The start of spring is weeks away, but small signs of renewal keep presenting themselves. Clothing in petal-soft pastels. Fresh hairstyles. Offices steadily humming back to life. That all manifests in the Zoom window, where Scarlett Johansson (salmon-colored sweater, crisp blond bob) is smiling from the Manhattan headquarters of The Outset, her new skin-care brand. Nothing about the six minimalist products suggests the star power that comes from Marvel juggernauts and art-house darlings like Lost in Translation and Her. In lieu of the actor’s name on the white boxes, there are tiny logos denoting cruelty-free formulas, a carbon-neutral facility, and cartons made using wind energy. If there’s a whiff of Johansson at all—a surname passed down by her Danish architect father—it’s in the Scandinavian simplicity of the design: frosted-glass jars with cornflower blue type.
“We kept coming back to the beginning, a restart, every day feeling like a new opportunity, elevating your every day, the essentials—all of these words,” the actor says of the early brainstorms. “And, I don’t know, Kate had this stroke of genius.” The Outset, as christened by co-founder and CEO Kate Foster, taps into a spirit of optimism—a bright coda for a project that coalesced over a downbeat two years. “The first time we met in person was right before the pandemic exploded—we actually met at a restaurant that’s unfortunately no longer there,” Johansson recalls. Ramping up a business amid global upheaval had its obvious challenges, but the state of things also offered a window of opportunity. “We were just like, ‘Okay, the noise has kind of died down and here we are; it’s just us. Let’s get to work.’”
If a sentence like the outset signals a clean slate, that philosophy also extends to its vision for an overhauled skin-care landscape, with considered ingredients and come-one-come-all approachability. (The protective night cream is the biggest ticket item, at $54.) At the heart of the range is an elemental three-step routine: a micellar gel for gentle cleansing, a firming serum, and a squalane-boosted moisturizer. Filling out the lineup are two targeted treatments: a lotion-like application for lips, and an eye cream for smoothing fine lines. (It’s a sleeper hit with Johansson’s husband, SNL star and Staten Island Ferry co-owner Colin Jost.)
For Johansson, whose onscreen work has expanded into a production company, it seems natural that her previous beauty ambassador roles would inspire her to create something of her own. The idea of building community was central; sustainability, too. “Making something that was a necessity without contributing to a problem was a pillar of importance for me,” she says, echoing the brand’s warm, pragmatic approach. Here, she revisits her Y2K piercings, hints at The Outset’s next steps, and talks about the lingering scrutiny around motherhood.
Vanity Fair: In the late 1990s, when you appeared with Robert Redford in The Horse Whisperer, he described your level of maturity as “13 going on 30.” Did that ahead-of-the-curve awareness extend to skin care?
Scarlett Johansson: It’s so funny that you brought that up. Right around the time when I made The Horse Whisperer, I was starting to get teenage, like, hormonal acne. And I remember—this really shows you how careful you have to be around what you say to young people—the makeup artist at the time was like, “Whoa, what is that? Like Mount Vesuvius.” He was describing my acne and it made me feel terrible. I did have problem skin for a really long time, well into my 20s. Even before that, starting to wear makeup when I was like eight, nine years old for film, my mom always reminded me to take care of my skin. [No matter the] amount of beauty or lighting or whatever, at the end of the day, coming home and washing your makeup off and seeing your skin, you’re just kind of there with yourself. I’ve been hyper-aware of how that has affected my own self-confidence.