Kathy Phillips spent seven years at Vogue as Health and Beauty Director. She left this prestigious post three years ago to pursue various new projects both in journalism and in the commercial arena.
She is now the International Beauty Director for CondÃ© Nast Asia working with all their titles (Vogue, W and Allure) in Japan, China, Korea and Taiwan. April 2004 saw the launch of her own brand – This Works – an award-winning aromatherapy bath, body and skincare range
What first attracted you to essential oils?
Twenty years ago when I was pregnant, someone suggested I have an aromatherapy massage. I felt so good during and after the massage that I started using aromatherapy products.
I would use them everywhere – I bathed in them, I used them to massage my body. I found I couldn’t live without them. Here I was with a desk full of products that I could have for free – more than you could ever imagine – and instead I was spending my own money on others.
I was always on the look out for better aromatherapy products than the one I was using. That was a reason I wanted my products to measure up. This has also been a personal journey.
Your products are designed to deliver what the bottle promises. Is this the reason for the name This Works?
Parallel to my beauty editing is my life with yoga. When you start doing yoga you seriously start thinking about the way you live. The standpoint with these products is that I was actually very thoughtful about what I put in them.
The name isn’t just a catch phrase because these products really do work. What I know is that it performs. The benchmark was that it must perform.
Do you believe synthetic products can be toxic to the skin?
All this talk about toxicity in products is mainly scare mongering. Although, the one thing that does prove to be irritating to the skin is synthetic fragrances.
And why bother, when the scent of essential oil is so much more pleasant.
How important was the packaging of your products?
One of the advantages of having worked at Vogue was that I was aware of how art directors perform and how the pages [of the magazine] start working in terms of the design and layout.
If the packaging of a product was not attractive enough the art directors wouldn’t want to put it in even though the product had integrity.
I knew the packaging needed to stand up in a magazine. My background made me think like that. But obviously how it looks on the shelves was important as well.
I wanted a modern image for aromatherapy. In England, anything to do with aromatherapy was always sold in brown bottles in health food shops and had a cottage industry feel. I didn’t want my products to look too handmade.
Being a beauty editor I knew it needed to compete with Chanel on the shelf and to perform as well as products like that. All the things I thought of and wished for as a beauty editor I put into my products.
What are your favourite products in the range?
I love Breathe In, which is a blend of eucalyptus and is incredible for when you fly as it prevents you from getting a cold.
The hero product of the range is the Skin Deep Dry Leg Oil. The story behind it is that I had every product on my desk to try but I still couldn’t find something that truly moisturised my legs.
I used to get my aromatherapist to blend this oil for me to take on holiday to prevent them getting dry and chapped after being in the sun. It was the only thing that worked. Nothing moisturises the skin as deeply as essential oils.
Are the products anti-ageing?
Well, what is anti-ageing? We are all going to age at some point. There is no such thing as hope in a jar. The miracle product for anti-ageing is discipline.
The French way of wheeling their 13-year-old into a beauty school to learn about facials and how to look after their skin really does pay off.
I know from my own experience that the women that look good are the ones that have been slowly but diligently looking after their skin by having a daily skincare regime.
But yes, because my products are of high quality then of course they will help people age gracefully. My products are 30 per cent essential oils as opposed to 2.5 per cent in most other aromatherapy products.
That’s a big percentage. I liken our products to good wine or olive oil. Sure you can drink cheap wine and dip your bread into cheap olive oil, but it is never going to taste as good as the real deal. The essential oils I use are off the highest quality, which make them more effective.
What do you love the most about being a beauty director?
Meeting the most innovative people. I have been lucky enough to meet the most stimulating, interesting people – the greatest practitioners and the most talented make-up artists.
I love getting to see how they transform women. It’s very inspiring. I love the minds of the people who drive this industry. Hearing what the cosmetic sciences in the labs are working on – genetics, cell transformation and so forth fascinates me.
They are people who are on the cutting edge of future technology. I get to meet those at the top and that is what I love.