DARK ARTS

How an Olympic leg­end and an ex-model para­le­gal be­came the year’s sur­prise beauty en­trepreneurs. By TRACEY WITHERS

Harper’s Bazaar (Australia) - - Contents -

Blaq and beauty’s sur­pris­ing new en­trepreneurs.

It’s not easy rein­vent­ing when you’re an icon. Some­times it’s best done in sort-of se­cret. So, sur­prise!you know Blaq, that jug­ger­naut brand of black peel-away char­coal-in­fused masks, eye patches and cleans­ing cloths that ev­ery­one, from that girl at work with the beauty blog to the Kar­dashi­ans’ makeup artist, is into? That’s Ian Thorpe’s side-hus­tle. It’s fair to say the ex-swim­mer didn’t see a beauty job com­ing — it started as free labour for love, re­ally — but hear this Olympic great talk game plans for tak­ing Indige­nous Aus­tralian in­gre­di­ents in­ter­na­tional and it’s pretty ob­vi­ous that he’s found a happy place, both per­son­ally and with skin­care.

For ex­pla­na­tion, we have to back­track to the be­gin­ning. It must be said, and Thorpe of­ten does, that Blaq re­ally is his part­ner, Ryan Chan­ning’s brain­child. A few years ago, the cou­ple was on a ski hol­i­day and, while dig­ging around in one of those Ja­panese stores where weird won­der­ful­ness is so of­ten dis­cov­ered, Chan­ning ze­roed in on an in­trigu­ing black in­gre­di­ent.“i couldn’t even tell what it was at first, just that it’s good for you,” he re­calls. It turned out to be char­coal, which is now a by­word for deep-detox­ing our faces, but which back then was still a low-key hum on the radar. A light­bulb went off and Chan­ning, a para­le­gal who was about to be­gin a pro bono in­tern­ship in hu­man rights law in Paris, brought the black stuff home to Syd­ney. He called in a for­mu­la­tor, set up the brand in spare time, put his first prod­uct, the Blaq Mask, on the in­ter­net and flew to Paris.

“I’d ex­pected to maybe sell a thou­sand if I was lucky,” Chan­ning says of the ex­per­i­ment. But, just then, the pore-peel black mask trend went boom. So­cials ex­ploded. Or­ders crashed in. “I had no choice,” Thorpe, the du­ti­ful boyfriend, says with a laugh. “Ryan was in Paris and this thing was just tak­ing off and I had to pick up

the slack here … I was pack­ing boxes at the kitchen table, which I ac­tu­ally be­came very good at — I was like, How fast can I go?” Chan­ning came home and pressed pause on law.“i didn’t want this to just be a mo­ment in the sun, so I went all in,” he says. “Ian was an amaz­ing sound­ing board and sup­port.” Thorpe’s first job was con­vinc­ing Chan­ning’s par­ents that fol­low­ing this new pas­sion was a great idea. He pulled it off. And so a full-fledged beauty founder and his head of strat­egy were born. En­tre­pre­neur­ial spir­its, this is your case study in mak­ing it hap­pen. Blaq’s now six prod­ucts deep, hav­ing sold more than a mil­lion masks to fans from Ice­land to the UK and US, where it’s sold in Bar­neys, Neiman Mar­cus, An­thro­polo­gie and on­line at Net-a-porter and Gwyneth Pal­trow’s Goop.chan­ning andthorpe have “done all the jobs” — fill­ing or­ders, prod­uct de­vel­op­ment, guinea-pig­ging prod­ucts.“we do have an ex­pert for­mu­la­tor who takes our big ideas and fine-tunes in­gre­di­ents and the [science],” Chan­ning says. The up­skill has been steep, but Chan­ning says rather than be in­tim­i­dated by what you don’t know (yet), flex what you’re al­ready good at. “I was do­ing IP law be­fore, so I knew all about copy­right­ing and I’m good at as­sess­ing business risk,” he says.

For ex-elite ath­lete Thorpe, this gig, which he’s do­ing along­side am­bas­sado­rial roles with The Star casino, adi­das, Par­ley for the Oceans plus business coach­ing with ex-crick­eter Shane Wat­son, is less of a ca­reer dog­leg than it ap­pears. “I’ve been work­ing with brands for most of my ca­reer,” he re­flects.“so I come in around the cre­ative side of the brand, the tone.” Chan­ning adds:“ian’s cer­tainly my backup on a per­sonal level, but he brings so much to the brand.”

We’ve all seen the strug­gle sports stars have to find a new niche af­ter they re­tire.thorpe has been open about the de­pres­sion he ex­pe­ri­enced in his tran­si­tion out of the pool. In this with Chan­ning, who is also the first love with whom he’s gone pub­lic, it’s a beau­ti­ful thing to see him so in the pocket.“i guess the de­ci­sion to stay be­hind the brand, not so vis­i­ble this time, was con­scious — it gave us more free­dom to be cre­ative and take chances,” he says.

Thorpe is es­pe­cially psyched about Chan­ning’s new baby, Gen­er­a­tion Clay, a line-up of colour­coded masks that riff on Indige­nous Aus­tralian in­gre­di­ents in­side skin­care built for faces that go bush, to the beach or to work in a sun-ag­gres­sive city. The clays are spiked with na­tive ex­tracts from the Dain­tree rain­for­est.“a botanist took us through the plants and what Indige­nous peo­ple use them for,” Chan­ning ex­plains. “That’s what re­ally in­spired us.”the Ul­tra­vi­o­let Bright­en­ing Pur­ple Clay Mask fea­tures David­son plum, a gen­tle nat­u­ral Aha.there’s the black De­tox­i­fy­ing Char­coal Clay Mask with anti-in­flam­ma­tory, spot-de­fy­ing old man weed. In­fused with Kakadu plum for a heavy dose of vi­ta­min C, the Ur­ban De­fence Pu­ri­fy­ing Pink Aus­tralian Clay Mask sold out the week it launched lo­cally.

So now on­ward to global dom­i­na­tion. “There’s an abun­dance of nat­u­ral re­sources here that have thou­sands of years of Indige­nous knowl­edge be­hind them, and we re­ally want to pro­mote that, fus­ing that her­itage with our mod­ern life­style,”thorpe says. Both are re­ally proud to be be­hind an Aus­tralian brand, do­ing right by lo­cal sup­pli­ers. “Ex­port­ing Aus­tralia to the world is what I’ve al­ways been pas­sion­ate about,”thorpe con­tin­ues.“there’s a thing the For­eign Min­is­ter calls sports diplo­macy — the first cul­tural con­tact peo­ple have with a coun­try is of­ten through sport.” Beauty diplo­macy, then, per­haps? It’s not got a bad ring to it, ac­tu­ally.

Blaq Body Scrub, $17, and Mask, $25, blaq.co. Ryan Chan­ning (left) wears Acne Stu­dios T-shirt, $135; Jac+jack pants, $369. Ian Thorpe wears Jac+jack jumper, $399; Gior­gio Ar­mani pants, $1450.

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