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Stella by Stella McCartney
Courtesy of Stella McCartney

Stella McCartney’s new skincare brand is actually really good

The designer speaks to Dazed about her new minimalist beauty range, her Scottish inspiration, and her response to people questioning the sustainability of launching a new brand

After testing it out for the last two months, I can tell you that Stella by Stella McCartney – the new skincare range from Stella McCartney – is good. It’s a minimalist line, consisting of just a cleanser, a serum and a moisturiser, true to McCartney’s ethos of using “only what you need”. The formulas are lightweight and gentle, designed to nourish the skin and strengthen the barrier. Longevity has been prioritised over short-term results, with ingredients chosen to support the regeneration and protection of the skin. Luxurious in feel and aesthetically pleasing in packaging, the experience of using them is just as good as the products themselves.

The ethos at the heart of the new range is “skin sustainability”, unsurprising maybe considering how long-term thinking has always been a part of McCartney’s agenda. Over the last two decades, she has built her reputation on being a pioneer of conscious fashion, from utilising sustainable fabrics like lab-grown spider silk and mylo to partnerships with the UN and Greenpeace.

When it came to launching skincare, McCartney took steps to make the line just as eco-conscious and sustainable (as sustainable as it’s possible to be when introducing a whole new range of products into the market). Products are refillable and packaging is recycled. Ingredients like squalene are made from upcycled food waste, while almost 2,000 ingredients were banned based on the negative impact on the environment created through their production or extraction process. Products were shipped instead of flown to reduce the brand’s carbon footprint.

These days it seems like every brand and public figure on the scene is entering the beauty market, but this is not McCartney’s first foray into skincare. Back in 2006, the designer launched the short-lived Care by Stella McCartney, “heartbreakingly” pulled due to regulatory challenges in the US with the organic labelling. “My previous line was almost too ahead of its time,” she says. “However, thankfully the industry seems to have caught up and my current line is everything I had always envisioned.”

Three years in the making, Stella, created in collaboration with LVMH, was inspired by McCartney’s childhood spent at her family’s farm in the Scottish countryside. The scent of the products was created in collaboration with perfumer Francis Kurkdjian. Described by McCartney as “Scotland in a bottle,” it evokes the sensation of diving into the lock in the Mull of Kintyre – the “freshest, purest-feeling moment” of McCartney’s life. 

Here, McCartney tells all about how this skincare line is different from the first one, her minimalist principles, and her response to people questioning the sustainability of launching a new brand.

Why was now the time to launch a skincare range?

Stella McCartney: I’ve always wanted to re-enter into the world of beauty, specifically skincare. When I started this project I knew change in the industry was needed. I went on a journey to create an alternative luxury skincare range that I couldn’t find in the marketplace.  

Similarly to my vision for my fashion house, my aim was to find another way of creating a skincare range – a way that was better for both people and the planet. Partnering with LVMH provided me with the opportunity and the support network to make my vision a reality. I was able to create a range that works in harmony with nature without compromising on efficacy.  

What have you learnt in the years since you launched Care by Stella McCartney?

Stella McCartney: The key factor is that when it comes to sustainability there is no magic solution. When producing you need to weigh your options at each step of the process to minimise your impact on the planet. At every stage I have challenged myself to make the most responsible decisions, that ranges from the mode of transportation (maximising sea-freight over air-freight), to banning single-use products (my products have an innovative refill system).  

A new learning for me is that one of the biggest impacts of a luxury cosmetic product is its packaging. My aim was to reinvent refills, which I’ve done through the creation of reusable bottles made from recycled glass and super-light and soft refills that are obtained from certified renewable sources which are recyclable. If you refill once, you lower your impact on climate change by a third, if you refill twice – it’s by half and you can also use the refill on its own, reducing the impact by two-thirds.

The range is very minimalist with just three key products – why did you decide to start so simple?

Stella McCartney: People can often over-complicate and over-consume skincare. Often when those products aren’t used they are thrown away and end up as landfill. It was important to me to create a new essential line and that is why I have launched with just three products. Each works hard for your skin, but the formulas and use of ingredients are sourced responsibly to ensure they don’t strip the planet of its resources.

My products are multi-functional – as a working mother of four I don’t have the time to apply a myriad of different products. Within the range I have a 2-in-1 cleanser that melts away make-up and also cleanses the skin of impurities. A high-performance serum that totally transformed my skin and I was so impressed by the results I don’t even need to use an eye cream now. My third product is a lightweight, restorative moisturiser with the most amazing texture. If you’re like me and hate anything greasy but still need that moisture surge then this is for you.

What were the most important principles for you when first starting to formulate the brand?

Stella McCartney: There were several key principles that needed to be adhered to.  Firstly, the brand and the products needed to have my vegan and cruelty-free principles at its heart. I’m proud to say that we have been accredited by the Cruelty-Free International Leaping Bunny Programme and the Vegan Society.

I wanted to create desirable products that were effective and reflect my values and commitment to living in harmony with nature. I’m proud that the ingredients in the formulas are 99 percent natural origin ingredients. It was quite the explorative journey to create these products – it was three years in the making and we banned almost 2,000 ingredients, exceeding those set by EU regulations to make sure our products were as harmonious with your skin and the planet as possible.

I also didn’t want to compromise on results. Our clinical results are really impressive and I wouldn’t use anything else on my skin now!

One of the tenets of the brand is that it doesn’t over-stimulate the skin. Why was that important to you?

Stella McCartney: I believe there is a need to simplify our routines – to pare it down to the essentials. Our skin is very good at looking after itself. It has a built-in ecosystem, just like nature does. Each of our products has been formulated to work in harmony with this ecosystem, supporting its key functions of regeneration and protection, and ensuring ‘skin sustainability’. Our collection takes a longer-term view, focusing on health and vitality through the years as opposed to the short term.

What would you say to people who think that the most sustainable thing you can do is not create more products?

Stella McCartney: The truth is that everything we create has an impact, the choice we have is how much. It’s our responsibility to minimise this as much as possible, and, as an industry, to be honest and transparent about it.

We have worked with an external eco-design partner to make the most responsible choices and scrutinise every stage of the product lifecycle. There are of course always advancements in the industry and we will continue to strive and innovate.