the mirror- it took pictures in front of me to show me. Always having “that girl” inside of me, even now- is one of the things that makes me want Aromaleigh to be a special company that helps women to feel good about themselves. Everyone is beautiful in their own way. Combine inner beauty with that and it becomes exponential… Makeup is an expressive and deeply personal thing through which all women seem to connect, on some wavelength or another. And we don’t do it for “other’s” approval or desires, typically- we do it to please ourselves! (You can read more about this from Kristen on her blog.)
Fast forward many years and here I am… hundreds of eyeshadow colors, formulas and options… and more always on the way. I love my work, I love putting happiness out into the world. It’s not about being in every store, wholesaling, having the most fans on Twitter or Facebook, or getting into every magazine or every blog. Building a business is a slow process and staying true to your art means that you either stay small and creative/flexible, or you go bigger and accept the limitations that come with that. I don’t like creative limitations, and I know my customers wouldn’t either.
© Allen Wallace, All Rights Reserved
I’d say that in the last 8 years of developing Aromaleigh, I’ve become a bonafide makeup junkie. I buy it constantly, because hey- it’s a business expense! I’ve been having a lot of fun… let’s put it that way. I’ve also gotten in touch with my inner girl. She never really existed until I started taking ballet… and it took years for her to “come out of hiding” and be able to do crazy things like… wear pink. Or ruffles. Or girlie shoes. I may be nearing 40, but I’m ok with that and I finally feel comfortable in my own skin most days… if I could say something to my 20 year old self, it would be “You’re beautiful, don’t not appreciate it! Because in 20 years you’ll wish that you could have some of that back…!” I think women, especially young women are way too hard on themselves. So many young women place their value entirely on their appearance. There’s so much more to it than that. Educate yourselves, grow your inner light. Beauty fades, but the person you become in life is the memory you eventually leave behind. Physical beauty is overrated. It’s just one very small part of the journey.
What led you to create your own brand?
It wasn’t planned, let’s put it that way. I started off as an aromatherapy and bath/body company. Aromaleigh has been with us for about 11 years, but before that there were Divine Dog Company, through which I sold my holistic canine products. I love dogs! Aromaleigh was borne out of necessity. My pet product customers wanted healthy, natural, aromatherapeutic products for themselves… and I was legally forced by Johnson & Johnson to stop using my “aromadog” logo/trademark because it had a cross in it, and they felt that it would cause “confusion” and was a violation of their trademark (band-aids and dog products, confusing? ok….) I was in no mood to duke it out… so since I was starting a line for human clients, I renamed and rebranded the entire company. I worked with a trademark attorney to find a name that would pass quickly without anyone having conflicts. Leigh is my middle name, so we combined Aromaleigh with leigh and came up with Aromaleigh. It was not my top name, but it’s the name that stuck! I feel envious some days that lots of new companies have been able to come up with some really cool names for their companies…. but I have to remember that I did not start as a cosmetic company. if I had, we wouldn’t be called Aromaleigh!
I had an extensive line of Bath/Body products (a visit to archive.org will give you a peek at the vast array of things we used to offer), but like any company, it can take a while to find your true calling. I didn’t know this was cosmetics until I literally stumbled into a giant mountain of mica face-first. Not really… my customers wanted natural cosmetics. I started researching it and spending lots of time talking to my Uncle (he was a pharmaceutical chemist for Warner Lambert Corp), so he was very familiar with most of the ingredients that I was interested in using. There are some really strong parallels between the ingredients used in mineral makeup and the ingredients used in creating pills! I know that sounds strange, but some pills have mica or other colorants in their coatings, and most pills contain the same ingredients that make mineral makeup, well… “mineral makeup”. But at the time I had no idea that I had been concepting and testing mineral makeup. And I didn’t know it when I released the line. I had seen other natural makeup lines at the health food store, but these were not called mineral makeup.
When I started using my “mineral makeup” in lieu of the foundations and powders I had been using previously, I saw some really nice changes in my skin. The simplicity of the formula really worked well for me. I had a reduction in breakouts, oiliness and improved skin texture, not to mention the compliments. But this was nothing compared to how much my customers enjoyed the first line of face powders I did- 5 shades of Pure Powder and one product called “Illuminator”. They quickly wanted more. Eyeshadow! Blush! I soon had developed 5 blush shades (having never worn blush, this was a challenge!) and a line of matte and frost eyeshadows. These were the early beginnings of Aromaleigh mineral cosmetics… we’ve come so far since back then!
Through the years I’ve finally honed a niche for my product and developed a loyal customer base, with new customers coming on board every day (we are always excited to see a newbie!). If you had asked me 15 years if I would be doing this right now, I would have laughed and said “What? I’m an art director, not a makeup formulator!”.
About how many hours a day do you work?
I work 7 days a week, about 10 hours a day, sometimes 12. There have been weeks where I’ve started at 8 AM and stopped working at 2 AM. It’s varied, but it has always been extreme, because I don’t do anything halfway. I know it’s too much work, and I need to cut back… but this is my passion and I love it so work and life start to blend seamlessly together. I do really need to spend less time on the computer and more time doing things I used to do… like playing my violin, or piano, gardening, reading, taking better care of myself and dancing.
For Aromaleigh’s first 5 years, I was actually working as an Art Director and graphic artist, so Aromaleigh was a side project that each day I wanted to become my only thing. I was single, so I could do whatever I pleased but most importantly- I had to pay the bills, so the bread and butter work came first! When I finally decided to make Aromaleigh the top priority that was ironically the year that I became a single mother, as well. What a double whammy! Being a single Mom is truly the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through in my life. But it was that mindshift that brought about the Aromaleigh that you see today (and our move from NY to SC to be near family) Having a child made my work become a driving force. It became our livelihood and our future, and it was just Connor and myself until I met this guy… and tied the knot in 2007.
What is your favorite product to create?
Definitely eyeshadow… it has the most creative options and is most expressive of how I function creatively. I may end up with 1,000 colors soon… you never know!
What is your least favorite product to create?
Definitely foundation! It takes a really long time to make a single color batch, so we make big batches!
Lip products are a close second because they are messy, involve a lot of physical labor (scooping, weighing, melting, pouring, mixing, popping tubes into trays, pulling tubes out, trimming, capping, labeling…!)
What are your favorite colors?
I really like purple and greens lately.
What is your absolute favorite eye shadow color?
Oh that’s not fair! My favorite eyeshadow that I have created is Darcelle. BUT, it’s not my favorite to wear. If I had to answer with just one… it would probably be “Dormant Dream” from Les Papillons collection. That color just makes me truly joyful.
What are your favorite lip colors?
I used to wear red lipstick all the time when I was younger. I just got tired of it, I guess. I tend to wear more sheer lip colors these days. I love coral and soft red lippies. And I love lipgloss, even though we don’t carry it anymore. Everything I wear on my lips gets followed with a layer of lip plumper- I hate my thin lips!
What is your favorite beauty trend?
Brightly colored eyeshadow- definitely. When we came out with the Rocks! Sonic Eye collection in 1/2006, customers were aghast and I got some serious WTF? emails. Some were really offended. Some were offended just by the names of the products (they all have to do with songs or bands that my husband and I listened to when we were growing up, so there is tons of goth and punk references all over the collection…) It took a full 2 years, I think… for that collection to take hold. And it only happened when bright colors become dominant in fashion, in magazines and in stores. Now, we have women ranging in age from 14 to 65 wearing Rocks! brightly colored eyeshadows, and that makes me so happy. We don’t limit ourselves to any one customer age demographic. There’s something for everyone… as far as their creativity wants to take them!
Do you have a trademark look or trademark colors?
Well, I always wear black and a color. I like bright colors like teal, coral, fuschia, purple, greens… I think my connection to having to have a black item is kind of a security blanket. I spent so many years in head to toe black that I just cant’ shake it!
I try very hard to mix up my makeup looks and always wear something totally different from day to day. I have so much makeup on hand that it would be a waste to box myself in. But I guess my everyday “easy” look is an all-over shimmery color such as seed pearl or champagne toast with a dark shimmering shade like Burnt Roses, or Wonder. I love the Elemental lustres, they create such a fascinating, complex look! Mascara and an eyelash curler are a must. And I always color in my brows- they are scarce from years of overplucking in the 90’s. A sheer coral or red lip is a constant for me.
Do you have a signature scent?
I have several I wear, and ironically, my signature scent is not “Kristen” by Aromaleigh! My favorite Aromaleigh scent is “Adelaide”. Other than that, my favorites are “Stella” by Tocca, “Dream” by Tha Gap (don”t laugh- I LOVE that fragrance!) and I like two Comptoir Sud Pacifique fragrances, for totally different reasons. “Matin Calin” because I wore it all the time when Connor was a baby, so it smells like “baby” to me… and “Bois de Filao”, which was my Dad’s favorite scent and I started wearing this past year after he passed away. It makes me feel close to him, but also very sad at the same time.
What is your favorite seasonal trend? Or do you like to ignore seasonal trends?
This season I love the lace and ruffles. I usually don’t find much I would actually wear in fashion mags, but the last few seasons I’ve actually seen some amazing runway shows and this has been really inspirational for me. I love dresses- they are my favorite item of clothing. I am a frock collector. Can’t say no to a good dress! There’s been good trends lately that are in line with my fashion sensibilities. I hope it stays that way!
Do you enjoy looking at the runways for inspiration or trends?
I LOVE it.. I spend hours pouring through runway shows and saving favorites to my lookbooks at style.com. Fashion is a huge inspiration to me, especially the couture shows. Sometimes a single item of clothing in a show could potentially launch a collection or new product.
What do you look at for inspiration when you’re in the mood to create something new?
I don’t look for inspiration, because I never find it. I wait for it to find me, and then it simmers and bubbles over so fast that I can’t keep track of my ideas. Creativity can’t be forced, so sometimes it may take me a while before something that really inspired me comes to fruition in a collection. A perfect example of this is my trip to Italy. Amazing inspiration… no collection yet. There will be, though! I get my best ideas while in the shower, while falling asleep or while driving. Neither of these 3 are ideal times to remember, or write anything down. My iPhone does do voice notes. I need to start using this. Yes, in the shower!
I know you have a lot of black shoes! How many pairs of black shoes do you own?
Yikes! I have (I just counted) 36 pairs of black shoes/boots in my closet. 1 pair of black MBT sneakers, 1 pair of black skechers, 1 pair of black “Ugg” type mules, 1 pair of black bedroom slippers and 1 pair of black adidas martial arts shoes. All black! The only other shades in my shoe wardrobe are 1 pair of white MBT’s and about 10 pairs of pointe shoes/soft ballet shoes, all in, of course- ballet pink.
What’s your skincare routine?
I swear by the Clarisonic skin brush and use it every day, sometimes twice! Definitely opt for the delicate brush head. Nothing worse than TOO much exfoliation. Sunscreen is #1 in my book. I’ve always avoided the sun, and since I moved from NY to SC, I avoid it even more. It’s a lot stronger here. I wear Shiseido SPF55, every day- even if it is cloudy. I also have been known to carry an umbrella on sunny days if I have to be outdoors at an event. Vitamin C. It’s made huge changes in my skin’s tone, texture and luminosity. Retin A. I use this in the winter months and it’s the product that has changed my skin the most, in the shortest period of time. I also love my Baby Quasar and Nu Face. Ive always been into skincare and anti-aging serums and products, even when I was in my twenties. My grandmother took impeccable care of her skin and one of her big treats was Estee Lauder fruition AHA serum. To this day, I still will buy that serum occasionally, as I love it too- and it makes me happy to be reminded of her. She left behind 5 sealed bottles, and I used every one, with careful rationing! Today, I’m just trying to hang on to the skin I’m in. It’s a real challenge, but I consider my skin to be my most important beauty asset.
Since I know you love color, what colors have you dyed your hair?
My hair has been black or red for most of my adult years… I started dying it in high school, actually. I wasn’t really allowed to dye my hair, so I used Sun-In and Kool Aid to try to make it red. Once I convinced my mother to let me get blonde highlights and then I put red vegetable food coloring rinse in it and had pink and red streaks- it was great! Then I started dying it really dark brown and black. I went platinum blonde once for a while. Not a good look for me. My natural color is a medium warm brown that turns red as it grows out and weathers. Right now my hair is red, after years of it being dark. It hasn’t been this red since about 10 years ago! I’m enjoying it, and it’s really bringing bright color to the forefront every time I get dressed or do my makeup. Oddly, bright red hair works well with really bright clothing and makeup colors.
What’s your favorite way to accessorize?
I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, but I like to have a few unique necklaces on hand- I usually find these on Etsy, one of my favorite places to shop. I love scarves, and I have about 20 silk scarves in every color of the rainbow. I wear them as belts, in my hair, around my neck, around my arm… anywhere they are happy being. I’ve bought a few pairs of colored tights lately, and that’s been fun as well. But I’d have to say that whatever I have on my eyes is my favorite accessory- it never fails to draw a comment or compliment, wherever I go!
Can you tell us about your upcoming collections?
I’d love to… but I’m presently kind of bummed out about a collection I was concepting that a few of us had openly talked about on Twitter… and voilá, I didn’t do it fast enough. Another company came out with it a few days ago. Either great minds think alike, or I’d better not vocalize my ideas in my Twitter stream before they are actually completed product. So that ones back in the can…. I can tell you there will be an Italy collection, but other than that I am going to stay mum so that my ideas don’t get borrowed at my mere mention. I’ve got tons of ideas, and lots of fun things planned, but I think the element of surprise is going to work best. I know you all love it when I spring something on you, totally unaccounced!
Do you like making perfume?
Yes, I really do. I wish I could make more, but I’m very limited by my devotion to creating fragrances solely with essential oils and absolutes. Most fragrances contain synthetic fragrance oils, which opens up your creativity in a big way… but, I don’t want to go there… it wouldn’t be true to my training as an aromatherapist, and synthetic fragrance in products is the whole reason that I become involved in aromatherapy anyway.
What’s your favorite chocolate?
My favorite chocolate actually comes from NE PA, where I was born and raised… I love nothing more than a huge box of Gertrude Hawk’s peanut butter smidgens. But frankly, I’ll eat any chocolate. I can polish off an entire jar of Nutella in a few days. And I love plain old Hersey Bars with almonds. But I pretty much love any chooolate that has hazelnut paste in it, or just a straight up Reeses.
What colors of shoes do you own aside from black?
Zilch! Working on that…
Do you have any pets?
Not right now… I am a big dog person and had dogs for many years. When my son was born I had to go into the dog-free zone, sadly…
Do you plan on getting a dog, perhaps a standard poodle, since we both know how fabulous they are?
I would love to get a dog again someday, and I would love a black standard poodle!
I know you like to play the Wii, what are your favorite games to play on the wii?
I sneak time in on the Wii when my son is at school… I have wii fit, and I love it. Other than that, I haven’t played too many of his games… other than Pokemon, which amuses me greatly.
You’ve said many times that you love ballet. What’s your favorite ballet to see? What’s your favorite ballet to dance?
I love ballet. I think starting to learn ballet in my early 20’s was life-changing for me in as much as how I perceived myself and what I soon learned my body was capable of doing. Ballet is an art that I will never perfect, so in my desire to never be bored, I can never, ever be bored with ballet. It’s the perfect workout for me. My favorite ballets to see are mostly Balanchine pieces, performed by NYCB. My favorite Balanchine ballet is Serenade- it moves me to tears every time I see it. I also love Apollo… and Agon. Also, Mozartiana, Jewels, Elegie, La Sonnambula… as far as full length ballets, I recently saw NYCB perform a Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was a true delight. I’ve also seen NYCB perform Swan Lake with the modern choreograohy of Peter Martins… it was really fascinating to see a modern interpretation. A few years prior to that, I saw the Paris Opera Ballet perform Swan Lake at the Paris Opera (gorgeous!!!), but my heart stays with my NYCB… they get my donations each year and I will probably put something in my will for NYCB… that’s how much ballet and this company have changed my life!
Learning ballet as an adult, it’s many years before you are strong enough to dance en pointe, and some adults never do- they can’t. I luckily can, but despite that, adults students are rarely cast as anything other than extras in a performance. I did have a wonderful teacher who had begun to choreograph a piece just for his adult students, and we had costumes and everything being sewn for us… it was very exciting, and I couldn’t wait to dance on stage. But, I soon found out I was pregnant and my dance time because less and less.
If I had a dream tonight and I were going to dance in a ballet, it would be Serenade… or maybe my holiday spirit might leave me as a snowflake, or a flower bloom in the Walt of the Flowers, from the Nutcracker.
What color is your bedroom?
My bedroom is a yummy midtone warm lilac purple. And I have deep purple brocade curtains. I love purple!
What colors do you like to decorate with in your home?
In my main living rorom and great room, we have really high walls that I have painted with an intense golden yellow…. these meet the side walls, where Pomegranate takes over, a deep and rich orangey red. My son’s green is a bright verdant green, my stepson’s room a brilliant and clear cobalt blue. Our kitchen and dinining room and TV room are all painted in a deep warm bamboo shade. In my furniture I have lots of dark warm greens and floral patterns, embellished pillows in red, violet and yellow.
It’s been like this for about 4 years, so that means at anytime soon, I am going to entire repaint and replan the whole house. Have can of paint, will travel!
What do you do to relax?
Relax, what’s that? I like to play with Polyvore on the net, and also play a game called “Fairyland” on Facebook (my son loves that one, actually). I read a lot, but not more than 10 minutes at a time. I love anything on the Discovery Channel, or Ace of Cakes, or Iron chef… but I usually have these programs on while I am working so that can’t count!
Shopping is a big treat for me, always… but I’d really like to get away from the laptop for a few hours a day and play my piano or violin, read, create some art, dance, do yoga, or kung fu at my son’s class. I really need to make more free time, as too much amped-up time at work really can take it’s toll after a while. I definitely need to go back to Italy, as that trip really grounded my soul…