'I’ve never liked the step-by-step rulebook methodology when it comes to creativity. Back when I was in fashion school I wanted to work as a perfumer. My first job was actually at a perfume shop, and then I walked into CB I Hate Perfume and asked for a job out of the blue. That was definitely an influence on my relationship with beauty because I realized that all of it was just Castille soaps and essential oils, and I can totally do that. You can get shea butter, add some jasmine oil and jojoba oil, and it’s a luxury product but costs $10 to make.
I designed for Helmut Lang doing cut and sew knits there, and after that I went on to be the head designer at a brand called Kimberly Ovitz. That was a very, very cool experience where we got to design the first off-the-runway 3D-printed jewelry collection that you could buy directly. Those are the things I’ve always loved. But oddly enough while I was getting to do that—my dream job in fashion—I was reading about science, taking neuroscience classes, and flying out to San Francisco to go to the Singularity Summit and talk to techno-optimistic futurists. Now I am actually in the overlap of science and creativity at Nanotronics Imaging. Our main products are optical microscopes and using really advanced software algorithms to improve resolution. It results in images that just feel like fine art. I also have a startup called The Crated, and we do creative collaborations with technology. Right now we're working on superhydrophobic textiles, so you pour water on it, and it drips off. And we're also working on UV-sensitive printed clothes that change when you go out in the sun. It’s kind of an '80s concept, but we’re doing it in a fun way. It will be Kickstarting next month. The startup is really a fun way to continue to work in fashion.
It's all very different from fashion design, but I try to approach it in the same way though…it’s just creative problem solving and being curious and excited and willing. Nothing can ever be beneath you, even if you’ve gotten to a certain place in your career. If someone tells me that I can’t do something then I am probably going to do it. It’s a slightly feminist drive, I think. I have a lot of people ask me about being a woman in technology, and I’m like, 'Can you just ask me about being in technology? Why does matter that I'm woman?'
I watch a lot of cartoons actually. I grew up with comic books, so cartoons have always been a part of my life. These days, I just watch Adult Swim, like Rick and Morty, but when I was a teenager, my favorite comic book was The Sandman by Neil Gaiman. There is a character called Death—of course—but she is the grim reaper. She was just so cool and minimal, like black high waisted jeans, onyx necklace, combat boots, and choppy hair. She was the grim reaper but just like cool and sweet and beautiful. I based a lot of my style on her probably. [Laughs]
I’ve struggled with acne throughout my life—and a big part of that is stress. When you have hormonal, cystic acne, the dermatologist will just tell you to reduce your stress, and you’re like “How can I do that?!” [Laughs] You get stressed out about being broken out, and it’s just this catch-22. One of the things that helped my skin was regulating my hormones. I went on a progesterone balancer and after that it was better again. But, overtime I get stressed out, and I get the same kind of acne that I had in my early 20s again. I just got a chemical peel where you put acid on your face and a base to stop it. It peels off the top layer—this one was a lactic acid base. I’ll do that every once and while to keep things clear. Every dermatologist does it—mine is Diana Palmisano at Schweiger Dermatology Uptown.
Actually, most of the things I use are either from Duane Reade, or I buy wholesale on Amazon or something. Packaging really isn't my thing. Even if I'm drinking a beer, I'll pull the label off of it because there are too many contrasting things going on, so I often I repackage things. I use CeraVe Facial Moisturizing Lotion PM and Eucerin products mostly—but in new bottles. And I’m a very avid fan of retinoids. It’s for aging, fine lines, acne, pores...give me a tiny bit of Retin-A, sunscreen, and lots of water, and I'm good. But you've got to build up to that—don't use it every day. Maybe only three times a week. And even once you get used to it, that plus my occasional glycolic acid peel makes me really sensitive to the sun, so I use a zinc-based physical sunscreen to protect my skin. Then I have this Alba Botanica Hawaiian Facial in Pore-fecting Papaya Enzyme. I don’t exfoliate with beads because it’s just too harsh, so the enzyme will exfoliate you but gently. I also have Clear Me Softly Glycolic Acid Facial Pads from my dermatologist. There is lots of evidence that gylcolic acid is good for you. I use it twice a week and the retinol three times a week. And then I'm testing Neocutis Lumiere Bio-Restorative Eye Cream—also from my dermatologist. I was skeptical at first, but I trust my dermatologist.
I’ve always had a really similar look with my makeup which is just concealer, if I need it, and I pencil in my eyebrows. I use Make Up For Ever Full Cover Concealer because it's good for sensitive skin and some no-name eyebrow pencil that I've had for 10 years. And I don't need a primer because my sunscreen works for that just fine.
I get excited with my lipsticks, though. Right now, I'm wearing NYX Matte Lipstick in Summer Breeze, but it's pretty neutral. Even though I love makeup, it tends to look too heavy on me, so I try to not wear too much. I have a tiny bit of Maybelline Line Stiletto Ultimate Precision Liquid Eyeliner on right now. My lashes are genetically long, thanks to my father. Maybelline Great Lash Clear Mascara works just fine for me most days.
I’ve always experimented a lot with my hair. One time, I had half a shaved head where one side was black and the other side was white. And then when I was 18, I had an asymmetric, very light lavender haircut that then evolved into a spikier style. A lot of it is just me doing it myself, or sometimes I got to friends—when we were younger, we were all just chopping at our heads. I stopped for a few years and recently started bleaching and dying my hair again and having more fun with it because I don’t want the serious nature of my career to stop that. Also the immediate assumption that people make when they see someone with pink hair is different than if I forced myself to be serious. It’s expectation management. I present myself in the way that I’m not going to be. My haircut isn't even that exciting—it's just that it's a bold color. So that means can run a comb through it, and I get dressed and ready for work in 10 minutes. And that's great because I can't get up in the morning, so my routine has to go quickly.”
—as told to ITG
Mari Kussman photographed by Tom Newton. Read more of the Top Shelf here.