The beauty industry is a deluge of product launches and new brands at every turn. As a beauty blogger, fatigue is inevitable. But every so often something will come along to shake off the malaise and reignite my passion for beauty. This is exactly what the beauty brand, Kosås, has been able to invoke with its small line of eight lipsticks and six blush palettes. Though barely two years old, Kosås has established fervent fans in both green and traditional beauty circles alike by embodying an antithesis to the beauty climate’s current tone of excess: limited product offerings in essential colors – nothing more, nothing less – just exactly what you need, beautifully done.
I sat down with Kosås founder, Sheena Yaitanes, yesterday morning, at her impeccably furnished, yet relaxed Los Angeles home (imagine traditional crown moldings contrasted with modern lavender velvet arm chairs and seafoam walls filled with feminine, textural art) to chat about the brand’s beginning, formulation, color story and ethos. And what I quickly discovered about Kosås lipsticks and blushes is, like all seemingly simple, yet beautifully designed products, there belies intense complexity. ‘Easy’ and ‘wearable’ are good words to describe Kosås, but I am now convinced ‘layered’ and ‘scientific’ would be better.
Read on for excerpts from the interview that cover Sheena’s approach to formulating, understanding skin tone and color matching from a fine art perspective and how to create harmony with your makeup look.
On loving makeup…
“I think a lot of my beauty philosophies and my love for makeup comes from my mom. She worked as a sales rep for various beauty brands and would bring home piles of makeup. I would spend my free time going through every single brand. I knew the scent and overall vibe of various brands and I would create makeup looks. But with all the makeup she had she would always tell me to be loose and imperfect with my makeup. Whenever we would see someone who had really perfect makeup she would always say it’s so unfeminine to do your makeup like that and I still believe that.”
“I went to school for chemistry and biology, that was my undergraduate major, and having that chemistry background really helped me with formulating. I approach formula from the sensory perspective of the end users and what they would like. Then I look for ingredients that are going to make those ends.
I knew I wanted all the lipsticks to not have a glossy finish. I wanted them to have a lived in, blotted look and there are several ways you can approach this; you either use something that evaporates really quickly, something “volatile” – there are a lot of volatile silicones that do this but I knew I didn’t want to use something like that – or you can use oils that have a small particle size that absorb into the skin. Oils with a small particle size are botanically derived, which led me into a formulation process towards something botanically heavy.
I’m not using all of these botanicals and natural ingredients because it’s a salad and it’s edible, no, I’m trying to create a precise end result that I’m able to achieve by looking at their molecular structure, not just looking at them arbitrarily.”
On understanding skin tone…
“My background in fine art is more recent. It was always a hobby and something I really loved. After I graduated business school, I decided to explore fine art. I worked with this artist and art teacher, Stefanie Pryor, on getting my fine art education. We were working on my portfolio. When we were starting to work on skin tones, I began looking for brown pigments in my paint box and she was like, “There’s no brown pigments in skin tones. We’re going to make skin tones out of primary colors: red, yellow and blue.” And this was eye opening for me.
We worked with these different versions of red with various opacities and directions, and all these different versions of yellow. We experimented mixing these together and created piles of skin tones with paint. I realized then that this is not something being brought to makeup right now and it’s why so many makeup colors are falling flat. We stopped working on the portfolio and we created the first four colors of lipstick that the Kosås line launched with: Rosewater, Undone, Fringe and Darkroom. All four are earth tones derived from mixing primary colors in various ratios.”
On cool versus warm…
“There are parameters revolving skin tone: how muddy versus how clear; how cool versus how warm; how dark versus how light; but roughly for me – the simplest way to look at people is whether they have a cool or warm skin tone. And when looking to determine a skin tone, I’m including your hair, eyes, and skin.
If you’re cool you will have more pink in your coloring. Pink will look good on you. Silver jewelry will look good on you. The veins inside your wrist will be blue. And your hair will be ashy. Cool skin tone people are on the paler side of the spectrum with fair features. They don’t tan easily, and often sun burn.
Warm skin toned people will have hair that’s warmer brown. Their eyes typically are brown. They’ll tan in the sun. Generally speaking as skin gets darker it gets warmer.
Once you know whether you’re cool or warm, it’s much easier to pick out harmonious makeup. When we use colors that match our skin tone, and use colors from that side of the color wheel, the end result is super harmonious, quiet and easy, which is usually what people are looking for with their makeup. But if you want to make a big statement with your makeup, that’s when we use colors on the other side of the color wheel. This creates a very high vibration, very dynamic and energetic makeup look.”
Choosing makeup based on skin tone…
“The lipsticks in the Kosås line break down into four categories and within each category you just have a cool and warm option. In our sheer lipstick category, the cool option is Rosewater and the warm option is Stardust. If you want a mauve lipstick, the cool option is Royal and the warm is Undone. In the bright red category, cool is Electra and warm is Thrillest. If you want a deep red, cool is Darkroom and the warm is Fringe.
This makes it easy so all you really have to do is decide which category you want and then choose one that matches your skin tone for the most harmony. Then once you have a cool or warm lipstick, you choose a cool or warm blush. Within each blush category, you have a distinctly cool option, distinctly warm option and a neutral option.
The neutral option, Tropic Equinox and Contrachroma, can be used as bronzer, blushes and eyeshadows. There is warmth to them, and they are for creating structure on top of the cheekbone, not a shadow and angle underneath. With warm colors you don’t want to use them as a shadow element contouring underneath your features. Shadows are gray and cooler toned, and when we contour with a warm tone it can create an odd look.”
On simplicity with products…
“It’s a struggle. I don’t believe in churning out useless products for the sake of newness. I think that manipulates women. It’s tricky because that is what the industry is so used to, but that’s not my style. I’ve run into problems with retail and distribution with that, but I’m always up front that we aren’t a brand that just launches new colors all the time.
Eventually, we will grow to be a full line, but at a Kosås pace. Foundation will be next. I want to create the minimal building blocks you would need to create a full face one at a time and with a really strong purpose for everything. That’s how the launches will always be – with a very clear purpose and thought to what the end result is, and always with botanically derived ingredients at the core.”
Kosas makes things easy with their new Alter Ego Color Spectrum Cosmetics Sets! The Future Icon set is designated for “warm” tones and the Modern Romance for “cool” tones. Each set contains a cream blush palette, powder blush palette, and two lipsticks. $122 (value $145) available at credobeauty.com and kosascosmetics.com.
*Want more? Read my review of Kosås Tropic Equinox & Papaya 1972 palettes.
Edited by Amy Chang, founder + editor; top three images photographed by author, infographic and images of Spectrum Cosmetic Set provided by Kosas.