Michelle Pfeiffer on the Radical Transparency of Her New Fragrance Brand

The actress is trying to change the beauty industry at age 60.

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Michelle Pfeiffer has long been associated with the picture of beauty. (In fact, she was People‘s first ever World’s Most Beautiful Woman, in 1990.) And as one of Hollywood’s most in-demand actresses for over four decades, Pfeiffer has had her share of iconic beauty looks over the years, learning the ins and outs of the industry along the way, the good with the bad. Now, Pfeiffer’s about to put that knowledge to use; on Monday, she launches the fragrance line Henry Rose with five distinct, genderless scents: Fog, Jake’s House, Last Light, Torn, and Dark is Night, all available exclusively on The fragrance line is setting a new precedent fby disclosing 100% of its ingredients, an anomaly in the beauty industry. What’s more, it is the first fine fragrance to receive the distinction of Environmental Working Group Verified® and Cradle to Cradle Certified at the gold level, with a Material Health score of platinum—which is an official way of saying, it’s legit.

Pfeiffer has been working on creating the fragrance line for several years, she recalled during a recent meeting in New York. In fact, the idea that the product was about to be available to purchase felt a bit mind-boggling to her. “It’s nerve-wracking, right?” she said. “You spend all these years developing this, and then you kind of lose sight…” If she was nervous, she certainly hid it well, as one might expect from a Golden Globe-winning actress. Here, Pfeiffer talks about her decades-long journey to launching the business, her own beauty routine, and more.

Why did you decide to launch this business?

The genesis of it really was the birth of my children. I began to look at the world through their eyes, and I begin to look at the products that I was exposing myself and them to. Around that same time, my father and my best friend were diagnosed with cancer, so it was a real wakeup call for me. I started to look at health from a different point of view. I started looking for products that were safer but also the same type of quality that I was used to—and this was 20 years ago, so there wasn’t a lot back then. One day I came across the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep database, and it was like going down the rabbit hole. They’ve taken on the role of personal care watchdogs, because the federal government really doesn’t have the power to regulate the ingredients in these products.

I started vetting my products on this website and they would seem fine, and then ultimately I would get to fragrance and it would have a really high hazard—over and over and over again. I took that to mean that fragrance must be incredibly toxic. I started to look for fragrance-free products and, again, there was not a lot at that time. Things have shifted, but it was slim pickings then. Ultimately I stopped wearing fragrance for about 10 years. Nine years ago, I decided that I was going to try to develop my own, because I missed wearing fragrance. I approached a lot of big cosmetic companies, but they were really dead ends. It was just not going anywhere, so I forgot about it.

Three years ago, I noticed that the needle had really, really moved within the personal care and cosmetics industry—everywhere except fragrance. It was, and is still, the black box of transparency. And I still didn’t have my perfume. So EWG—which I am now a proud member of their board—suggested, “Maybe you might want to consider going directly to the fragrance houses.” Through a lot of false starts and dead ends, we ended up finding our partner in IFF, the International Flavors and Fragrance. I came to the table wanting to be EWG Verified, which is their strictest standard for health, which means it is 100 percent transparent with ingredients. And I’m proud to say that we have achieved that.

In terms of the fragrance itself, what were you looking to create?

I really wanted to develop a line of fine fragrances where you didn’t feel like you were sacrificing quality for safety. That was the thing I was seeing continually, whether it was fragrance or cosmetics. Like, “Do I want my sunblock to be really safe and look like a clown, or do I want to look nice?” I felt like I was always having to weigh the two, especially in the industry that I work in.

How did you land on launching with these five scents?

First of all, I started out trying to find out if this was even possible. I kept thinking, “Surely, if this is possible, someone would have done this already.” And what I discovered was there was a reason no one had done it. It was the toughest nut to crack. It really opened my olfactory palate, as well, because fragrance is such a personal thing. If you do a licensing deal with a cosmetics company, then, yeah, there is one fragrance and you take nice pictures, and that’s the fragrance. I had to start a company, and I realized that you can’t sustain a business with one fragrance. And I realized through the process that not everyone is going to like the same thing that I like. I had to put my actor’s hat on and get into different characters and say, “You know, this isn’t something that I necessarily would wear, but if I were this person, I could see how you would respond to this.” I’ve actually gotten kind of good at talking to a person and guessing what fragrance they are going to like.

Had you previously used fragrance as a way to get into a character for a film?

A lot of people do that. I did one time, because it was kind of a story point where the character wore this one fragrance. I didn’t like it, but I wore it. This was White Oleander. I think it was lavender or lilac. It wasn’t oleander, because that’s poison [laughs].

Was it a challenge to put your own personal preferences aside for this collection?

It was a challenge, but it became easier and easier. I was just smelling something just now and my brain is rewired now in the terms that I approach smelling.

Who did you test the fragrances on?

Everyone. Anyone. Strangers.

Did you really go up to strangers?

Yes. I would have different mods that were slightly different. I remember one time I was in Oregon or something, in a hotel, and I had two different mods of Torn and I went up to these two women working in the hotel, and I said, “Can I spray these perfumes on you and see which you like?” Of course they both liked different ones.

Have you seen a shift in the cosmetics and fragrance industry for the better, in terms of transparency, since you started working on Henry Rose?

Definitely the needle is moving and everyone is talking about transparency of ingredients, and more and more consumers are aware of that and demanding it. They want to know what is in the products that they are using. But even those consumers who are aware, it never occurred to them to question what’s in their fragrance. What people don’t realize is that fragrance can be labeled on a label as a single ingredient—just fragrance. But within that ingredient, it is made up of any number of unregulated, potentially hazardous ingredients. I don’t think people realize that.

It isn’t my intention to bash the cosmetics and fragrance industry. I want to stress that without the movement already happening in both spaces, Henry Rose could not have come to light. It was impossible 10 years ago because the industry wasn’t ready, but they are now. And it is because of the founders and entrepreneurs in the personal care space who have come before me that I am able to finally bring this product to market. Timing is everything.

Do you have any plans to eventually extend Henry Rose into cosmetics?

I don’t think we will be strictly fragrance, ultimately. We’ve been so honestly consumed with getting this launched. I didn’t have a company last June. I didn’t have a company until Malina, my CEO, came on board. I had a fragrance, and I had a few meetings with agencies, but we didn’t have a bottle design, we didn’t have a company name. I didn’t have a company. Now, it’s pretty much the two of use, and it’s a lot of heavy lifting. We’re starting to think about that, but we don’t want to develop new products just to develop new products.

In terms of your own beauty routine, what are your must-haves?

Under-eye concealer, and I love my mascara. Right? I can pretty much get by with those two things.

What are the best tricks you’ve picked up from the beauty masters you’ve worked with?

They are kind of obvious ones. Don’t get too crazy with concealer. Find one that’s sort of in the peach family to cover up the blue, otherwise it looks crazy. I like to mix my base with my sunblock or moisturizer, just so it’s not so heavy. And I like a good strong eyebrow. I always have.

The name of brand itself, Henry Rose, comes from your kids. Are they happy with their namesake?

They’re okay. They agreed to it—reluctantly to it, I think. I think they knew how important it was to me. I was actually surprised.

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