“Frankie, go get her!” I hear these words as I step off the elevator and walk to the door of Rose-Marie Swift’s apartment in downtown New York, where the makeup artist has lived for more than two decades. Frankie is the adorable dog that greets me, a Yorkshire terrier that Swift shares with her friend—and long time client—the model Miranda Kerr. “But Miranda is so busy these days, she doesn’t have any time to take care of Frankie,” Swift explains, with the kind of sentiment that assures you she’s content to be the primary “mom” in this relationship. Swift’s hair is pulled back in a dark head-wrap and her face is (gloriously) makeup-free, apart from a bold red lipstick. “Would you like some green juice?” she asks, as she pours herself a tall glass of an earthy-looking concoction, then hands me one as well. I’m expecting it to taste like freshly mowed grass but surprisingly—it’s delicious.
Yet if anyone should know how to expertly mix up ingredients, it’s Swift, a self-taught makeup artist and raw food enthusiast who launched her natural-based cosmetic range, RMS Beauty, six years ago after discovering that many of the chemicals and toxins found in mainstream beauty products were making her ill. “I got really sick in my 30s; I had candida, rashes, my lips were peeling, and whenever I would put on makeup, it would burn my skin,” she remembers. “I had advanced tests done, and when the results came back, the technician asked me, ‘Do you work in the cosmetics industry? We see these symptoms in people who do hair and makeup.’ ” That was a wake-up call for Swift to scrutinize the ingredients in her beauty kit a bit closer—and to explore alternatives.
“I started testing out different things on models at Victoria’s Secret shoots,” she says. “Instead of putting on Vaseline or petroleum jelly, I’d rub jojoba oil into their skin, which leaves this beautiful, natural finish.” She also got into raw food to help balance her system, and learned about the nourishing power of coconut oil—but not just any coconut oil. “I found that cold-pressed centrifuged coconut oil is 100 per cent raw, and has lauric and caprylic acids to heal the skin. Plus, it’s antifungal and antibacterial,” she says. After creating different blends of this prized oil and other botanicals, she launched her line in 2009 with four key products: the “Un” Cover-Up, Lip2Cheek tint, Eye Polish, and Lip & Skin Balm. The goods quickly landed in the hands of models, such as Kerr and Gisele Bündchen, along with fashion editors and stylists with whom Swift had worked on editorial shoots. They were all in-stantly obsessed, and soon started asking for more.
Swift gladly obliged, and her range now includes 38 cult favourites made with nearly all certified organic ingredients—everything from moringa-infused Lip Shine to the beeswax-based Living Luminizer highlighter to the Raw Coconut Cream, a no-rinse makeup remover and moisturizer that’s become a global sensation and will soon be exported to Japan. While the niche brand is carried in more than 200 stores worldwide, Swift doesn’t read market research or follow trends—she simply makes products she likes, and thinks other women will, too. Case in point: her soon-to-be-released (and highly anticipated) new launches that sit on the kitchen table in front of me.
The RMS Beauty range now includes 38 cult favourites made with nearly all certified organic ingredients.
“So, I wanted to do a camouflage palette,” Swift says, showing me an opaque compact with three nude concealer shades. “You can mix and match these to cover up the greyness under the eyes.” She pats on one of the beige creams and I’m convinced: it melts into her skin and vanishes any trace of dark circles. She will also debut her first lipstick in a tube this year. But again, not just any tube. “It’s called a trim,” she says, holding up the prototype. “When you do an organic lipstick, it doesn’t have as many waxes, so it tends to be softer and can break off easily. That’s why you need the right, slim rim around it.” The formula inside is equally innovative. “It blends in any product very naturally, just like I’m using my fingers,” she says.
Swift, in fact, has always been rather skilled with her hands. Growing up in Vancouver, she was raised by her fashion designer mother, who taught her how to sew in first grade. By the time she was seven, Swift was helping to make dresses and curtains for her mother’s clients. But those items didn’t interest her as much as the products on her mother’s vanity: a white box of powder with a marabou feather duster and a tube of matte red lipstick, both of which Swift was “obsessed with”. She also experimented with mixing up her own concoctions, including a green face powder intended to turn her skin the same spooky-cool shade as Lily’s from The Munsters, Swift’s favourite television show as a kid.
It wasn’t until her 20s that Swift began applying makeup professionally. Her breakout moment was a Vancouver magazine photo shoot in the early eighties. “I was asked to do the makeup for an actress who was in town from Sweden,” says Swift. “I gave her this soft wash of pink all over which was very beautiful and not at all seventies-makeup-like.” That job soon led to others, as she built up her reputation. Eventually, she landed a 24-page editorial shoot with a squad of top models (Shalom Harlow, Natasha Poly, Hilary Rhoda), shot by Mario Sorrenti for Self Service magazine in 2007. “Mario didn’t initially want me, he wanted Linda Cantello,” says Swift of the makeup artist she now counts as a friend. But the hairstylist on the shoot, Luigi Murenu, whom she had met on a previous shoot, insisted on Swift. When she showed up on set, Swift was “so nervous”, she says, but she impressed Sorrenti enough that the two went on to work together for many years.
Fast-forward to the present, and Swift has collaborated with everyone from Patrick Demarchelier to David Sims, and her work has appeared in the pages of numerous magazines, including Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Numéro. Yet she only does select shoots these days, preferring to devote her energies to her brand. Still, Swift can be convinced every now and again—on the day of our interview, she had just come back from a day spent working with Bündchen. Over the next few months, she will jet to Europe and Asia for meetings with retailers, and undoubtedly there will be little downtime in between. For now, though, Swift is just off to lunch downtown—with Frankie in tow, of course.