Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and the $130bn beauty boom
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
It takes a while to find a picture of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on the website of her beauty brand, Rose Inc. There’s one, at the very bottom of the homepage, and another couple tucked away in the “Editorial” section. She also appears in tutorials, alongside some of her famous friends, demonstrating beauty tips and recommending products from other brands as well as her own. If you weren’t searching it out, I’m not sure you’d know that the 35-year-old model, actress and entrepreneur was the force behind the whole thing.
That’s because, while Huntington-Whiteley’s international profile opens doors, she wants the products – a streamlined range of “clean” skincare and cosmetics – to speak for themselves. As you’d imagine from the woman whose beauty sits at a unique intersection of English Rose and Hollywood Glamazon, the focus is very much on the glowing and the glossy: there’s a truly exceptional tinted serum, Skin Enhance, which is part skincare, part make-up, and gives as good a dewy glow as I’ve ever found, and lovely, sheer tints for lips and cheeks in those perfect deep pinks you’re always searching for. And it’s in almost disconcertingly light, ultra-minimal (so as to be easily recyclable) packaging. For a founder with a high profile, she’s pulled off a neat trick: Rose Inc is a brand that reflects her aesthetic completely, and yet absolutely makes sense in its own right, too.
As it celebrates its first anniversary, the brand has proven a runaway success. Today Rose Inc has 44 employees, split between California and London (where Huntington-Whiteley, her fiancé, the actor Jason Statham, and her son, Jack, have now returned after 11 years in LA, along with new baby Isabella) as well as employees in New York and San Francisco. (“Time zones might be our biggest challenge,” says Caroline Hadfield, Rose Inc president and CEO, when reflecting on their first year in business.) The brand is now stocked in Sephora, Space NK, Liberty and Net-a-Porter. Beauty editors love it. Ninety-three per cent of products on roseinc.com are 4.5 stars or above. And Hadfield says that the brand has “exceeded expectations every quarter since launch”.
Huntington-Whiteley is one of the many celebrities to have launched skincare lines in recent years. From Selena Gomez to Hailey Bieber (whose Rhode Skin debut recently sold out in three days), Scarlett Johansson to Alicia Keys, Pharrell Williams to Harry Styles, it seems everyone is getting in on the beauty boom.
It’s not hard to see why skincare feels more attractive now than perfume or make-up, which have traditionally been the A-list brand extensions of choice. In 2021, the global skincare market was valued at $130bn, and is expected to reach $135bn in 2022, according to Grand View Research.
Plus, with all the talk of natural ingredients, clean formulations and skincare “rituals”, skincare hovers nicely between beauty and wellness – so is arguably as much about “health” as it is “vanity” – and in a world where face creams routinely come with clinical trials and Nobel Prize-winning research, launching skincare can demand a level of knowledge and insight that perhaps feels more cerebral than just putting your face to a perfume.
Skincare might also allow more of a celebrity’s personality to come through in the products. There’s creative, conscious Alicia Keys, with her Keys Soulcare line, combining her commitment to self-care and her love of ancient rituals (each product comes with its own affirmation). There’s Pharrell Williams’s Humanrace: effortlessly cool with its genderless, refillable and jaunty, jade-green packaging. Harry Styles’s Pleasing, with its love of psychedelia and its determinedly esoteric selection of products (current line-up: mainly skincare, sweatshirts, T-shirts and bandanas. And nail polish).
SKKN By Kim vitamin C8 Serum, £92
Kim Kardashian would prefer you to buy the full nine-step routine in her skincare line, created with her facialist Joanna Czech, but the serum is garnering great reviews.
The Outset Nourishing Squalene Daily Moisturiser, $44
A really good, suits-everyone moisturiser from Scarlett Johansson’s line to provide the backbone for your own serums, drops, masks and SPF.
Pleasing Acid Drops Lucid Overnight Serum, £34
Serums specifically to use at night are rare, and this one from Harry Styles’s label contains a blend of natural acids and brightening lemon and papaya.
keys Soulcare Harmony Mask with Manuka Honey, £28
Not as sticky as its name implies: this is a gel-serum mask with activated charcoal as well as rejuvenating honey, from Alicia Keys’s brand.
Honest Beauty Hydrogel Cream, £25
Jessica Alba’s is one of the most successful high-profile lines, with skincare, make-up and household products. Her bestselling cream is a brilliant all-rounder.
Humanrace Rice Powder Cleanser, $32
From Pharrell Williams’s refillable skin, body and now suncare brand: this is the first step in a daily three-minute facial – an ultra-refreshing powder-to-foam cleanser.
Scarlett Johansson’s The Outset skincare line has the simplicity of someone who has represented other luxury brands for many years, and now wants her own, less complicated seat at the table. Meanwhile – never one to favour a less-is-more approach – Kim Kardashian’s new skincare line, SKKN By Kim, suggests a nine-step skincare system that reflects her own daily routine. (Prices are also more expensive than other celebrity-backed skincare lines: if you buy the full routine, it’s $673.) Others are pointedly filling gaps in the market, like Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which radically overhauled representation within the industry, or Tracee Ellis Ross’s Pattern haircare, created by the actress (and daughter of Diana Ross) to “fulfil the beauty needs of the curly, coily and tight-textured community”.
Husband-and-wife Idris and Sabrina Elba have just launched a range, too, called S’ABLE Labs. One of the goals of the brand is to bring attention to “A-Beauty” – the African Beauty ingredients and superfoods that have not had their moment in the spotlight in the way that Korean Beauty has. “There are communities who are still underserved and underrepresented by the beauty and wellness industry, who we believe S’ABLE Labs will speak to,” says Sabrina Elba.
With the sheer volume of personality-led skincare, it’s not surprising that Huntington-Whiteley bristles ever so slightly at the mention of being thought of as a celebrity beauty brand. And while it’s definitely not what she’s here for, she does see why so many famous faces want “in”. “Historically, for celebrities working with brands, it’s always been more of an endorsement, or a brand partnership that is contractual; there’s an end date to it. Some of them are really authentic – and I’ve had many authentic ones over the years [her lingerie range with Marks & Spencer is 10 years old this year, making it the longest high-street collaboration in the UK] – and then some are not authentic, and in the end they’re not satisfying for either side. Now it’s become much easier for people to create brands themselves, and not be limited by a brand or a contract. To have that ownership over your own identity. And there are a lot of investors out there who are looking to collaborate with celebrities because as a business it can give you a head start.”
And if you get it right, it can reap financial rewards, too: “It’s a good business to be in at the end of the day, isn’t it?” she says. “The margins are great in beauty. And if you’ve got a strong offering and founder, or a celebrity behind it who is believable and has real community, that can be huge. And even if you’re not Rihanna or Kylie Jenner, you can still have a really successful, healthy business.”
Like other industry-shaping beauty brands of the past decade, including Goop and Glossier, Rose Inc began life publishing editorial content, sharing skincare and make-up advice, beauty tutorials and profiles of interesting women and their attitude to beauty. Huntington-Whiteley is a magazine addict, she says, and has always known “there was a frustrated editor inside me”. Establishing the online platform also gave her time to “figure out how to build a brand and get the investment to do it and cement my own authority within the industry”.
The part around establishing her authority is central to Rose Inc’s success. Investment and clean beauty expertise came from biotech company Amyris (which has been building a beauty brand portfolio that includes Jonathan Van Ness’s haircare line and former Calvin Klein designer Francisco Costa’s Brazil-inspired skin and bodycare line, too).
Some celebrities have launched beauty lines as a response to their own battles with problem skin (like Hailey Bieber and Alicia Keys), often revealed as part of a “confessional”, and the skincare in Rose Inc is also born out of Rosie’s own skin “journey” – she’s had acne-prone skin all her adult life and understands “the whole struggle, and the challenge, and the emotional side of it”. Some years ago, a facialist told her about the need to avoid pore-clogging ingredients; eliminating them – obsessively checking ingredient listings for “everything from coconut oil to algae to wheatgerm” – significantly improved her skin. Back when she was modelling regularly, she says, she would bring her own foundation with her, and the make-up artists she worked with most often would have a separate “non-comedogenic” kit just for her. So now, everything in Rose Inc is non-comedogenic, even the make-up. “In fact, when we’re creating make-up, I think of it as if it were skincare, and apply the same rules to it,” she says.
The crossover between skincare and make-up is where Rose Inc has seen its biggest successes and may well be another category-defying niche that helps give the brand longevity. “Complexion can be one of the more difficult categories in which to establish credibility,” says Hadfield. “Our Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum has been our strongest launch to date and has quickly become a cult favourite.”
To celebrate the brand’s first anniversary there is a new eye collection: a “clean” and glossy black mascara (one of the hardest products to make “clean”) and a Micellar Cleanser with which to remove it, plus six eyeshadow duos. She’s also working on more skincare.
Hers is a patient approach. “A celebrity might get a customer to come in and buy the product out of interest, because they’re a fan – I’ve bought things that way, too. But ultimately, it’s the products and the brand’s ethos that keep people coming back. I wanted to build a brand that people can come to and know nothing about me, never have heard of me, and just enjoy the products. What I really love is when people say about Rose Inc ‘the products are actually really good’, or ‘I was actually really impressed’. That word ‘actually’ always makes me smile, because I know it means they weren’t expecting them to be that good.” Does it ever frustrate her having to prove that her talents are more than skin-deep? “Not at all,” she smiles. “I’ve been benefiting from other people’s low expectations of me my whole life.”
Make-up, Anete Salineika using Rose Inc. Hair, George Northwood using Undone by George Northwood. Photographer’s assistant, Cameron Jack. Stylist’s assistant, Jasveen Manku. All furniture courtesy of Modernity Stockholm & London. Shot on location at 14 Cavendish, London