Ulla Johnson, Designer


"I've always been into fashion—my mother was a collector and hoarder of textiles, so I grew up around a lot of beautiful clothes. But in terms of beauty, I’ve changed a lot—like in high school, I would use a ton of hairspray. And after college I had crazy short hair that was white-blond and I used to paint elaborate motifs on my face with liquid liner. I would do these crazy dotted statements on my face. [Laughs] Now it's more about doing less. I really like things that are kind of messy and undone. And things that smell good. Generally, my beauty routine starts and ends with some kind of oil.

I'm up really early at 6am, and I try to get ready before my kids wake up because otherwise they all need to get dressed and have 10,000 demands of me. [Laughs] I always take a shower and I always wash my hair, every morning, which I know I'm not supposed to. But I'm not really into greasy hair. I use Oribe Shampoo and Conditioner for Beautiful Color—it smells good and it really, really works. I am a sucker for packaging. Anything that comes looking pretty, I’m drawn to. And Davines has this hair mask I love...it's actually called Love! My hair is long right now, and it's so much easier. I'm kind of girly, so I like it that way. I usually just put Davines OI Oil Absolute Beautifying Potion in, but in the summer, I'll just spray on John Frieda Beach Blonde Sea Waves Salt Spray—only on the ends. I like ends to be textured, but the top to be flat.

Tracey Cunningham does my color. I love her! I go to her twice a year and that’s the only time I do my hair. She gave me some Olaplex and said it's heaven and that I need to use it on my hair all the time, but I haven’t don’t it yet. It’s like some new radical, reimagining hair product. She said it just changes everything. Tracey also cuts my hair, twice a year. I hate a blowout, though. I prefer messy hair. If I ever go get my hair cut and they blow my hair out afterwards, I get it wet again. [Laughs]

I don't take a lot of time to get ready in the morning. Usually I just put on the Rodin Olio Lusso, then I'll go get my kids ready and let it sink in, and then I'll go back and apply makeup. If I have something early in the morning, I'll sometimes do a mask at home. The Tata Harper Resurfacing Mask, I love that. It really works and makes your skin really glowy and amazing. I have the Sisley Express Gel one, too. If I can find a few minutes to do that in the morning, I'll do it. But I use mists all day long. I’m in 10,000 meetings all day long and people are asking so many things of me, and using a mist is like a time out. I have three that I alternatively love—Living Libations, Shiva Rose, and Herbivore. I make everyone come into my office and I spray their faces too.

Mustela has a Cold Cream Hydra Stick that I like. It’s for babies, and I use it on my kid’s cheeks. It’s white, but it goes on and it gives a little bit of this retro-y white color. I don’t know, I love it. On my lips, it looks like a pale lipstick. You can moisturize your whole face with it or your baby’s face. In fact, when I bought it in France one time, this woman was like, 'That’s for babies!' And I was like, 'It’s not! I use it too!'

Also, I really like to be in the sun, and it's something I'm not willing to give up. I'm good about putting sunscreen on me and my kids, but we don't sit in the shade—we're all really active. I go to Joanna Vargas for facials and I'm always like, 'I went out in the sun Joanna, don't be mad!' And she's like, 'It's fine, you have to enjoy your life.' Clarins reminds me of the '80s, and Dr. Hauschka has one I like [ed note: Not anymore! It's unfortunately discontinued]. I slather my kids to death, and then I forget to put it on myself, and I think, 'Oops... I got really tan.' [Laughs]

The Laura Mercier Tinted Moisturizer is amazing and I'll never use anything else. It's just the perfect amount of coverage. You never look made up, it just feels like more of a cream, and I love how it goes on. I have this Chanel Les Beiges Healthy Glow Sheer Color Stick that I obsessively use, on my nose and cheeks for that sun-kissed feeling. I'll use that for blush too. I really don't like a lot of makeup, but I love blush. I tend to border on the Diana Vreeland, where I'm like, 'OK, I need to tone it down.' I'm very drawn to that look of being energized.

My mascara has to be really light. I use Clinique Naturally Glossy, and I've had it since I was 10 because my grandma used to love Clinique. Troy Surratt has a good one too, and it has that same lightweight, like nothing feeling. I don't like waterproof mascaras—the Clinique probably only stays on for one hour but it’s fine for that hour. I will not do makeup remover at night. I just want to cleanse my face and be done with it. I do the Laura Mercier Secret Brightening Powder if I'm feeling tired. I discovered that after I had my first child and my mom was like, 'You look really good with that, you need to wear that more.' But I don't like a smoky eye. It just looks so heavy! And I'd always rather just do a lip. I like Nars Manhunt, which is a sheer orange, or Suratt Beauty Lipslique Nu De Soleil. Sometimes I'll do a liquid liner, if I'm feeling saucy.

As far as perfume, Olo Palo Santo is amazing—super smoky. And I love lavender oil...sometimes I'll put that on in the morning before I put perfume on. But my fragrance is Gypsy Water exclusively. I like that smokiness, it has that kind of lingering scent. And I love the bottle. I only use one perfume for a decade and then I'll switch. Right now, it's the year of the Gypsy Water.

—as told to ITG

Ulla Johnson photographed by Tom Newton at her home in New York on February 23, 2016.

More designer Top Shelves: Find out the perfume Isabel Toledo prefers for her lovers or the eye cream that Jennifer Fisher swears by.