GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.-Jane Iredale is the type of exceptional woman who can move with grace from one type of success to another, and her latest triumph is a cosmetics company that, among other things, proves that treasures exist in our extended backyard.
Iredale Mineral Cosmetics came to my attention during New York Fashion Week last fall, when tubes of the company's mascara were distributed to fashion editors at a press party whose host was Vogue magazine. I was embarrassed that I had to go all the way into Manhattan, instead of straight up Route 7, to find out about something so sophisticated-and local.
Not all that far north of the Connecticut border in downtown Great Barrington, Mass., the corporate home of Iredale cosmetics is located in a beautifully-restored structure that has earned a historic preservation award.
Before launching her company a decade ago, Ms. Iredale worked with such notables as Susan Sarandon, Glenn Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Steven Spielberg and other celebrities. But these days she is surrounded by co-workers like Nelson and Ceilidh, which is Gaelic for "celebration" and also the name of a four-legged canine compatriot.
Nelson is a Maltese whom the cosmetics founder calls her "million dollar dog."
He is a sweet, elderly guy, almost deaf and going bald in some spots. When Ms. Iredale and her mother, Tess, who is considered Nelson's "mum," took him in almost two years ago, his hair was so matted that he had to be completely shaved.
Since then, Nelson has had his "teeth done twice, had several moles removed" and, in addition, has suffered from problems with his liver and kidneys. "But we've straightened him out," Ms. Iredale said with an air of determination registering in her British accent that lets you know as long as she is overseeing his care, achieving good health is Nelson's only option.
In fact, it was this same commitment to promoting health and well-being that prompted her to launch Iredale Mineral Cosmetics.
After a hugely successful career in television, film and theater, the woman who formed her own production company and produced more than 50 programs for PBS and HBO was ready for a change. She had received the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award, won an Emmy for a film series on which she was the writer and received a nomination for a Tony award for the Broadway musical, "Wind in the Willows," and it was time to do something else.
"I was really over Manhattan," explained Ms. Iredale, who said she had "show biz burnout."
As she began searching for a new direction, a friend suggested that she closely examine things she viewed as hobbies and passions, and use them as a launching point for determining a new path. So it was a combination of following her friend's sage advice, plus pondering what was missing in the marketplace, that led to the creation of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics.
"It came to me [literally] in the middle of the night, 'Why not makeup that's good for the skin,'" she remembered. Working in the entertainment industry allowed her an up-close view of seeing just how important it is to take care of one's skin.
In fact, the tag line for Iredale Mineral Cosmetics is, "The skin care makeup." The company's philosophy is to offer make up that is a true extension of skin care.
What's so unique about the makeup is that everything, from lipstick to foundation and eye shadow, is mineral-based. Recommended by plastic surgeons and dermatologists the world over, Iredale products are sophisticatedly simple. For example, Ms. Iredale explained that her loose powder is pure pigment and contains only four ingredients.
Typically, in most makeup products, the cosmetics expert said, extra ingredients like cornstarch and nylon are used to stretch the pigment, and she stressed that consumers really need to read the labels so that they understand what they are putting on their skin. The top three skin irritants found in most makeup are fragrance, chemical dyes and chemical preservatives, according to Ms. Iredale.
On the company's Web site, the products are described as being " … a highly-sophisticated blend of minerals and pigments which are micro-pulverized, using proprietary technology and processes to form microscopic flat crystals. These crystals overlap each other on the skin to form a filter that allows the skin to breathe and function normally while still protecting it from air-borne pollutants. The staying power of the minerals is so great that they rarely need a touch-up during the day. And because these silky-feeling powders are water resistant, they won't crease or smear even during the most strenuous exercise."
In addition, these state-of-the-art minerals are available in several colors, and, according to the Web site, "there's one for every complexion no matter what the ethnicity."
While the company does not sell its products through its Web site, the site is still a wonderful resource for consumers. It is full of information on product ingredients, how to apply the products, suggested color combinations and much more. And if you type in your zip code, you will find the closest locations where the products are sold. There are some locations in Connecticut, including the Tres Jolie Day Spa in Southbury and Creative Edge in Salisbury.
It is important to note that all of the retailers of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics have been trained as advisers to help consumers make intelligent choices. Ms. Iredale also advises women to visit a licensed esthetician in order to determine their true skin type. "Skin changes dramatically with the seasons, with age, exposure to the sun and lack of humidity," she explained.
While Iredale Mineral Cosmetics does not offer a line of skin care products, it does have Jane Iredale's Magic Mitt. With this mitt, which looks like a soft washcloth, you can throw out your cleansing cream. The Magic Mitt removes all makeup, including mascara, using warm water only. According to the packaging insert, "This cleansing process promotes the health of the skin because it does not affect the skin's natural acid mantle. When this beneficial barrier is intact, it aids the skin in protecting itself from harmful and invasive bacteria."
Ms. Iredale explained that the Magic Mitt is made from a new generation of specially knitted micro-fibers that are thinner than even a human hair. When the mitt is wet, these micro-fibers create a hydro-mechanical process that breaks the surface tension of the oils that bond makeup to the skin, and then the emulsion is swept away by the mitt.
Ms. Iredale also said that the process of "toning," which is part of the three-step cleanse, tone and moisturize process to which many of us became indoctrinated during the teenage years, isn't right for everybody. "It's almost an old-fashioned thing to [use toner] these days," she said.
Other advice Ms. Iredale offered had to do with women choosing their makeup colors. When it comes to foundation, she said, "The real problem women have is wearing the right shade."
As Nelson looked on, Ms. Iredale set to work determining the right color for me in the company's new Liquid Minerals foundation, which is unlike any makeup base I have ever tried. The minerals in it are actually encapsulated with ingredients that replenish the cellular layers of the epidermis, thus making it a true extension of one's skin care. It minimizes the pores, diminishes lines and wrinkles and it honestly made my skin look better immediately. The suggested retail price of Liquid Minerals foundation is $46.
When asked how a woman should go about choosing the correct color of blush, Ms. Iredale said that blush is also "out" these days. She explained that either the eyes or the lips should be highlighted, not both at the same time, but that using blush was passé, especially at night.
As the visitor was getting made up, Ceilidh, Ms. Iredale's Lab came to politely introduce herself. Dogs specifically, but animals in general, are a big part of the company culture at Iredale Mineral Cosmetics. Employees, most of whom have rescued dogs from pugs to greyhounds, are welcome to bring their animals to work with them. When the weather is nice, the dogs play together in the yard and get along beautifully.
"So when people call in and ask if we test on animals, we laugh," said Ms Iredale, who mentioned that the company's marketing director even tends to a colony of feral cats.
While I was sitting in the office, a letter arrived from the U.S. Justice Department for Tess, Ms. Iredale's 90-year-old mother. "She will be so thrilled," beamed Ms. Iredale, and motioned for me to follow her into the next office where Tess, who looks fantastic and still works full-time at the company, sat at her desk bundling brochures. "Oh, I thought we already did that," she said when her daughter read her the letter that contained the good news.
No matter. Ms. Iredale was thrilled enough for the both of them that her mother had become an official U.S. citizen.
When the cosmetics founder first came to this country from Great Britain, she had no intention of staying beyond a few months. However, she said she fell in love with the U.S. "This is the place for me, the land of opportunity," she explained. While acknowledging that things are not perfect here, she said, "For a woman particularly, there is nowhere else in the world" where you have this kind of opportunity.
She said that the mission of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics is to develop products to enhance the lives of women. "We're always keeping our formulas as clean as we can, as effective as we can," said Ms. Iredale. "If I can't do it without petrochemicals, I'm not going to do it. … In the end, [it's that approach that] makes a company profitable. It's not always looking at the bottom line. … It's developing a product you can be proud of. … "
For more information about Iredale Mineral Cosmetics and where to buy the products, a Web site is loccated at www.janeiredale.com.
Melanie McMillan is Style Editor of The Litchfield County Times.