Beauty Talk: Zoe Foster, Bossypants of Beauty
The Mary Poppins of beauty, Australia's Zoe Foster is a shiny example of success.
'Tis the night before my interview with Australia's most well-known beauty editor, Zoe Foster, and all's not well in my house. The interview only just confirmed, I have a Bible study to attend, the book to read and my hair, suffering wintry dryness and scissors avoidance, looks like it's had a circa-1980s Kylie Minogue perm.
Paging through Amazing Face, Foster's compendium to looking good, in bed (without a silk pillow case to lie on, which she insists on), I thrust myself out from under the covers to apply a moisturising mask after reading her notes on skin in a last-ditch attempt at complexion redemption... the mask gives me three fresh new pimples in the morning.
Things are NOT looking good on approach to the interview and I am gripped by feelings of inadequacy, which are alternately replaced by a self-assured Kate Moss nonchalance. Of course, I'm not a former supermodel. Why am I so panicked?
When I first encountered Foster, she was Cosmopolitan's new recruit and a star on the rise under the tutelage of Sarah Wilson and Mia Freedman. A pocket rocket of Kylie Minogue proportions with a whip-smart way with words and a knack for experimental makeup, she was someone I both feared and relished: fun, sassy, bold, in control, her working mantra was beauty editing with zeal (mine was more, "I want to save girls from Clearasil"). And Zoe Foster – two novels, one dating guide, editor-at-large of PRIMPED; just the tip of her CV – is nothing if not zealous.
The lady gets stuff done.
In high school, Foster was the kind of girl to sit at the back of the bus with the boys and "throw shit at people". Not one for hanging out with the "bitchy, gossipy, boring girls", she yearned to escape her home in the NSW hinterland and make something of herself in the Big Smoke, where, ironically, she ended up in an industry rumoured to be made up of bitchy, gossipy, boring girls.
“I needed to be popular and I needed to be liked,” she says of her teenaged self. “But I was so arrogant, ‘Like, I need to get out of this town and make something myself in Sydney’, and so bossy, to the point I had to go to my high school reunion and apologise for being a prick. It must have been my own insecurities, trying to constantly confirm myself – yet I didn’t have a vision of what I wanted to do in Sydney. I just thought I was too good for a small town.”
Quite expectantly, Foster – who works most days from home wearing jeans, a stripey tee and brogues – is on official beauty duty the morning we meet Brisbane’s Gunshop café. Primped and preened to perfection, all coiffed, shiny nut-brown hair (Pantene is a sponsor), Clinique Chubby cherry lips, peachy cheeks and trench-coated, she’s still radiant after a frantic week of book launch activities.
A morning gym session behind her, a David Jones appearance ahead, Foster is taking off this weekend to New York where she’ll reconnect with her beau, the comedian Hamish Blake, with whom she shares a penchant for Arrested Development, 30 Rock, The Family Guy and David Sedaris. They are clearly best mates. "If a restaurant booking falls through or plans change, I say to him, ‘I’d be happy in a Jetstar toilet with you’,” she says.
Foster is in her element, which doesn't bode well for the novel she's working on, which is due out in 2012. She'll be working on the edit of the book from New York, where she'll be with Blake for four months, "stalking the shit out of Sarah Jessica Parker", with whom she'll share a street address (as in, the same street, not the same home), and generally flying under the radar.
"I’m excited to see my boy," she says. "Everything comes with me – I’ll still do PRIMPED and Cosmo and I’ll be working on this book that’s due to come out early next year, which is a novel that’s actually fiction and not my life. This one has been a challenge, which is good. What is painfully obvious is that I’m very happy in my life and happiness doesn’t make for great novels, so I have to make some drama. It’s a beautiful problem to have, but it’s literally generating fiction instead of loosely veiling my own life."
Here she is referring to her first two novels, Air Kisses and Playing the Field, which play on her time as the girlfriend of football star Craig Wing. The romance fizzled, making way for her dandy Hamish (one part of Hamish & Andy), and also proving entertaining fodder for a budding book writer. It's this ability to make the most of her circumstances, or indeed to rise above them, that seems to fuel the Foster spirit.
“Looks fade and money comes and goes but you need to be able to laugh," she says, which eases my sense of unease staring down the face of my general slackness in the appearance department, certainly not appeased by Amazing Face, which dishes out advice for 30+s like myself on LED Light Therapy (eek!) and AHAs.
Visions of non-foodie Andrew Denton’s tragically stilted interview with big-time-foodie Nigella Lawson come to mind as I contemplate the fact that beauty maintenance ranks about number #263 on my priority list these days. While hiding behind a thin veil of lifestyle excuses, I get a couple of verbal slaps: "You should get a hair cut," she says once. "To the collarbones," she adds later. Point taken. I book an appointment that afternoon (nothing too drastic, just a tidy-up, sorry to disappoint).
Seven years ago, Foster, now 31, carved out a niche for herself as a beauty editor with sass, quirk and pizzazz, underwritten by the utmost professionalism, all channelled into her lively copy at Cosmopolitan, which earned her several awards, and her debut blog, Fruity Beauty, which segued into her role as editor-in-chief, and now editor-at-large, of PRIMPED, after a stint at Harper’s BAZAAR. She now also masquerades as "Zoe They Say" on Tumblr.
Foster is almost allergic to being a clone, so before everyone else feels something is done to death, she's already moved on. "I’ve had to evolve because the conversational tone has become so mainstream," she says. “It’s reactionary – if I see saturation, I don’t want to be a part of it, though it's not necessarily conscious."
When pressed about the growing number of beauty blogs, more particularly those that emulate her brand of cheek and quirk, she is sage and circumspect.
"It’s harder and harder to do something truly original – you see people copying people all the time. You can be inspired by people, but finding gaps is where success comes from. Some of the best blogs are really specific. Fantastic Man has been a huge influence me, and US Esquire; they’re my two favourite magazines in the world and the only subscriptions I have. They’re so ahead of the curve. I don’t think they even observe the curve, they just do it."
It's this ability to live by the Nike mantra that enables Foster to leap out of bed and straight into work on any given day, updating her various social media accounts (Twitter, Tumblr), posting two blogs to PRIMPED, filing her fortnightly newspaper column and writing her books along the way (without forgetting to feed her comfort cat, Meowbert), from an old children’s desk (“the smallest desk in the world”) and an “unerganomic” dining room chair.
“I can literally get up from bed, sit down at the computer and just go,” she says. “If I can work hard in that first three hours – whether freelance stuff or book work or blogs – in the middle of the day, when my brain switches off, I can go to the gym or do Pilates or see my niece. Then I’ll come back at about 2pm and write until about 6pm. But I never switch off – I’ve always got my laptop, I’m on Twitter, I’m always playing online… it makes me feel less alone.”
While she admits that dating a footballer who was often away gave her a great excuse to filter some of her spare time into writing, it's hard to imagine someone as productive or connected as Foster ever feeling alone. In fact, it's her knack for inviting others into her world, which seems to be populated with amazing people and amazing things and now an amazing new book, that makes others – particularly her fangirls, who have gathered to see her at David Jones stores this week – feel less solitary. And she's only too happy to dish advice (via Cosmopolitan or PRIMPED or her books) about how to live her life, which can sound downright bossy, maybe offensive, if not taken with the view that the girl is giving it with heart.
Breaking into beauty wasn’t intentional: she didn’t know what a beauty editor was. “I never read the beauty pages. I don’t know how I learnt to do makeup,” she says, admitting she still makes the occasional faux pas. She was the deputy editor of Mania before taking on the deputy role at Smash Hits, assuming, in her cocksure way, that she would be equally able to help manage the team at Dolly magazine when the deputy’s role popped up. She was humbled.
“I was like, well, obviously, I’ve had a team of three! I can be deputy anywhere!” she jokes. “I applied and Mia [Freedman] was editor-in-chief. I wrote my cover letter as a 14-year-old girl and I wrote a quote by Rupert Murdoch at the top of my CV. Mia called me straight away and said I was hideously underqualified for the role, but she’d keep me in mind anyway. I was devastated because she was my idol and I wanted to work for her. Then the Dolly beauty editor job came up, and I didn’t get that.”
Of course, what she was given was the reigns at Cosmopolitan to interpret beauty trends, research and science in her own unique way. “Makeup is something that you have to interpret at lowest-common-denominator level, and I am the lowest common denominator,” she says. “But it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and the eccentric, and forget the basics. There’s also a responsibility that comes with telling people to put acids on their face, so you have to feel secure that you’re adequately informed. And I don’t want people to spend $180 on a shitty product that doesn’t work.”
It’s her seven years of beauty knowledge and know-how that she’s invested into Amazing Face, which covers all the basics interspersed with witticisms and Zoeisms, such as "chinkles" (aka chest wrinkles). "If I was ever going to develop a product, it would be for that area," she says. "It’s hard to treat. Even those who have the cash to do photo-rejuvenation, the actual wrinkles that come up… it’s hydration and sunscreen. You can use the same products as on your face."
A look at Foster's smooth décolletage and it's clear to see the lady doth practise what she preach. In fact, it was while on a Schoolies Week break by the beach that Foster had her first beauty epiphany: she was giving sunbaking the flick. Having grown up holidaying at her grandmother's place at Cronulla, she has since made "Death to Sunbaking!" one of her operating mantras; no easy feat in a country where a deep tan is in some circles a more covetable status object than a Mercedes convertible.
Her father, David Foster, is a novelist of acclaim, though outside literary circles he's not quite matching his daughter's heights of fame. Was her father’s career something she wanted to emulate?
“I was categorically told to avoid it at all costs,” she says. “Dad never made any money from his books. He survived on grants and fellowships. But he’s not a commercial writer – he’s a proper literary novelist. He’s very proud of me, because he sees how much effort I put into promoting myself, whereas he hates that stuff. Even though I feel like as a writer he’s planets apart, incredible, and I just write chick-lit, he tells me not to put myself down like that, because it’s hard to keep women interested. And it’s a furious pace just promoting yourself; energy consuming.”
But she has energy in bounds; almost as if the more she expends, the more she gains. Tina Fey is a career role model ("she's been so great and rad throughout it all"), and it's clear the two writers lack a commonality: talent, discipline and determination.
"I sit myself on that chair and just get it done," she says. "And that is a big part of it. We never had a TV growing up, which I think has made me a certain way without me being aware of it, because we just had to fill in our time with creative things and we’d really get into projects, like building a cubby-house. I like having a busy boyfriend, because you get stuff done. But I get into my own spin. I wanted to finish my first book by 25 and have five books finished by 30, so I have this drive. I don’t know who I’m competing with or why.”
The invisible deadlines are a common conundrum for the modern career girl, though Foster sets the bar pretty darn high for your average girl. Given her penchant for The Simpsons ("it's so witty and clever") and her boyfriend's modern TV hero status, it probably won't be long before we see Foster giving TV a try outside The Circle (see Hamish and Zoe YouTube it up below). "If it presented itself, TV writing is something I’d love to try,” she says.
But right now (literally, as she is on the plane), she's going to enjoy being with her boy in New York.
“I feel strangely blessed,” she says. “Sometimes I just think, ‘This is all a bit too good.’ But then I put my head up and say, ‘Hey, that’s okay. Why do we have to apologise for success?’ The more good you do, the more you want to try. I’m not even really trying to do it – it’s not contrived. I honestly feel like it’s nothing. Anyone could write a book, you just have to sit down and do it. It’s the sitting down bit that’s hard.”
Just like getting to the hairdressers, right?
Girl With a Satchel