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Milk Makeup’s co-founder on finally launching the experimental makeup brand in Australia

IMAGE VIA MILK MAKEUP

WORDS BY ISABELLA WIGHT

The cool-kid brand from NYC’s game-changing makeup broke through in the era of HD eyebrows and overlined lips.

In 2016, I wanted nothing more than perfectly overlined lips, blocky eyebrows and a pore-suffocating amount of foundation on my face. No, it wasn’t a fever dream – as TikTok so kindly reminded me this week, these were the trends that dominated the beauty world. 

The ‘2016 vs 2021’ makeup challenge is a stark reminder of a time when Kylie Jenner was rising to fame, matte lipstick was all-consuming and a full-glam face was everyday wear. For those of us (me) who weren’t particularly talented with a makeup brush, these were dark times. I enthusiastically hopped on the bandwagon with lopsided eyebrows, mismatched foundation and lipliner up to my nostrils. 


We’ve tried out the latest beauty hacks so you don’t have to. Head to our Beauty section for more. 


Now, most of us have retired our heavier makeup looks in favour of something more natural. We’ve got dewy skin, freckles, colourful eyeshadow and glossy blush – trends that are fun, easier to execute and let our skin breathe.

Founded in 2016, Milk Makeup was way ahead of the times. Boasting multi-purpose products, punchy colours, and a focus on hydration and straight-to-skin glow, Milk was the antithesis of the ‘Instagram beat’. Wearers were encouraged to leave their makeup brushes behind, forget the rules and not take beauty too seriously. 

Getting its start as a studio and talent agency, Milk Studios was the show space for the likes of Calvin Klein, Alexander McQueen, Wu-Tang Clan and Kanye West, to name a few. While it found obvious success in big-brand campaigns, Milk expanded into the beauty world to fill a glaring creative gap. Co-founders Zanna Roberts Rassi and Mazdack Rassi recruited a powerhouse team of creative talent (including COO Dianna Ruth and creative director Georgie Greville) and Milk Makeup was born.

The good news? After six years, Milk Makeup’s uber-cool products have finally landed in Australian Sephora stores, and Zanna Roberts Rassi joined me for a Zoom call to talk about it. Needless to say, I decided to forgo the 2016 makeup on this particular morning.

 

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Hi Zanna! I think I speak on behalf of most Aussie makeup-wearers when I say I’m so excited for Milk to reach our shores! I know Milk started as a creative studio; can you talk about your transition into makeup? 

Absolutely, yeah. So basically Milk Studios is in Downtown NYC, and it started 24 years ago. It really is this space where… we say it’s the epicentre of creatives. You’ve got music, art, film, fashion and beauty – it’s this melting pot of amazing creative talent. We would look at the way that [these creatives] would wear makeup. It was anything but standard… it was the antithesis of what we were creating in the studio, for the big brand campaigns. 

The idea of traditional beauty – we totally wanted to bypass that. We wanted something that was for everyone, it didn’t matter race, age, gender… in 2016, these were the conversations that no one else was having. We wanted to champion people who weren’t being represented in beauty as well as provide these incredible products, with epic payoff. 

As founders, you all came from different areas of the fashion/beauty media world. Did your prior experience help in creating Milk Makeup? 

Such a good question. The four of us came from such different worlds. [Mazdack] Rassi was very much architecture and design, and he co-founded Milk Studios 24 years ago. Then you have Dianna, who is just an amazing product and formula innovation guru and Georgie, who is a film director who is just an all-around creative genius. And then myself, I came from editorial in beauty and fashion. So, we’re a very odd combination of people to come together and build a makeup brand, but that’s kind of the beauty of it, right? 

It means we’re always going to get these opinions coming from different angles – we say we’re [each] like the parents of each product. You’re always going to have the design element, you’re always going to have the innovation when it comes to the ingredients, you’re always going to have the amazing creativity. And for me, my job is very much to translate this to the consumer… kind of editorialising all of our products.

 

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Which is so important, especially right now. 

Right! And as a beauty editor, I was surrounded by new products and my desk was saturated with them at all times. It’s such a busy market… there’s no need to launch anything that already exists. That was very much Dianna’s approach as well, she refuses to do anything that was already out there.

For me, your slogan ‘live your look’ is about individuality and celebrating beauty outside of the box. What does ‘live your look’ mean to you?

It was something that came about after realising that Milk Makeup isn’t about how you put it on, it’s about what you go and do in it. For example… you’ve got winged eyeliner on for an interview, you’ve got a bit of extra confidence. It translates! You know the power of makeup, right? It can be incredibly liberating in a way. ‘Live your look’  is about solidarity and positivity, and about what you do [while wearing] the makeup, not how you put it on. 

Milk Makeup is also totally cruelty-free, clean and vegan! Have there been challenges in prioritising ethical and sustainable production?

Yes, of course. I think if it were easy, everyone would be doing it, and it would be super cheap and accessible (which I hope someday it is). The hardest part is to keep the costs down. We didn’t want to use the wasteful options, we wanted to use the best in the biz. The colour chalks are a good example, they’re not cheap to make and we worked hard to keep the costs down. [This balance is] so much in our DNA, and it’s only getting more and more important to us. 

I think the way you talk about gender and inclusivity as a brand is really important, and it’s clear that Milk Makeup is for everyone. Is this a conversation you felt was lacking in the beauty world? 

One thousand per cent. In 2016, when we launched, there was such a void of representation. If you didn’t conform to the beauty standards, it was almost like you weren’t serviced in any way. We like to say we wanted to reinvent beauty, not reinvent the people who are wearing it. 

From our first campaign, we had this photo, and it was two people wearing makeup and kissing. We had this as our lead campaign. It was a new conversation and at the time, it shook a lot of people. We’re unisex, and it again goes back to that idea of ‘live your look’.  If you start putting labels on people, you take that expression away, right? 

For readers who haven’t already jumped through shipping hoops to get their hands on your products, what’s in your Milk starter pack? 

Okay so first, Hydro Grip Primer. It’s weird, it’s like a miracle product. It hydrates and grips at the same time and you can keep your makeup on for 12 hours. This is really good with mask-wearing, but also just for when you’re not wearing any makeup. It gives you this glassy glow to the skin – a post-yoga glow. 

Number two, Kush Mascara is a cult favourite…  and it was one of our first products featuring hemp-derived cannabis oil. It gives you this nourishing coat on your lashes, they’re light and fluffy, you don’t get the crispies and it’s got extra added volume. 

Number three would be our Baked Bronzer. It’s the easiest thing to swipe on, I use it on my body too. It contains the most delicious ingredients – it’s got mango butter and avocado butter. When it hits the skin it melts in, just becomes one with it.

Lastly, our Lip & Cheek Blush in Werk. It’s multitasking and has all those lovely butters in it. I put this on my eyes as well to get that monochromatic look. The perfect pinky-brown, it feels dewy and is the holy grail shade that is so universally flattering. 

Check out more Milk Makeup here.

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