#PLSkinterview: Sonia Kashuk—On Knockout Beauties, Not Overdoing The Highlighter, and Unwritten Next Chapters
Welcome back to #PLSkinterviews! In this series we’ll talk to women who inspire us about skin care—and so much else. This series is about more than just our favorite products, but rather about some of our favorite people. We hope you find their stories as inspiring as we do!
If you've ever been to a Target, you've likely seen Sonia Kashuk's name. Almost 20 years ago, Kashuk was on a book tour with none other than Cindy Crawford when inspiration struck. Now, Sonia Kashuk is a household name and her collection is known and loved for bringing luxe makeup worthy of artistry available to the masses. As she bids her namesake line farewell—she recently sold it to Target—we're talking about Knockout Beauties, what she's learned, and what's next.
On Being A Lifelong Entrepreneur
I was always an entrepreneur. As a kid I had businesses where I would sell to clothing boutiques. I was always doing something creative. I was looking for my niche and I ended up in makeup. I had a display business, I did wardrobe. It all dealt with color, shape, and form. Everything had this close relationship. What I liked about makeup was kind of the instant gratification of it—you could do something and suddenly see something change. I always kind of had the art side, and I was always intrigued by the commerce side. Early on in my career, I started consulting for Aveda corporation—I would be doing editorial shoots, and advertising, and consulting for Aveda on the side. So I had both the art and commerce sides of the business.
This was at the time when everything was evolving, Bobbi was launching, my generation of makeup artists were very entrepreneurial—Bobbi, and Laura, and Francois, (Ed Note: Brown, Mercier, and Nars, NBD). We were all of that generation. That was all slowly happening in the prestige market and I thought: ‘But all of that is very expensive. Why can’t women everywhere have access to great beauty products.’ I had been working with a fantastic lab, and so I basically cold-called Target and just said, ‘I have an idea for you—I think that we do an edited assortment, so it’s not overwhelming, and I would both work as the editor and as the founder/developer, and create the product, but edit it too to make sure the assortment was correct,” and...it all happened. I guess in life you never know until you ask.
It was a very long relationship, and I held the award for the longest-running design partner at Target. I sold the brand to them in August. So Knockout Beauty is really my last final big collection for them. I always said I wanted my exit to be as interesting as my entrance. I’m incredibly proud of this collection and it means a lot. I’m doing a few more things for them for the fall, next spring, but this is really my last collection of what I ideated, and what really came from my heart and soul, and working with Dana Louise, (Ed Note: the talented artist Kashuk collaborated with on the collection) was such an extraordinary experience, and so creative.
Somebody said to me, “you know, it’s kind of like sending your child off to college” and I was like, “well yeah, except your child comes back.” It was really hard. But I think in life we get signals of when it’s time to move on, and I’m a believer that change is really good. It was a lot of collections and a lot of years. I'm ready for something else. Just kind of, love what I did, love what I do. I haven’t written the next chapter yet.
On What Makeup Is Good For...And What It’s Not
I think there are things you can do with makeup that can look really beautiful and subtle, but when it goes to the extreme is when my eyes roll. You can do little things with contour, or highlighter when they’re done correctly. For Knockout Beauty, we did what we’re calling Skin Glow, it is not a sparkly highlighter. I didn’t want a glittery highlighter on my face, it’s too artificial, but I could create a product that just gave a beautiful glow to the skin. When I’m reading comments on Instagram or whatever and everyone’s talking about Sonia’s new highlighter, I’m like, it is NOT a highlighter.
I try to emulate realness, through makeup, and do my best to keep it REAL. My daughter, Sadie, who’s turning 18, she’s more round in the face, that’s just natural...we get older, everybody’s gonna get cheekbones at some point in their life—it all changes. So I keep saying to Sadie: OWN that round face because it’s so beautiful. She just came home the other day, she was in a play, and she was wearing my matte lip color and some blush, and she goes ‘mom, ya know I never really wear blush but god, it worked, it looked really good.’ It’s something natural that’s already there, that you kind of might give a little bit of extra pop to, so to me, makeup has always been something to cheat. It’s a compact of cheat!
I think it’s the same mentality of how you feel in flat shoes vs. high heels. It’s a similar mental trip that happens with makeup and high heels. But I have to say, I feel blessed because I have confidence in myself that I’m as comfortable in makeup as I am with not a stitch of makeup on.
On Knockout Beauty
The whole collection was very thought through. To me, Knockout Beauty had a lot of meanings to it, which is why it’s so special to me. One aspect of it was about dealing with all of this negativity that’s going on in the world and not just to women...to our daughters, to Sadie, seeing what it’s like being a young woman in high school, and mean girls, and what happens in social media with what images of beauty are, and being a little bit mortified by some of it. So it was a play on, if you’re feeling negative, knock yourself out, but if someone’s in your way, knock them out of your way! So it was this double play on knockout beauty, really about empowerment, and owning who you are.
Sadie played a substantial role in a lot of that. I think even for me as an older woman, 57, what does that mean? There was a lot of emotion that went into this, when I started thinking about the products, I was asking, what does that mean? A knockout beauty is like that classic beautiful face and it could be nothing but a red lipstick. So, to me, a matte red lipstick is that empowerment, it’s classic, it’s knockout. The shadowbox is four different variations of a smoky eye—all with a very classic spin. Probably the most, kind of crazy, on-trend item was the cobalt liner, but again, I like it just worn on the waterline—simple. Everything can either be worn together, or broken down independently to wear one item. The skin glow, again, super glowy, I have it on now, I don’t look overly sparkly, but I feel like my skin looks healthy, so it’s a play of like, a glow, a little bit, a hint of a bronzer in there so it warms the skin up, so even on light skin you can wear it and have a little bit of tone. As for the shiner, in the 80s, you always had like the great sheer, shiny, gloss that you could put on over anything, but lately, it’s very hard to find, just a clear—it was a must-have for my case, when I was doing makeup, so with everything going on with matte today (which is so beautiful) but you could add shine if you wanted to, or just on your own lip, just a bit of shine, and that looks really fresh. And then the lashes, if you wanted to go for that all-out knockout, and wear lashes—they’re not overly extreme. You could wear them and people might not even know you’re wearing lashes—again back to owning that cheat. Every item in the collection was very thought out and very thoughtful with regards to went in and why.
On What Matters More Than Makeup & What She’s Taught Her Daughter
It's important to separate what’s artificial and what’s real. I’ve tried to be real about what truly matters—giving back, helping with philanthropic things, my involvement with Cancer and Careers. After I had breast cancer, Sadie went out and did a lemonade stand and sent the money into BCRF—having her understand what’s important. Beauty plays a huge integral role for all of us but to find your place within it all. I think that’s for all women.
A little bit of a cateye, or knowing how to work with a bronzer so it looks really natural and soft, or she’ll [Sadie] ask me about a smoky eye, but in a subtle way, not all out, little techniques you can do with a brush that can make a difference, or the importance of a brush for an application, and understanding color and understanding how her eye shape might work one way and what she can do with makeup to lift up if she wants. But if you were to ask Sadie, we discuss skincare more than makeup. Like I will say to her, make sure you’re using an eye cream—like, I started with an eye cream really early, and moisturizers—she would probably say that I stress the importance of skincare. I’d rather her take care of her skin first, and makeup second. You don’t need much makeup if you’re taking care of your skin.
I’ve been blessed that I can afford to go have a facial once a month, I mean that is in my schedule, in stone and I think that has been a saving grace for me. I think I’ve gone to the same aesthetician for I don’t know, 10, maybe 15 years. A woman named Vicki Morav. It’s a commitment, and it is expensive. But I would forego a new top to have my appointment—I guess it’s all about choosing your priorities. But I’d rather be in old clothes and great skin than wearing new clothes and bad skin.
On Her SKin Care Products
We had an item years ago that was an exfoliating wash and it kind of was like a little bit cult-y, people loved it, and I myself couldn’t find a great exfoliating wash, and people would always ask about the one I had years ago. And I’m one of those people where, my day doesn’t feel like it begins unless, I’m in the shower with an exfoliating wash on my skin. I feel like it just takes everything away and gets me ready for the next realm of products that go on...So I think that really came out of something I couldn’t find—in terms of the texture and it’s non-stripping, and just the element of what the exfoliation felt like. And then, the exfoliating toner, I felt was something that was so gentle but also did the same thing—whatever was left over, taking off that extra bit, with very gentle exfoliation as well.
You have to be able to get everything off to be able to get everything on. I am a big believer that you have to remove your makeup at night. There’s other people that like don’t wanna be seen without their makeup on...I am the complete opposite of that. I’m like do not ever, ever, ever go to bed with your makeup on. I don’t care how tired you are! I’m one of those who cannot sleep if there’s makeup on my face—I can feel it. It sounds crazy but I know like, my mascara’s not off, or something’s on my skin, and I want it to be in its most pure state. We've had, for years, huge success with our eye makeup remover, so kind of, to pair with that, removing, exfoliating—it’s all like whatever we could do to get you ready for the slew of other skin care that you may choose to use. So for me, it’s all about keeping the skin really clean.
That’s why we went for those types of products, so Dissolve (Gel-to-Oil Makeup Removing Cleanser) really works hand-in-hand with our eye makeup remover. So you would take your eyes off, and then have a cleanser for the whole face. The mask (Detox Purifying Black Mask) is really about taking some time to yourself, me-time, to feel like you’re doing something good for your skin, it’s about having some time to pamper yourself and treat your skin.
On Stripped Down Beauty
That idea [of never wanting to be seen without makeup] is what prompted me to do the whole Knockout Beauty campaign. For so many years we’ve talked to women about feeling good and giving women confidence, and embracing who you are, and what you have. Someone will ask me like, oh you know, “I have really dark circles, what do I do?” And I’m like, own them. It’s kinda sexy, if you try to cover them up too much, it only makes the whole problem worse, so like, go a little more smoky and own it.
I’ve been doing makeup for 35+ years and it was always to me, about skin. When I started as a makeup artist, there was no retouching. None! So, if you didn’t know how to make the skin look really beautiful, then you were in trouble. So I’ve always been a huge advocate for beautiful skin. I mean, I’m in the “beauty” industry, but I have to say I think there’s nothing more beautiful than spectacularly glowy skin. If you’re noticing the makeup, then there’s almost too much makeup.
I will do things a little bit differently if I’m taking a picture, but a huge percentage of the time I’m in no makeup. There’s a time and a place for everything and I love nothing more than lotions and potions. I actually would say, I feel my best, and I’m putting my best face forward when I am feeling like my skin has been washed, and serum-ed, and moisturized, and hydrated, and it’s just the natural skin, hopefully, in its most glowy state. I mean, look, I love a lash, lashes are great—but not ALL the time. It just takes me full circle with what I see going on. It made me want to take a position on it—what’s happening in our industry, and wanting to let people own their skin, let them own who they are, and take away from all of this—these voices and this messaging, what is it really doing to today’s women both young and old.
What everybody shows us as what is beautiful is a very exaggerated overdone face, but to me, beauty is a woman, whether in a ponytail or short hair and no makeup on. I’m still of that old school of raw, fresh...it’s structure, faces, it’s a round face or a heart shape face—whatever your face is, that’s what makes you beautiful. Somehow, we were all given the faces we were given and they weren’t meant to be changed into somebody else. Isn’t it better to instill confidence and make women feel good about who they are?
You can do things on age maintenance today, you can do little things that can help with age maintenance...I don’t know, I just think when you see a cool looking older woman who’s really embraced who she is, and feels good about who she is, there’s nothing more beautiful.