In 2000, Gwen Stefani, the style icon and frontwoman of No Doubt, cowrote the vulnerable “Magic’s in the Makeup,” a track off the group’s critically acclaimed fourth album Return of Saturn. On it, Stefani confesses to a kind of veiled existence, for better or for worse: “I can fool you and attract attention / Camouflage my nature / Let me demonstrate / Makeup’s all off / Who am I?”
When the album comes up in a recent conversation over Zoom, the precision of the musician’s signature red lip and winged eyeliner is suddenly at risk. “You’re going to make me cry,” says Stefani, now 52. Having written Return of Saturn during a painful period in her life, for many years Stefani could never bring herself to revisit the record. But seven years ago—when she describes her life as “falling apart,” and when she first had the idea for GXVE, her debut beauty line—she made the decision to dive back in. “Everything was written in those songs,” says Stefani. “It’s like a diary.” She knew then that she needed to pursue her passion project.
When we speak in early March, it’s the day after the official launch of GXVE, which she celebrated with a trip to her hometown of Anaheim, California. Arriving on Sephora’s shelves this Thursday, the collection of eight clean products is designed as a blueprint for recreating her bold trademark look, from the arched brows and matte lipstick to the classically defined eye. “This is what I’ve prayed about. This is the rest of my life,” says Stefani. “This is my creativity and my give-back.”
Here, the Hollaback Girl and coach on NBC’s The Voice reflects on her candy-colored ’90s beauty moments and the lessons she picked up working at the makeup counter.
Vanity Fair: Can you recall your earliest memory of makeup?
Gwen Stefani: Probably birth! You know how certain things just are and you don’t really know why? I was always into anything quite girly. It’s weird because nowadays I feel like people don’t want to say that—like, it’s not cool and you’re not a strong woman if you like to play with Barbies. I don’t get that. I always played dress-up. I always played with glamour and makeup. I guess it’s just part of my DNA.
I have to ask about your red lip. It’s been a mainstay, from “Don’t Speak” to “Hollaback Girl” to The Voice. Why?
I think that’s what happens when you grow up next to Disneyland and you see princesses. I’ve always been inspired by old movies and Hollywood starlets. When I was in high school, I can remember the moment that I first saw James Dean. It’s probably how you are discovering the ’80s and ’90s now. My mom grew up in the ’50s and ’60s, so I was seeing pictures of her when she was young, and seeing my grandmas in the ’40s. It was a fascination with those generations—how they were glamorous during the war, with their hair and the red lips. So, red lipstick was something that I always thought was glamorous and made you stand out and look so feminine. It’s your mouth, it’s your voice.