Irene Forte is a real-life Eloise, if ever there were one. Instead of running around the halls of The Plaza and bothering hotel manager Mr. Salomone, though, she grew up frequenting the luxurious properties of RoccoForte, the hotel group that her father, Sir RoccoForte,founded nearly 25 years ago, and now she’s calling upon that experience to shape her eponymous beauty line, Irene Forte Skincare.
Forte spent her childhood in England, where Rocco Forte Hotels is headquartered, but with a Roman-born mother, her Italian roots were never far away. “She taught us Italian when we were little, we grew up eating a healthy Mediterranean diet, and family was always at the center of everything we did,” Forte says. And it was with her heritage in mind that Irene decided to study Italian Literature, along with French, as a student at Oxford University and upon graduating, spent a year working at her family’s Verdura Resort in Sicily.
It was never in her explicit plans to join Rocco Forte Hotels, but when her father suggested a six-month development program at the group’s Brown’s Hotel in London, Irene nonetheless fell in love with the hospitality space. “I joined the central team and developed ourbrand standards, which included a new service philosophy and values, as well as new departmental Standard Operating Procedures,” and nine years later, she says, “I was hooked on hotels, and I haven't 'fully' left since.”
While overseeing the group’s branding, Forte noticed that there was no unified approach towards the spas, and as a lover of all things wellness, she asked her father if she expand her job title to incorporate this too. “He said that so long as I kept doing my Learning & Development job and it wouldn’t cost him more money, I could,” she recalls. In 2014, Irene launched Rocco Forte Spas, complete with a new spa philosophy and nutrition and fitness plans, but she also decided to create a nine-product line called Forte Organics. “I wanted to create something that unified all of the group’s spas, and I knew that we had an amazing wealth of active organic ingredients at Verdura Resort,” she says. The line was well received, but the spas were asking for an even larger range with more treatments, and Forte felt she didn't have the budget to give them the training and marketing support that an external brand could offer. So, just as her title at Rocco Forte changed to Wellness Director in 2015, Irene took the plunge to create a line that was fully hers, eponymously called Irene Forte Skincare.
Knowing she wanted to source all of the ingredients from Verdura Resort’s organic farm and manufacture the products in Italy, Irene met with a number of labs and came across Dr. Dottoressa Ferri. With 35 years experience as a pharmacologist and a team of biologists and dermatologists and research center behind her, Ferri was the perfect partner, and the two began turning the nine-product line into a bigger, better 32-SKU organic and sustainable beauty brand. “It took three years to really get the formulas and scents how we all wanted, as well as to do all the compatibility tests,” Forte says. But in 2018, Irene Forte Skincare launched, and though it has now grown into a global brand, sold at Net-a-Porter, Shen Beauty, and everything in between, Irene’s mission of creating the Mediterranean diet for skin has remained the same.
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Gabby Shacknai: What role did Verdura Resort and Sicily in general play in your thinking about Irene Forte Skincare?
Irene Forte: It played a very big role. I first got into beauty during my year out spent at Verdura Resort, but it was also then thatI fell in love with the people, the culture, the food, and the breathtaking nature of the island. I realized that Sicily’s rich ingredients and the bounty of Verdura’s organic farm made for the perfect base for a skincare line. We have some amazing ingredients in Sicily that I knew could do wonders on the skin. There’s Prickly Pear, considered a plant-origin Hyaluronic Acid and the latest super food, which is rich in Vitamins K, E and C; Hibiscus, known as the ‘botox plant’ and loaded with Alpha Hydroxy Acids; Pomegranate, rich in Vitamin C, flavonoids, and anthocyanins, which are strong antioxidants for the skin; and Olive Oil, rich in polyphenols and Vitamin E.
I was also influenced by Sicilian handicrafts during my time spent at Verdura Resort and wanted to ensure that my products were hand-manufactured and that my treatments and rituals focused on the power of touch.My approach is synonymous with the very best that Sicily has to offer, distilling the benefits of the Mediterranean diet into skincare that nourishes the skin from the outside in.
Shacknai: How did you go about turning your idea for the line into fruition?
Forte: I wanted to create a healthy and sustainable skincare line using ingredients grown at our organic farm in Sicily, and I knew that I wanted the line to be 100% made in Italy. So, I really just needed to find the right lab to formulate the products and tell me it was possible, and when I finally found Dottoressa Ferri, I knew she was the perfect fit for me. She was delighted to use our farm’s ingredients, and her philosophy was to develop formulas with an organic cosmetic matrix that are skin-friendly and have no pollutants.
I simultaneously worked on the branding, including name, logos, and packaging.Sustainability was the starting point for the packaging, so 90% of our products are housed in glass. I decided not to use plastic wrapping on our retail boxes and not to add additional paper inserts, but I found papers that were made from 100% recycled fibers, with vegetable and soya-based inks.Aesthetically, I wanted something that had a touch of Sicily, whilst stillbeing young, luxurious, and cool. The packaging colors and textures give a sense of Sicily, whilst the font chosen and the logo give it more of a modern edge. I wanted the bottles to be weighty and luxurious.
I also created the spa concept, as well as all of the treatments and rituals with the appropriate training manual and detailed protocols. It took me six months to properly deliver training to all RoccoForteSpas. My goal was to launch with RoccoForteHotels before pitching to retailers, and that’s exactly what I did.
Shacknai: Has your vision for the brand changed at all as you’ve launched and expanded the line?
Forte: My original vision for the brand has indeed remained the same; I still have the same core propositions:Mediterranean diet for your skin; spa-grade; growing out own fruits, herbs, and flowers; nature shaped by science; and sustainability. Nevertheless, I'm constantly finding ways to improve upon these core propositions and develop the brand further. For example, I'm launching refillables for my next production run, I'm doing the Vegan OK registration, and I'm currently doing anti-wrinkleclinical trials on the Hibiscus Serum and Hibiscus Night Cream products. Of course, you learn what customers like and don't like and how retailers work and adapt to that, but the core vision has always remained the same.
Shacknai: What are your plans for the brand’s future?
Forte: I’m slowly looking to expand into more retailers that I believe are the right fit for the brand—especially ones with a strong online presence.I've refined my packaging, and I'm really excited to launch my refillables in early 2021. I'm also constantly looking for other ways to improve in terms of sustainability.We're also launching some 15ML boosters near the end of 2020, as well as our Age-Defying Travel Kit. Then, for 2021, I'm launching some exciting products with Ferri around some new research that she has just finished.And I’m opening my secondIreneForteSkincare-inspired spa in Palermo in June 2021 at Villa Igiea (it was sadly delayed by a year due to COVID-19).