Catherine the Great

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Catherine the Great featured image
Photographed by John Russo
This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

There is Hollywood and then there is Hollywood: The big, flashy, sparkling-lights category of stardom that is so blinding, it’s almost intangible— reserved only for watching from afar via a screen.

Catherine Zeta-Jones falls neatly into the latter, and she’s OK with that.

“I’m not always Catherine Zeta-Jones. Most of the time, I’m just Cath,” the 51-year-old shares from her snowed-in palatial retreat outside of New York that she shares with her husband of 20 years and counting, Michael Douglas, and her two children. “Cath is the woman who is curled up on the couch with her family. Not everyone knows her, and that’s OK. I’m a very private person. I want to be a private person and I like to have a private life. I’m just not that person you’re going to see posting my bathroom breaks and photos with my husband in the hot tub on social media. ”

What is up for public consumption: A very in-demand, well-curated lifestyle brand called Casa Zeta-Jones that’s been many years in the making, fueled, mainly, by an inherent love of beauty and creativity. “There’s still a little bit of that boarding-school girl in me—the girl who got called down to the office for wearing too much makeup,” she shares. “It’s kind of funny I’m launching a business based off of the very thing that used to get me in trouble.”

Why launch a brand now, especially when other celebrities are taking some heat for having them?

“My mother was a dressmaker, and she made all of my clothes when I was a child, so I was born walking on pins and constantly having a sewing machine on the dining table. I still sew, and I love having all of this as a creative outlet. I have so many drawings, photographs and magazine clippings that I’ve kept hanging around since I was pregnant with my son, who is 20 now and in college, so that tells you how long this has been in the works. When I’m not in front of the camera or on stage doing my day job, creating is what I really love to do. I find it so fabulous—whether it be my home or what I wear—and I would be doing it even if I wasn’t making a business out of it. For me, it’s exciting to learn new things, have a team around me and throw ideas into the melting pot.

I’m not always Catherine Zeta-Jones. Most of the time, I’m just Cath.

After all this time, it finally came to fruition. We started out slowly, and now, we’re getting into it even more. We started my Casa Zeta-Jones beauty line, which kicked off with products I love and formulas I’ve worked really hard on. I was on a mission to find my perfect eyeliner and my perfect mascara, and after wearing them out of the room for the first time, I knew they were right. I just came out with a ready-to-wear collection that’s elegant, chic and classic, but fun. It’s at a price point that’s believable, too, and with really great quality. I also have my collaboration with Butterfly Twist, which is a British company that I’ve known about for a bit. It’s a fantastic collection of vegan flats with interesting colors that are super-duper comfortable and elegant. It’s great travel footwear because they fold up into a little pocket shoe that fit easily into a carry-on or suitcase. I love my heels when I’m swirling around on the red carpet, but there is no better feeling than throwing them off in the car on the ride home.

My goal with this whole lifestyle brand was to make all of the things I love, all of my favorites that I use myself and that I’ve worked on myself—as opposed to being the talking head of something, which, don’t get me wrong, is also fabulous. I’ve enjoyed my collaborations with T-Mobile, Elizabeth Arden, Alfa Romeo, and a lot of different big brands, but it’s really, really special when you start creating things from the grassroots up and see them materialize. It’s a lot of fun.”

I’m sure you’re asked to do beauty lines all the time and I know you’ve tried everything. What makes a good beauty product, in your opinion?

“I started by asking myself, ‘What are my essentials? If I were on a desert island, what would I take?’ It would be an eyeliner and mascara, mainly because I think I could figure out everything else to some extent. I could break open some aloe vera and that would work somewhat for my skin care, but I definitely need a good eye. I was blessed with about seven eyelashes, while my daughter [Carys, 17] has approximately 7,000. While I’m happy to take the hit on her behalf, I wanted a mascara that was buildable: one that didn’t flake, one that was steadfast, but easily removed, and one that didn’t have all the little ‘spiders’ getting into my eyes when I took it off at night. There are so many amazing mascaras out there, but I needed to create one that was exactly what I needed in my life. It’s always, ‘Oh, I love this mascara, but only if I could get it off,’ or ‘Oh, I love this mascara, but it runs,’ or ‘I love this mascara, but it flakes.’

It was all those different things that I found in this formula that I finally went with, which is honestly tried and tested. I can’t even tell you how very important I felt when I went into the lab and started all of this testing! I have plans to build it out slowly and surely and add more to the collection, but I wanted to start with products in the line that I worked on from the beginning. Ironically enough, the good and the bad is that we launched right as the pandemic hit. I’m glad I didn’t come out of the gates with a lipstick that nobody could see, because, hopefully, we’re all abiding by the rules about wearing a mask. With the mask situation, the eye makeup seemed to work even more.”

That’s very lucky. Do you have anything you’ve used forever that you swear by?

“Yes. I’ve always, always sworn by Elizabeth Arden’s 8-Hour Cream. My grandmother used to use it as the answer to literally everything. When I gashed my shins as a child, it was time for some 8-Hour Cream. Another thing I’ve used since I was a child is a Mason Pearson hairbrush. When I was a kid, there were some rules to having long hair, and the main one was that I had to brush it 100 times each day. My mother gave me my very first Mason Pearson hairbrush as a Christmas present, and to this day, I still use it. I’ve tried everything out there—I have a graveyard of brushes downstairs in my basement— but I always go back to my Mason Pearson brush.”

It seems like your mom made a big impact on your beauty outlook.

“My mother never took out the garbage without having makeup on! She always was, and she still is, such a beautiful woman. She has aged so graciously, but she likes to dress up and feel good, which has always played a very positive part in projecting beauty onto me. Growing up, I never had to be told by her, and likewise, we never asked our daughter, ‘Why do you have makeup on? Take it off.’ I was a day pupil in a strict boarding school back in Wales and the message there was: ‘No nail polish allowed. No makeup allowed.’ For whatever reason, I was viewed as the school-prefect. When potential parents came to look at the school, I was the one they threw out there. I wasn’t a goody-goody, but I was, I guess, a somewhat-good example of the school, minus my passion for makeup. There were many times I had to go downstairs for a makeup check. And I always had so many excuses—my main one being that I was on stage the night before and I was too tired to wash my face, so I couldn’t get it all off. That one always got me in trouble and my teacher would go ballistic! It was such a lie, but I thought it was a great excuse, and it was the only time I got reprimanded.

But, my mother did allow me to wear makeup, and she encouraged it. I was allowed to play with it at home—she put makeup on me, I put makeup on her, and it’s something we still do even now. I still cut my mother’s hair, and I’m the only one who does it; she hasn’t been to the hairdresser in 20 years. Every time she comes to visit us, I have to have my sharpened L-scissors. She gave me a very healthy projection of beauty and how fun it is. Her message very much was, ‘It’s not essential, but if it makes you feel good, then do it.’ If I am dragging my butt, it feels good to say, ‘Well, I’m going to put on a bit of eye makeup and some lipstick, and then I’ll feel better.’

It’s so funny, after I did Chicago, where I wore copious amounts of mascara along with lashes, about four months later, I would look in the mirror and ask myself, ‘What is it that’s wrong? What is it about you that’s different?’ Then, I realized that I didn’t have drag-queen eyelashes on [laughs], which I wore for six months while shooting the movie. I do love makeup. I’ve worked with so many great makeup artists from all over the word actually. My daughter does makeup too, and she’s really good at it. She doesn’t need makeup, but she loves it just like I do.”

That’s fun. Even your hair is well-known—the look and the color. How do you keep it like that?

“Well, I do have to do the roots now. I have been very lucky because my grandfather, God bless him—he passed away when he was 80, and he had jet-black hair. He had a tiny Jay Leno white patch in the front, but the rest was a complete head of black hair. My mother had dark hair, too, although not as dark as mine. When I was young, she used to dye her hair really black—like Elvis black. I don’t fight my roots too much, and I do it myself. Especially during this last year, I’ve become quite good at it.

I think I just like hair! I don’t know what it is. It’s a bit of a security blanket for me. When I am not working, I do a lot of deep-conditioning masks and leave it natural, but I do enjoy taking care of it. It’s funny, because every time I get a cut, even if it’s the tiniest bit, I always feel like a little bit of energy has been lost. I’m very much that woman who says, ‘My hair is so short,’ and Mike always looks at me like, ‘Are you crazy? I can’t even tell that you’ve come from a hairdresser.’ Meanwhile, I’m so sure I just cut way too much off. My daughter, who has hair right down to her backside, just had her first big cut. It looks fabulous on her, but I’m not ready for a big chop any time soon, I don’t think.”

This past year has been different with everything we do…beauty treatments included.

“Oh, yes. I’m missing my massages to the point where I would sell my arm for one. I’m a big massage person, and I’m a big, big, big reflexology person. Reflexology is more beneficial than a full-body massage for me. I also like to peel my face. I try not to do any at-home extractions, but I love to get facials. I’m such a girl! I could spend all vacation in a spa, going from a body treatment to a face treatment to whatever else they have on the menu. I really could. I just love it. It makes me feel good.

I’ve always been a potions and lotions fanatic. I’ve got so many products that I love to try. I’ve really missed all the treatments during this lockdown, but hey, it’s the least of anyone’s worries at the moment. I also like to do yoga. I like to meditate. I like to keep my body and my mind as refreshed—clean inside and out. I think it radiates for me. I know if I don’t do something—and I’m not talking about a fanatical amount of exercising or a fanatical amount of beauty treatments—I feel like I’m not as in-tune with my body. I feel so much better when I have an endorphin kick. Even if it’s just a long walk right now, I feel like I’ve done something. I always feel better when I do something.”

You’ve been almost forced to talk about mental health in the past. Do you have any advice during what has been a long year for everyone?

“I think the most important thing is to be kind to yourself. I can only speak for myself, but during this time, we’ve all had to learn some interesting lessons. It is such an easy time to procrastinate, put things off, and push things to the back of our minds— all of that builds up eventually. All of the little things can very quickly become bigger and bigger. What helps me is looking at the big picture and saying, ‘Well, I didn’t get that done today, but that’s OK,’ and then just waking up again tomorrow and doing it. We’re always able to change the path of our day. We’re able to do that with a toolbox of techniques— whether it’s meditating, eating well or uncluttering our spaces, or focusing on what’s important at the time and simply saying, ‘That will have to wait.’ I don’t consider that procrastinating; I consider that prioritizing. My biggest thing is, ‘A healthy mind, a healthy body.’ I find that that mainly comes through having healthy thoughts and doing good things for yourself and for others.

All of this has been a very long road, and there’s a lot of uncertainty for so many people financially, economically and when it comes to work, no matter what you do. On top of that, so many of us have to worry about our children and worry about family members that we haven’t been able to see or care for as much as we want to. By the grace of God, I have a roof over my head, I have a very good support system, and I have a loving husband and amazing children. We have all been staying safe and healthy throughout this pandemic, but we did lose my father-in-law, Kirk, at the beginning of last year, so the whole past year didn’t start off so great, even before a pandemic stretched across the world. It’s been a trying year, but it’s also been a year of having the time to think things through and to prioritize what’s important. That’s pretty much all anyone can do.”

It sounds like you’ve had a year of both reflection and starting new things. Now, you’ll be doing a network TV series for the first time with Prodigal Son. What’s different about this project?

“It’s definitely different. I wouldn’t say it’s hard, because I’m very happy that we are going full-steam ahead and keeping the industry alive, but it’s very different in the current climate. When I’m on set, I’m not the kind of person who just goes, ‘I’m finished with the scene. Call me when you’re ready again.’ The camaraderie of hanging out with my peers and chit-chatting away on the set, it’s all changed. Now, the film crew comes in, we’re not there. They come out, and we’re all masked. We go in, we rehearse with masks. We set the scene, then masks go off. We even have a person who signs for our masks with a sterilized box. I get COVID tested every day, as does the rest of the crew. So, the process is completely different. But it’s been a lot of fun thus far because I’m working with great actors and great people on a really great show. Personally, I feel very, very protected, and very safe within the work environment. Going forward, I think we’re all going to have to do things in a different way and be a little bit more patient with the process—and that goes for any job, not just in the entertainment industry. Patience is going to be key, but I guess it always was.”

Photography: John Russo; Location: The Fleur Room at Moxy Chelsea; Makeup: Mary Wiles; Hair: Patrick Melville for Goldwell Professional; Styling: Kelly Johnson; Stylist Assistant: Rika Nurrohmah

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