Excerpts from an interview with LInda Rodin, founder of Rodin Olio Lusso oils.
Eternally cool. One of a kind. Real style.
Those are just some of the phrases used to describe Linda Rodin, stylist and former model, who took the beauty world by storm with her Olio Lusso skin oils five years ago. Now in her 60s, Rodin epitomizes easy-going elegance with her radiant, bare skin, bright pink lips and casually pulled back silver hair. After several years of modeling in Italy, she returned to New York City to run a directional SoHo boutique in the seventies, with stints as a stylist at Henri Bendel and a fashion editor at Harper’s Bazaar, before ending up as a freelance stylist for everyone from Madonna to Halle Berry. These days, she works closely with Victoria’s Secret’s angels like Adriana Lima and Chanel Iman.
In a time of high-tech skincare and unpronounceable miracle ingredients, Rodin sought to find beauty in simplicity. Killer instincts and high standards came together as she mixed essential oils in her bathroom sink for two years before she landed on the formula for her Rodin Olio Lusso face oil. Top models, makeup artists and celebrities were the first to form a cult following. Today, the line has expanded to include six products, with the Rodin fragrance being the latest addition.
Here are a few excerpts from our recent interview with Linda.
Q: How did Olio Lusso come to be?
A: Five years ago, I was in Europe with a friend who was pregnant. She said, “Let’s go to the health food store, buy some stuff and make some nice cream for our skin.” We tried but it was horrible. I got back to New York and thought, I’d like to try and make an oil because I love oils. So I went to the health food store and bought all the oils I liked – Argan oil, Calendula oil, Evening of Primrose oil. I started mixing in a coffee cup in my bathroom sink. I’d put it in these little brown bottles, bring it to photo shoots and give them to makeup artists.
I kept giving it away and then my nephew, Nick, came into town. He walked in and said, “What are you doing? What are all these bottles?” I said, “I make these oils and they’re really good.” He said, “What do you charge and what’s the formula?” I said, “I give it away. I don’t know the formula, I just know how to make it.” He said, “That’s stupid.” He went online and ordered beakers that have ml on them. I had eleven oils so he got eleven beakers. I made it five times by sight and it was perfect every time. You just know, like a good cook. The sixth time, I poured each oil into individual beakers and we marked it with a sharpie. That’s the formula. It’s the same formula from when I started. I started selling the oils at photoshoots for $20. Then, I started making 500 bottles in my apartment on the weekends. I’d get all the bottles lined up. I could only make three bottles at a time because I didn’t know how to increase the formula mathematically. When I did it mathematically it didn’t work. There’s a way that they adjust I guess. And here we are. It’s that crazy.
Q: What were you looking to achieve with the oils?
A: I just wanted something for myself, something that would make my skin supple, felt good and was instantaneous, something you didn’t have to wait months for. I knew that the few oils I used felt good. So, I thought lets mix it up. Everything is selfish. Which is the best way to do it. If it can’t make me happy then how can I sell it? I’m my own focus group. Once you have fifty people telling you what they like, you’ll never be able to make one thing. I never asked anybody. I figured if I liked it then somebody would like it.
Q: How did you know when the formula was right?
A: It just felt right. It’s really funny, I don’t know. I went to this guy who was an organic oil maker. He took a look and said, “This is amazing stuff.” I said, “Why?” He said, “The slip is amazing, not greasy. How did you do this?” I have no idea. If somebody asked me to do it again I wouldn’t know how to do it. I’m very particular and it’s something I loved immediately when I was making it. I just thought it was really nice. It wasn’t anything premeditated.
Q. You are first and foremost a stylist. How did you get into styling?
A: I wanted to be a fashion photographer. One day, when I was 24, my sister said, “you take lousy photographs but you get the greatest clothes. Maybe that’s a job.” Who knew it was a job? I had no idea. I got a job a year later at Harper’s Bazaar as an editor. I worked there for a year, hated it, so I quit. A friend of mine happened to be an art director at a big ad agency, Peter Rogers Agency. They did Blackglama Mink and all those famous ads. He hired me to be a stylist. I started freelancing in 1985, and I’m still doing it. That’s the crazy part.
Q: You’ve worked with iconic photographers like Herb Ritts and Richard Avedon as a model and a stylist. Who influenced you the most?
A: I’ll tell you the one who influenced me the most and not enough people know about him – Gosta Peterson, a Swedish fashion photographer. When I was in my twenties, I worked for a still life photographer. I told him I really wanted to do fashion. He said, “You have to go through every magazine, tear out what you like and look at the photographer’s name.” Every picture I tore out was Gosta Peterson’s. I looked him up in the phone book and just showed up. It was a Friday afternoon. I took a cross town bus and the subway to 87th street and 3rd avenue. I rang the doorbell and nobody answered. I was sitting on the stoop and all of a sudden, this handsome guy comes bounding up the stairs – he was 50 then, he’s 90 now. He said, “Who are you here to see?” I said “Gosta Peterson.” He said, “That’s me, come on up. Do you want to be a model?” I said, “No, I want to be a photographer.” I showed him my portfolio and you know, my pictures weren’t that good. He said, “What can you do?” I said, “Anything.” But I really didn’t know anything about cameras.” He said, “Can you work an 8×10 [camera]?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Good. I have to take a picture of this piece of wallpaper. Take the picture and I’ll be in my office.” I didn’t have a clue. Anyway I did it. I said, “What do you think. Can I work for you?” He said, “Yeah, see you Monday.” That was it. I worked for him for years. Him and his wife (first fashion editor of the New York Times) changed my life.
Q: You have a very streamlined beauty regimen. Can you describe it?
A: I don’t really have a regimen. I’m very low maintenance. The simpler, the better. That’s why I never dyed my hair. It’s too complicated. I started going gray when I was 35 and the only reason I knew I was grey was because I used to henna my hair a deep red in early 30s. One day my hair had turned pink because of all the white. I thought, “I guess its time to stop henna-ing my hair.” I never looked back. I never wanted to go back. That’s a lot of maintenance. I mean, I hate tweezing my eyebrows and that’s the only thing I have left. That’s my last maintenance. That and my nails.
Q: You lipstick is your signature. Why bright pink?
A: I always wear lipstick, even to walk my dog. I disappear without it. I don’t wear eye makeup so I feel like I really need lipstick. I don’t want to focus on my eyes, I’d rather focus on my lips. I’ve been wearing lipstick for a long time. I wore blue-red, blood red in my 30s and then I didn’t wear lipstick for a while. I started wearing lipstick all the time 15 years ago. I just decided I looked better with it. I do.
I use the green MoodMatcher lipstick then a Make Up For Ever pencil which is really thick, and then Ilia hot pink Pure Lip Care over it. It stays on. I like anything hot pink. Hot pink is my favorite color, I’m addicted to it. I like lavender, turquoise and purple. I love gold. I love anything that sparkles.
Q: Your new fragrance, Rodin, just launched. Why a perfume?
A: From the first day, I got calls from people asking why I don’t make a perfume because the smell is divine but it doesn’t last. That’s why men use the oil, it’s totally unisex, because it dissipates. But this lasts. It has tons of jasmine. It’s 22% jasmine. I met [perfumers] D.S. & Durga through my friend last year. They told me they were addicted to my oil. I said, “Oh good, can you make me a perfume?” David [of D.S. & Durga] is the only one that could get it right, I’m sure of it. He’s the only nose that understood what the oils smelled like.
David gave Paul Austin (a big fragrance expert) a sniff of the perfume and he said, “I want to congratulate you because it’s really good.” I said, “Why do you like it? I know why I like it.” He said, “It’s totally unique, it’s natural and very sophisticated.” And that’s exactly what I wanted to do because there are so many bad perfumes out there, For me, I just want one fragrance for my whole life. I want to smell like myself.
Q: What’s next?
A: We’re going to make a facial cleansing powder where you add water. It’s like an exfoliant. I don’t like oil cleansers and I don’t like lotion cleansers. I feel like they’re never cleaning my face. I tried a powder a long time ago and it was the only thing that I liked. I like that action of wetting it and making suds. I don’t get oil cleansers. I know that they’re really big but I wouldn’t want to cleanse my face with oil and then put oil on it. I would feel dirty. So we’re going to do that and then we’re going to make a candle. I’ll have David do the scent for the candle, and then a body scrub, and then who knows. If I wore makeup I might be more interested in it, but I don’t, so its not really of interest to me. But I might make a hot pink lipstick.
I didn’t start thinking I’m going to knock them dead in the beauty world, so anything is a pleasant surprise. I didn’t have a clue. Anyway, we’re not there yet. We’re only as good as the last product. I’m hoping after the candle and face powder we’re going to relax for a minute. I want ten products.
Everyone is doing oils now. This is going to sound pompous and ridiculous, but I want my oil to be a timeless thing. Like a Chanel No.5. It is what it is. It’s not going to trend and change and I’m not going to make the different versions of it. This is what I like. So who knows? The future will tell.