"This is going to sound crazy, but I’m one of those people who thinks that beauty is going to save the world. It’s very idealistic, but I always thought that, even as a kid. I’m from a tiny town in Pennsylvania that, to this day, does not have a traffic light. I had a couple of different ideas for my future: the first thing I did when I was old enough to work, maybe 16, was write a letter to Estée Lauder to see if they would hire me. I knew I wanted to be in beauty, but they rejected me at the time. Then, I went through a phase where I thought I wanted to do something in the art world—not be an artist, but be involved in the art world. Those dreams were shattered early on, because you need money to be able to live in New York and play the art game. I couldn’t do that. It's like being an assistant at Vogue. So I went back to school again, to learn architecture. Art and architecture are my personal passions. I wanted to build my own house. It didn’t become my career, but I still built my house in Colorado.
I’ve been in the beauty business for a long time. The social aspects of the beauty industry are as important as your day-to-day career, but I’m not on social media. I heard someone say, I think it was Phoebe Philo, that the biggest luxury in the world is to not be Googled—to be anonymous. I think social media is amazing for young people starting their career, and I’m not saying ‘Oh, I’m above it,’ it’s nothing that egomaniacal. I just don’t think it will improve my career at this point, and I like being a relatively private person.
I started in marketing, working with scientists every day to develop products, so I have really learned about what I love. For example, red lipstick, day and night, has been a signature of mine since I was in my early twenties. I even met my best friend through red lipstick! She walked in wearing wearing head-to-toe Yohji Yamamoto, and I was in head-to-toe Yohji Yamamoto, and, of course, we both had red lipstick on. So we were like, ‘OK, we’ll be friends’—BFFs forever. The thing is, red lipstick is so different on everyone. I like mine to be a balance between yellow-red and blue-red. I had the ideal shade made for me in the old Lancaster cosmetic line, and then we made the same color at Calvin Klein, so I could have it. Otherwise I like Rimmel’s Lasting Finish Matte by Kate in 111. I like thick, real lipstick, not sheer, and it always has to be matte—I don’t like anything shiny. For one, I think it looks better, but it also stays longer. I’ve never worn lip gloss. I use lip liner to set the lipstick, but I challenge you to find a red lip liner. It’s really hard. They’re either burgundy or they’re too pink. I have Stila Long Wear Lip Liner in Passionate and Burberry’s Lip-Shading Pencil in Brick Red Number 5. If I’m going out, I’ll wear matchy-matchy red nail polish. But for day-to-day, I prefer to keep my nails short, moisturized, and buffed.
For the rest of my face, I wear CK One 3-in-1 foundation, which is also a primer, and then I usually wear some kind of cream blush—never powders. I get hairs from my face threaded, but I pluck my own eyebrows. Then I fill them in with the tiniest bit of color using CK One’s Brow Pencil + Gel Duo in Wily Brunette. And you can’t live without Aquaphor, preferably when it comes in the tub.
I’m extremely passionate about skincare. No matter how much you put on top, it starts with taking care of your skin, and that starts with diet. About seven years ago, I saw the movie Food, Inc. and it changed my life. I became a pescetarian, eating fresh fish all the time, lots of quinoa, lots of lettuce, lots of raw vegetables, tons of fruit, and everything organic. After the gym, I’ll eat egg whites and whole-wheat toast with nothing on it. I definitely do the no-carbs-after-two-PM thing, but I fly a lot, and on planes, that can be hard. You can’t be a saint about this stuff, but, the older I got and the more disciplined I became, I saw my skin get better, my sleep get better, and it even helped my workouts. I workout five days a week, at 5 am, and I go to bed at 9pm.
In terms of actual products, I wash my face with Cetaphil. There is no substitute. Then I use a serum, which is the first step to good skincare. I like Lancaster 365-Intense, which is more like an insurance program than something that will give you immediate results. It has DNA preair in it, which changes the structure of your skin over time. I use it every day. I also like Olie Biologique’s organic Argan oil for my hair and face—they feel more mature. And they’re great for at night, or when I’m in Colorado and my skin is extra dry.
My skin is extremely dry in general, so I moisturize with a lot of products. I use two Lancaster creams that are only available in Europe—Fill and Perfect, which is for toning, and Differently, which is an anti-aging product for women over 50. If I use one of them by itself, it’s not moisturizing enough. And the best eye cream is Bobbi Brown’s Extra Eye Balm, because it stays moist. I like that look. If I put it on at night, I still have a sheen in the morning.
And, as much as I love facials—I get them every month at Kimara Ahnert in New York—my best skincare secret is Fresh Sugar Face Polish. I have given this to so many people. It’s an incredible product, and smells so good that you want to eat it. The beauty of this scrub is that it has really big granules and an oil base. You put it on moist skin, massage it in, and you really feel like you’re improving circulation and purifying your skin. Then you leave it on like a mask and just wash it off. I always do it after flights, and people are like, ‘You do not look like you just got off a plane.’ Actually, the first time I met Steven Meisel on a shoot, he was on his computer and I walked over and said, ‘Hi, my name is Catherine and I’m the client.' And he took his glasses off and said, ‘You have no pores. I’ve never seen anything like it!’ I had just done the Fresh scrub that morning, so I sent him a bunch of them. It is a killer, Steven-Meisel-approved product.
I’m extremely low-maintenance with my hair. It’s either long or short. I started going grey at 26, but I wasn’t confident enough to let that happen yet. When I was 37, I moved to France and I thought, ‘I’m anonymous here. I can do this.’ And I let it go gray, cold-turkey. My hair was long at the time, like down to the middle of my back. The top was gray, but the bottom was still really dark, so I wore it pulled off of my face, either back in a chignon or a braid. It wasn’t cool. And the French can be pretty direct. I remember one guy in my office said, ‘Are you sick? Are you ok?’ He thought for sure that was the only way I would let my hair go gray. But, you know, it was OK. It scared me, because it’s like losing your youth, but it’s totally psychological. Once it grayed all the way down, I had it cut. I called my stylist and she said, ‘Come at night, I’ll get a bottle of wine—you’ll need alcohol.’ I can’t remember who said this—I think it was Jennifer Lopez or someone on her team—but after I went gray, I walked into a meeting and somebody there said, ‘Oh my God, I feel like I should sit up in my chair a little bit taller. You look really serious, and I should pay attention to you!’ I thought that was great. I’ve kept it short since that cut, not for lack of trying to grow it out. I was inspired by Kristen McMenamy’s long silver hair, but, oof, it was brutal. I couldn’t do it. One day, I’ll just pull it back into a long braid like Georgia O’Keeffe. I think that’s so chic. But, until then, at least my hair doesn’t involve much care.
My secret is that, after I wash and towel-dry my hair—I never blow-dry it—I put in Nivea Creme. It doesn’t work on all hair types, but mine is very thick, and it adds a nice sheen and separated texture. I don’t like when gray hair looks dry. So, after I get out of the shower, I use the cream all over my body, than I take as much in my hands as if I was just going to moisturize my hands, rub it between my palms, and I use it to shape my hair. It doesn’t feel like anything is in your hair—it’s not stiff like other styling products. And then I use it to shape my eyebrows. I should become a shareholder for Nivea.
I usually wear fragrance in my hair, too. My favorites right now are the two new Balenciaga women’s scents that I’m testing. But my other favorite fragrance is actually for men. It’s an oud fragrance for the Middle East; I think ouds will be around for a while. Trends in fragrances last a really long time, it’s not like fashion. Do you remember all of those fragrances in the ‘80s—Giorgio Beverly Hills and Obsession—that announced you before you walked in the room? Then, starting with Miyake, everything had to smell like a glass of water. After that, CK One was the first unisex, and that was more of a citrus moment. And now we’re back to men wanting to smell like men, and women wanting to smell like women, distinctively. When we do a lot of market research and we ask what people are interested in, unisex scents are not a big thing anymore.
Something you should know about wearing scents is that they hold better when applied to moist skin, and you’re not supposed to rub them into your skin. What you’re doing is crushing the architecture of the scent—there’s a top, middle, and base, and those parts reveal themselves at different times. You can also mix scents, and that’s all personal preference. Sarah Jessica Parker is a prime example of that. She came up with Lovely because she was wearing a mixture of an oil and a spray scent. She created her own thing from it.
If I was ever to create my own, personal fragrance, I know what I would want it to smell like—a church. I grew up Catholic, so I’d want the cold of the marble, the dark wood, the fat of the wax of the candles—the whole thing. I’d want to smell gold and red and all those things."
—as told to ITG
Catherine Walsh photographed by Emily Weiss on June 21, 2013 in New York.