We have been waiting for the chance to do an interview with Kirsten Kjær Weis, who founded the Danish New York based makeup brand Kjær Weis through hard work and intuition. Finally we met her in Copenhagen and asked her to tell her story.
“Oh, I just love Copenhagen,” Kirsten says as we cross the street from our store in Niels Hemmingsens Gade to our office at Højbro Plads. “The beautiful buildings and the silence. I come here as often as possible.” Today Kirsten lives in New York City where she founded Kjær Weis. In fact she has worked 20 years as a makeupartist with clients such as Angelina Jolie, Cindy Crawford and Christy Turlington. But how did this amazing journey start?
Happy childhood: Let´s start with a rewind: Kirsten as a child. The family lives in Jutland, far out in the country. She is one out of six siblings. They grow their own vegetables in their large vegetable garden and there are fields as far as the eye can see. She runs on bare feet in the wood. As all the other children she attends different kinds of sport; badminton and handball, much handball. But Kirsten has a creative side. She reads the Danish fashion magazines Alt for Damerne and IN, order special clothes, dreams about going abroad and to visit galleries. At that point she wants to become a designer or architect, maybe an interior designer.
“To go abroad has always been part of my DNA - I am the only one of my siblings who decided to go abroad,” she says referring to the fact that none of her siblings have moved far away from their childhood home. Seen from our point of view there is also quite a long way from the countryside to New York City´s hectic beauty industry. We will get back to that later.
A beautiful femme fatale: After finishing school her friend starts working at a beautician in Copenhagen and after her fantastic stories about the place Kirsten decides to try it out as well. She has always dreamed about living in Copenhagen. But this is not an average beautician. Berite Willerslev owns one of the leading beauty clinics in Copenhagen at that time, Abbey Beauty Cult. With her long slim and welldressed figure and her two boxerdogs she was a woman everyone talked about on the street in Copenhagen in the 80´s and the 90´s.
Meeting Berite opened her eyes to a new world: “She was elegant, sophisticated and inspiring, and she had a great interest in art. She was so balanced,” Kirsten says about Berite, who became her role model and unfortunately died in an early age.
“To me she represented another world. She always said that everything besides Yves Saint Laurent scratched - and she meant it. She did only wear Yves Saint Laurent. I worked one year at her beauty clinic and then she suggested I attended the makeup school Christian Chaveaux in Paris. She thought I was good at makeup and I thought, “well, it´s almost the same as painting.” So I saved up enough money and went to Paris. Luckily it turned out to be really funny.”
Kjær Weis just launched a lipstick in five classic colors. Kirsten worked several years to get the right texture - not too soft, not too hard. To create a lipstick that provides the right amount of moisture, so you can now kiss your lip balm goodbye...
Beauty gap: When Kirsten went home the timing was perfect as the models started to use makeupartists instead of putting on their own makeup. Kirsten immediately started working as a makeupartist at Trice Thomsen, the owner of Copenhagen Models, and she and Søren Hedegaard worked nonstop. But Kirsten soon became aware of the problems in the beauty industry:
“I constantly experienced that the models were not able to tolerate the conventional beauty products. I also experienced an absurd acceptance of “this is just how it is when using makeup.” I started to think about the long term effects of using conventional beauty products.”
She also started thinking about creating her own brand. The ambition was to create the same performance that the conventional products could offer, but with a totally green ingredient list: “There was a gap between the conventional beauty products and the organic beauty products. When I thought about organic products back then I always thought of compromises; either the texture was not right, the color was too brown or the design was too ordinary.”
She decided to challenge that and in 2003 she started from scratch. She went to beauty fairs, looked at Italy and Germany who are first movers when it comes to organic cosmetics and she finally teamed up with an Italian beauty company. After seven years, in 2010, the first product was ready. Organic, sustainable and with an innovative design and packaging.
To be surrounded by beauty: “To me there is a clear correlation between my childhood and Kjær Weis. The nature I experienced as a child - the natural and untouched is also part of what I am doing today.” There is also the design part which Kirsten already was fascinated by as a child - she also brought that into Kjær Weis:
“I have always loved design and we spend half a year to make the lid click the right way - and this is not an exaggeration. I believe that what we choose to surround us with have an impact on how we feel. Why else buy flowers that will eventually die? Because it touches us - it´s the same when it comes to good design.”
An inner ally: Nope, Kirsten never compromises: “I continue until I am satisfied. My nightmare would definitely be to make something I knew I could have done better. The lipstick was supposed to be launched in October last year, but I was not satisfied until the year after. I can feel it in here.” She puts her hand on her breast and smiles. “This is my ally. Jerry Seinfeld always said that he would rather make a wrong decision based on his own opinion than make a wrong decision based on others opinion. I feel the same way. My intuition means a lot to me - I can feel if something is not right. This is very reassuring.”
There is only one question left: Is she still Kirsten from the country when she launches new products and cheek kisses in New York City? “Well, I am always Kirsten from the country. I never get feverishly exited when working with celebrities. I feel that my fantastic childhood gave me a good foundation to balance my life as it is today.”
Eye Shadow, Wisdom
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