Etienne Ortega’s Namesake Beauty Brand Holds The Secret to Luscious Lips


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The key to the juicy lips seen on Lana Del Rey, Christina Aguilera, Demi Lovato, and more? Etienne Ortega, of course. The star makeup artist—and winner of our FLA 2022 Makeup Artist of the Year award—has entered a new chapter with the launch of his namesake beauty brand, ORTEGA. Kicking off the line is a lip liner, lip and cheek stick, lip oil, lip gloss, and makeup remover, all in homage to his signature luscious lips. But what does it take to launch a beauty business today—in addition to going viral, beating cancer, secretly debuting products on the red carpet, and more? We sat down with Ortega to find out. 

Congratulations on launching ORTEGA! What sparked the desire to launch your own beauty brand?
This brand started five years ago. Basically, at the time, I had been in the industry for 13 years. And just working with all my dream icons, that I could only have dreamt of when I was a little kid, I was just thinking to myself like, every few years we all grow, we all change and evolve. So my instinct was, okay, what does the next chapter for Etienne look like? And for me, it’s always been a dream to… I think just as a makeup artist, and Kevyn Aucoin being one of my idols, you just idolize people and only dream to be a little like them in your career. And just following those footsteps from people like Kevin. That really inspired me, and I just think for me, the next chapter of my life, I see it being still involved in art like makeup, hair, and anything beauty—but I needed to start thinking about my future. Maybe having kids one day, or not, or just settling down, I don’t know, something. That drove me to take the business route, because at the end of the day, it’s not just a brand, it is a business. I’d learned so much about so many things regarding that. In 2019, I was like, Okay, I’m going to start looking into it.

ORTEGA campaign (Courtesy of ORTEGA)

How did you choose your brand’s name?
It started off being called Essentia, then it was By Etienne, and then I finally started working with this amazing company called Playlab, Inc.—they work with Louis Vuitton, Ferragam, Rihanna, everyone. They listened to my concepts and ideas, and of course it’s like, how much more different can you make a beauty brand? I feel like it’s all been done, basically—so how can I bring a little bit of my own flavor and make it different? I think they had such a strong point for me about leveraging my Latin heritage, owning the fact that I’m Mexican, I’m an immigrant, and they were the ones that really presented me with the idea of using “Ortega” as the brand name. Once I saw the logo and the presentation, it was a no-brainer. I was like, This is definitely the name of my brand. Organically, everything has tied into everything that I’m doing. First and foremost, everything I do in my life is for me, but it’s also for all my family. My grandfather came to the US many decades ago, and he left my dad and the kids in Mexico. I was born in Guadalajara as well, so he sacrificed all of his family time and spending time with his kids and watching them grow up, to come to the US and find a better future, or the American dream, as we like to say. So to me, it all tied in with ORTEGA. It’s my grandpa… he’s no longer here,  it added up all these emotions, and tied in with the creative, and that’s how we landed on ORTEGA.

What challenges did you face when launching ORTEGA, and how did you overcome them?
It’s just been a really fun process, but not easy, because in 2021 I dealt with testicular cancer. I was diagnosed, and that slowed me down a whole year. I unfortunately did have other partnerships that didn’t work out, for the right reasons…timing is everything . I beat cancer, and basically launching ORTEGA was like taking a full breath of fresh air for the first time in five years. I felt almost like a prisoner of this project, being sick, I was just like, Am I making a mistake? Should I not be doing this brand? So many things ran through my head, but I’m so happy that it’s finally out and it’s here.

Etienne Ortega (Courtesy of ORTEGA)

That’s a big undertaking, with everything that was going on with your life at the time. How did you find the strength to keep pushing and moving forward?
Whenever I have an idea, I will not stop until I execute it. From something as little as producing a party or a birthday, and then to such big things as creating a brand, I just think that when I have an instinct of wanting to do something, I’ll do it. It won’t matter to me how many obstacles, because if you look at life, it’s never easy for anybody. We all have different struggles, we all go through different things, but eventually you land where you are supposed to.  By being professional, by having good intentions, and having a clear vision of what you want, eventually you’ll land there. There was never any hesitation for me that this was what I wanted to do, and even though I waited for years and years and years for things to feel right, “No” was never an answer for me. Quitting was never an answer.  I just kept it moving, and I’m here.

Tell me about when you conceptualized the brand—it has a line of products that all work in tandem with each other. What was the first product you wanted to start with?
Again, going back to the kind of person [I am] and just having those set goals, our lip collection has always been a priority. I truly love lip products. I grew up watching my mom do her lip liner, my cousins and my homegirls at school. I think it stems from a really long while ago. But in the present time, all my followers online have always been like, What is the lip combo? I find that to be a very consistent thing with my following. For years I was like, Ooh, I’m dying to tell you guys that there’s something happening, but I was never able to talk about it. Meanwhile, for years I’ve been putting them on clients, testing the samples, watching them go on a [red] carpet, and then getting feedback like, What is the lip? And I’m like, Oh my god, it’s working. People like the colors, they like what I’m doing. It was a no-brainer, but obviously going back to the business thing—it’s not just about creating products, because if it was just an artistic project, I would have 20 more colors in this collection, and then more SKU’s and stuff, but that’s when the business side of me has kicked in. Like, Okay, well, I’m funding half of this myself in order to get my money back, and then starting making profit I’ve got to really think and be strategic about all this stuff. It’s forced me to become a businessman. But the lip collection was just a no-brainer for me. I love lips, everything lips. Even as a guy that doesn’t wear lipstick, like lip oils, lip scrubs, there’s just such a range of amazing things that could happen. I just fell in love with the agave formulation that my product development girl Nidia presented to me. And then I was like, You know that blue agave is actually from the state that I was born in, and then my whole vision of the packaging being blue [began]  years and years ago. It all just ties in so organically, and I’m like, look at this organic marketing, I don’t even have to really try. Because it just worked out that way. The formulas are really incredible, I’m really proud of them, and my team and I worked really hard on the price point as well to make it reachable to everyone.

Etienne Ortega (Courtesy of ORTEGA)

You do Christina Aguilera and Lana Del Ray’s makeup, and people online are always obsessing over their lips. Do you have a favorite lip look or moment that you’ve done in your career?
That’s so hard to tell because I feel like we keep raising the bar with these girls. Christina looks smoking hot, she’s always been a beautiful girl. But with Lana, for example, everyone seems to be on the trend of, What is the Lana lip? Without me even realizing that that’s even going to be a thing. I love all my clients evenly, and for different reasons. It’s been cool to get that response. The current Lana movement is my go-to favorite, because it’s so true to myself as an artist. I’ve always loved the very defined, contrasted, ombré lip with the nude center and juicy pout. I see everyone recreating it now on TikTok, and it’s so cute. Jeffree Star just made it Jeffree-approved, it was really cute because these guys all have amazing followings and brands. I think it’s just really cool to see the support and how it’s slowly becoming trendy, only two weeks in.

As a makeup artist and now brand leader, what is some advice you have for makeup artists hoping to launch bigger projects or have their own brand?
Do your homework, and think about what you really want and why you’re doing it. I feel like everything in life needs to have a purpose for you to execute things the right way. For me, the way I viewed having a brand five years ago is very different from the way I view things today, five years later, launching and going through all the hardships that I had to go through. But I think it’s just doing your homework [and] being really sure of what you want, because I will tell you that this is so much work. That I’ve never even imagined. It’s very rewarding because I’m already a full working makeup artist, full-time. Now, I added a whole new tab to my schedule, which is just as heavy as my makeup artist job. I think you just have to be ready, mentally prepared, have a plan, and then execute it.  I don’t think it’s for everyone. Big projects are a big commitment, so just being ready for work. And thank god I like to work, so I’m alright.

What is an essential beauty item that everybody needs to have in their bag at all times?
Lip care. I notice when I don’t drink water, my lips get dry. So first and foremost, I always tell people to drink their water. It’s so cliche, because it will pop up in your skin, your lips, but the one thing I can’t live without is the blue nectar lip oil. I don’t know if I’m addicted, but since I was a teenager I’ve always had a Chapstick back in the day, you know those little… that’s what it’s called, the Chapstick brand?

Yes!
So, to now have my own, I can’t live without it. It’s on my nightstand, it’s in my car, it’s in my bag. I think that’s something that I can’t live without. And it’s universal too, [for] men and women—everyone needs to take care of their lips.

ORTEGA’s lip products (Courtesy of ORTEGA)

Lips are a big signature for you, and people take notice and recognize that. Why do you think everybody is obsessed with the lips right now? What’s the cause?
Here’s the thing. I’m going to give it to you real: there’s only so much you can do to reinvent something. Outside of the standard products, there’s lip liners, lipsticks, lip gloss, lip oil. Then there’s like concealers, foundation, et cetera. How much more can we reinvent the wheel? I think what’s different right now is just being with the icons that we look up to, the pop culture we admire, I think everyone is on the same page with just… I feel like all I see is just lip, lip, lip. Thank god for me! That’s great for me, but I just see it as being such a universal pop culture trend, and I’m always catching more and more people wearing lip liner. Years ago, when I would do it on one-off shoots or editorials, people would be like, I don’t really wear lip liner, or I’m scared. And I’m like, Let me show you how to do it, this is how you line your lips, you could create fuller-looking lips without getting the filler so you could get a more pouty look. There’s a lot of art to it, there’s a lot of combinations. Back then, it was like, What lipstick are you wearing? and it would be one lipstick. Now, it’s like you need the liner, you need the deeper liner to contrast, you need the lighter color for the center, and then the gloss. I think it’s become more of a routine—like your skincare routine, but for your lips. It’s really cool lips are  the trend right now.

Totally. You won our Makeup Artist of the Year award at the 2022 Fashion Los Angeles Awards. Is there a key moment that stands out from that night for you, and did you do anything special to celebrate afterwards?
Oh my god, you just brought me back to the day. To be honest with you, that has to be one of the most special days of my life. Not only the honor I had of getting an award from you guys, but the timing of that award was so special because I had just gotten off chemo. I was wearing a beanie that day, and I had my eyebrows drawn in because I had no hair yet. My hair was still growing back. It was a lot of emotions that day, my family was there, my mom and dad and my siblings. And then to have Christina Aguiliera present me an award, the person that I looked up to, the person that really inspired me to become a makeup artist when i was a teen boy, I was just like, My thirteen-year-old [self] would be so proud. Sometimes I find that phrase to be so cliche or repetitive, but it was so true at that moment for me. Just looking back when I was a kid, all these dreams and ambitions…for an immigrant, they said it wasn’t possible. But I was living proof that day like look, this is really happening, my idol is giving me an award. Not only my idol, but I get recognized for who I am as a makeup artist, and it was just the biggest reward that I will never forget. We did hang out after, with Paris Hilton and Christina—we went to dinner and we ended up at her house just having drinks, and it was a night that I’ll never forget.

Christina Aguilera and Etienne Ortega

That’s so special. ORTEGA’s lip products are out, and people are already loving them and sharing their looks online. Can you hint what you’ll do next at your brand?
Oh my god, I have so many ideas, first and foremost, which is overwhelming to myself because I drive myself crazy. I do have a launch for another product ready. I’m not sure when it’s going to launch. Because I worked on the lip products for so long, you start to become like, Okay, what’s next? You want to continue to work. This next one that I’m working on, which will be out for sure by summer, it is mind-blowing. It’s beautifully visually pleasing to the eye, but also beautiful on the skin. So I’m working on that, and I’m continuing to develop just other lip products and other categories—but it takes time and money, so little by little. I am at the end of the day an indie brand, a startup, and we don’t have huge budgets yet—but we’re working on it!

Will we see these secret projects pop up on the red carpet before they’re released?
Oh, yeah. They’ve already been [on the red carpet]. And once I tease what it is, people get it. It’s another question I get asked…but it’s all the glow that you need, is what I will say.

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