“I was always into oils, but I’d never thought of making anything. Then I was in Europe with Laeticia [Casta] and one day we went to the health food store; we wanted to make something we could use ourselves. And her husband came home and said ‘What the hell is that smell? It stinks from the elevator to the apartment!’ Anyway we threw it out and it was kind of funny. But when I got back to New York, I thought, I’m just going to go to the health food store and buy oils that I’d been following—like Argan from Morocco and Calendula from South Africa, and I thought hey, I’m just going to put all this together and maybe it’s going to work.
So I ended up with eleven oils and I just started mixing it in the bathroom in a coffee cup. I'd bottle it—I bought these little brown chemist bottles, with a black stopper. And I’d bring them to photo shoots—I’m a stylist—and I’d ask people, ‘Would you try this?’ And they’d come back and say, ‘I really like this stuff, can I have another bottle?’ Then my nephew came to visit me and he walked into the apartment and saw all these pints of oil and plastic jugs and he said, ‘What are you doing?!’ And, ‘How much are you charging for it, and how do you make it? What’s the plan?’ I said I have no idea. I just eyeball it and make it perfectly every time, and I’d never charge anybody in the fashion business—I was just happy that people love it and it really works. And he said, ‘That’s such bullshit.’ But I didn’t have a recipe; it’s like if you’re a chef and you make the perfect pasta sauce every time but you don’t really measure it. So he went online and ordered me chemist beakers, and we went into the bathroom with the coffee cup and the beakers and figured it out. It’s the same formula today that it was three-and-a-half years ago. Then I started going online and buying many different versions of Evening Primrose, and Jasmine, and all the oils, to really find the best ones. The quality of the ingredients really makes all the difference. Oh my God—I’ve gotten an Evening Primrose that smelled like turpentine. Dumped that one. So I can’t say it was hard work really…it was fun, actually. To make it and perfect it; to make it what I really loved. And then, you know, everybody liked it too. It was crazy.
Then I had to figure out the packaging. I called my graphic design friend Marge Levin who worked with me at my store—I used to have a clothing store in SoHo called Linda Hopp; it was the first store in SoHo, on West Broadway, in 1979. I picked out the type from an old postcard at the flea market and I said this is the font that I love, so she used that, and then she designed the rest of the label. I had the idea for the name during a trip to Rome, ‘Oh this should really be something in Italian,’ because that’s who I think I am, really—I must have been an Italian in a past life. I’m an Italophile—I love Italy. I lived in Italy and I speak Italian and it’s such a big part of my life. So Olio Lusso means ‘luxury oil’ but it’s not even proper Italian—it should really be Olio Di Lusso. But I didn’t want it to sound like Acqua Di Parma or something like that. I called a bunch of friends in Italy and they said, ‘It’s not 100% grammatically correct but who cares, it sounds great.’
I wound up with a manufacturer in New Jersey and they make very limited quantities, and they make it exactly to my specifications, with my resources. We make it in increments of 3,000 and I go out there for every batch, to make sure it smells right and feels right. My instincts were to make the greatest product and that’s my forté—the business part, you know, it’s instinctual. I know what products I like, so I know what to make—like my next thing is this incredible hand cream. Then I have a great team of people that help me: the best lawyer, the best accountant. Because frankly, I don’t want to read a contract. And even if I did read it, my lawyer would have to read it anyway, so let them read it. And I have people that I really rely on—friends—who will test products for me. I don’t want to know what everyone thinks; I want to know what like-minded people who I trust think. I’m a tough customer—I’ve tried every product under the sun. You know, from fashion shoots you have the makeup artist saying ‘Oh! I have this cream that’s going to make your eyes look like your 20,’ or, ‘I’ve got this stuff and your lips are gonna plump up.’ So I’d go after every shoot, to the drugstore, to Barney’s, wherever, and I’d spend $150 on stuff and then the next day say, ‘What was I thinking?’ We’re all so susceptible to what looks great on Gisele, and then you think, ‘Wow, that’s not going to work on me anyway!’ But I bought everything. I’ve tried everything. And then I just realized it’s all about really being simple—an honest simple product. I don’t make any false claims—I never say it’s age-defying, wrinkle-breaking…I think scientific products do work, but I don’t know anything about that, and I would never do that. So it’s like someone selling an olive oil and saying, ‘I promise it’s going to be really good on your salad, I make it in my backyard, and it’s not fancy but its great.’ And I believe in that—that kind of homegrown approach. It’s artisanal in a way because I made it, but it’s expensive. And it’s just expensive stuff—it’s not because I’m making a billion dollars, it’s that the oils are really fine. You get what you pay for. I had a Japanese boyfriend who always said, ‘You can’t buy cheap meat or cheap wine,’ and he’s right—you can’t think you’re going to serve filet mignon and buy some crap. And it’s true—some things you have to pay more for. Someone I sent the oil to told me, ‘You know, if Chanel were alive, she would have made this oil. It’s simple, it’s great.’ And I said thanks; that’s a huge compliment.
You cleanse your face—and I’m making a cleansing powder so you’ll use my cleanser [smiles]—you never dry your face completely, then you put 2-3 drops on and rub it all over. Sometimes you use more, sometimes less. But I have lots of friends who have a bottle that lasts them 8 months. What it does, it just makes your skin the best it can be naturally. When you put it on, in French it’s called ‘bien-être’ which means a sense of well-being. It feels good, it smells good and you feel kind of dewy. Not greasy, not shiny, just kind of alive. And also over time, your skin really improves. I’ve been using it for two-and-a-half years and my skin is so much better than it was. The oils all do different things—Rose Hip Seed Oil takes away age spots if you use it consistently, and Argan Oil is just, like, amazing. And for Bob Recine’s hair oil that we collaborated on, he added Juniper and Rosemary, which have great properties for hair. I’ve known him since he was 18; I was working at Bendel’s and he was working at the salon there. Then when I started the face oil I called him and said, ‘I know you work with every celebrity, and I have this incredible oil—you can even use it in your hair. Would you try it?’ And he got back to me and said, ‘Oh my God, this is scary good.’ So he’d call me and say, ‘I’m with Gwyneth Paltrow,’ or, ‘I’m with Naomi Watts,’ and could you send over a bottle. So finally I just sent him a box and said give it to the people who you think can help, because that’s how you start a business. And he was so receptive because he said every time he gave it to somebody it was like Christmas came early. And about two years ago he said, ‘Have you ever thought of doing a hair oil?’ So we went back and forth experimenting until one day he got it.
I would never be able to talk about something I didn’t believe in. I’ve been privy to every single thing that’s out there, and this is what I like. I never wear makeup—I wore makeup when I was, like, 25. The only exception is lipstick—I can’t stand to see myself without it. I buy this pencil, it’s Shu Uemura. I never change anything; I’m a creature of habit, and I’m easy. I can’t bear to do anything with my hair—I’ve been wearing it up for the past 10 years and I cut it myself. I started going gray at 35, and I just let it go. Tweezing my eyebrows is enough—and that’s constant. I just get out of the shower, put on Olio Lusso and lipstick and go.”
—as told to ITG