Rosie Jane Johnston is just – cool. There’s a no bullshit attitude that comes across with lightness, ease, self deprecating jokes and the kind of energy you just want to be around. While she’s moved well beyond her London days of raving with a peroxide blonde pixie cut, this vibrant red head has established herself as one of the top celebrity makeup artists and founded a lifestyle beauty brand – By Rosie Jane. We had lunch at Momed in Silverlake and this charming natural beauty shared with us her story – growing up in Sydney, moving abroad at 19 years old, her first big break, failure and successes. Read on for excerpts from the interview.
“I finished makeup school in Australia and moved to London when I was nineteen. After I got there I was working in some horrible video rental store. I thought it would be a good job because I could watch movies all day. There was a photographer who used to come in and we got to chatting and he’s like, ‘You’re a makeup artist?’ and I’m like, ‘Yah’ and he was like, ‘Cool. I have a shoot next week. You want to do the makeup?’ and it ended up being for Kylie Minogue. At the time I was totally scared shitless, but things from there just kind of snowballed.
I was in London for two years and then for my twenty-first birthday present my dad bought me a ticket to Los Angeles to visit my sister Poppy. She’s an actress in LA. Never in a million years did I think this is where I would end up. I came here and pretty much met my husband within two weeks and that was it. I never really left LA.
A friend of my sister was directing an episode for a television show called Undressed on MTV and they needed a makeup artist for the day, so I came in as a day player and then became the makeup artist for the show. It was a shocking television show about these teenage kids on at eleven o’clock at night. It was a teenage soap drama, but these kids were always in their underwear! It was crazy and raunchy! After working on that show they later offered me head of department the following year for MTV. It was crazy!? I was twenty-one going on twenty-two, totally out of my depth, but I was like, fuck it. How much could go wrong?! So I did it.
I did TV makeup for a little bit, maybe two or three seasons, and then didn’t want to do TV anymore. The hours were grueling and I was like, if I don’t make the change over now to more of what I do now – editorial, celebrity, and clientele – I’m never going to do it. So I found an agent and then started building up my clientele. It was competitive back then, but not like it is today. Today it’s like, gosh, you have to have Instagram followers and a social media presence. I can’t even imagine.
By Rosie Jane
My husband and I got married really young when I was twenty-two. We got divorced shortly after and were divorced for two and a half years before getting back together. We never did get remarried even though I still have his last name. We’ve stayed together all this time, live together, have three babies together, but we were separated for two and a half years in the beginning and that’s when I went back to Australia and started what would become By Rosie Jane.
In 2003, when I went back to Australia I started creating the lips and cheeks pots. They were almost before their time. No one had really been doing a lot of gel cheek and lip combos. I think when I did it it almost got lost in translation. People were like, ‘Wait, it’s kinda glossy and dewy and I put it on my face?’ And I was like, ‘Yes!’ I always used to put lipgloss on my eyes and cheeks because I love that shine. When I moved back to the states I brought the pots here, went into a few boutiques, and then went out of business. It was so tiny but it was the best experience.
When I started out with the pots versus if you start something today, I mean, I hope it’s still there today, but I feel like there is this loss of innocence. I fumbled through the first five years of business and at that time it felt like you didn’t have to have so much together. Now, I feel like to just launch a random product your branding, your image, everything has to be so solid. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just threw caution to the wind and went for it.
I never planned to go into fragrance. I work very closely with people and fragrance for me is one of those things that if it’s bad I can’t be near it or in a closed environment with it, so I wanted to make a fragrance that would be my signature scent where people would go, ‘Oh, Rosie wears that fragrance!’ I wanted to make something very simple, feminine and clean. When I first mixed it I didn’t have a name for it. It was just my fragrance that I wore only for me, but then people started to ask me, ‘Can you make it?’ ‘Can you do it for me?’
A girlfriend of mine owned a store on Larchmont called, Noni, and she asked if I could hand fill for her ten bottles of the fragrance for Christmas. I hand filled them, hand typed the labels with an old type writer and she ended up selling out in a week. She was like, ‘I need more.’ That’s when I was like, ok, I’m going to do this.
Leila Lou was the first fragrance that I did. It’s very simple, feminine and clean. I happened to be pregnant when I started to formulate it to go on the market and so Leila Lou was the name.
The second fragrance I did was Tilly named for my second child, Matilda, and is full of childhood memories. I am from Sydney and grew up on the beaches. There is a smell, every city has it, LA has one. The smell of Sydney to me is a combination of sunscreen, Frangipani, which you call Plumeria here, and beach air. When I created Tilly I really wanted to create that experience. Tilly is so full spirited it suits her perfectly. She’s my middle child. When I smell Tilly it just reminds me so much of home. The funny thing is that other Australians smell it and they go, ‘Oh my god, it smells like Australia!’ It was such an important thing for me to capture and I was so happy when other Australians got it.
The third fragrance I did is named James and reminiscent of Australia but more androgynous. I just had my son William James, so it’s named for him. James has fig, it’s warmer, it’s a fall fragrance. And finally with Rosie, the last one I created, I wanted a winter fragrance that was light. In winter you are wearing sweaters, you’re close to people and in close quarters, so I wanted something that was more of a skin scent, that was light and wearable.
Scents have the power to take me to a place, time and center and I’m very much driven by that. It’s been a fairly organic experience making fragrance. I’m not a trained perfumer. It’s not where I thought my passion was at all. It really just sort of evolved. I really just create very selfishly. I create what I love and I don’t create for anyone else, which sounds horrible – hopefully my customers aren’t like, ‘Well screw you!’ But it’s true. I create what I love.
I call myself the lazy grooming. Give me something simple that does the job and I’m happy! For my face I use Kate Sommerville face wash. I use her Exfolikate a couple times a week which I’m obsessed with and for moisturizer I use Creme De La Mer or Elizabeth Arden depending on how dry my skin is I use a combination. Elizabeth Arden sent me a bunch of free products to use on my clients a while back and they have this Eight Hour Miracle Cream that I love. It’s like putting vaseline all over your face. It really creates a barrier.
I love good skincare and am happy to spend money on skincare, but my beauty routine is very simple. I love face cloths to take off makeup. Just that moment where I press a hot cloth to my face and block out everything is so wonderful. I love facial oils and use La Mer’s. I used to use Rodin which I loved, but then switched over to La Mer.
In the morning I’ll put on a little tiny bit of foundation or use a tinted moisturizer. I love Juice Beauty’s CC cream. Sometimes I’ll do a little bronzer and then cheek and lipgloss. And a little balm everywhere – on my lids, cheeks, down the bridge of my nose.
I also love the Glossier Boy Brow. I feel like this product has been around forever, but theirs is so damn good. It’s bizarre. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s the size of the brush or the color. I am obsessed with it and buy 5 a time so I can put one everywhere – in my bag, bathroom, nightstand, desk.
When it comes to hair care it’s, like, a zero. I wash my hair with whatever the kids are using, like California Baby or Pantene. But I do love dry shampoo and buy the Dove Dry Shampoo by the truckload. It’s the best. I literally go to Rite Aid and grab as many as I can carry. I love it.
My youngest is only six months old now, so it’s probably the busiest that I’ve ever been in my life running a business and having three kids. I describe my life like painting the Golden Gate Bridge. I do it and then I turn around and start all over again. It’s consistently busy, but it’s one of those things when you have to do something you just do it.
If someone who didn’t have any children was just handed three children and a business, they would be like, ‘Are you out of your mind?!’ They would just start immediately drowning. But when it’s progressive and happens little by little it’s manageable. You have one, get adjusted and move on to the next.
Plus, new born babies are like little loaves of bread. You can just take them anywhere! It’s when they start talking and telling you ‘No’ and ‘Shut up!’ that you’re like, ‘Oh god, this is a nightmare!’ But with little babies it’s easier, so you just take little baby steps as you go.
I also have a pretty amazing partner, husband, whatever you want to call him. I have an amazing nanny, and Elke and Anna whom work for By Rosie Jane. If it was just me there is no possible way I could do it all, but I have been able to have a wonderful team of people around me. Finding balance is all about surrounding yourself with amazing people who will help you and also wanting a full life because it’s definitely that.
I have a lot of strong, independent women in my life, but one of the biggest influences would have to be my grandma Liz on my dad’s side. We would call her ‘Doll’ because she would call us all that since she could never remember anybody’s name. She was a strong independent women. A trailblazer for her time.
She was a family person. All of our trips as kids were always organized by her. She was a power house. I would never have wanted to be on the wrong side of her. She was just strong family, strong everything. She built our family legacy. She grew up very poor and worked her way up by buying a milk run which was nothing in Australia. It was where they would deliver the milk in the morning. She bought that and she had only one baby at the time and was basically a single parent at the time. My grandfather was there but was pretty absent. She bought it, built it up, sold it, then bought a delicatessen, ran it successfully, built it up, sold it. And then bought restaurants and wedding reception venues and just grew a lot of property. She would buy these beautiful old run down houses, do them up immaculately and sell them on. She was so strong and so independent and all the women in my family are that way. We never knew her as grandma and grandpa. She was always singular. She just never seemed to rely on anything but herself. And now when I think about it, I think her influence has shaped all of us to be so independent and not to rely on anything or anyone else.”
-as told to BOND EN AVANT
Photographs by Amy Chang