Meet GLAMOUR's October cover star, Tracee Ellis Ross: 'I had a contentious relationship with beauty. It didn't make space for me'

Exclusive: The Black-ish actress and now founder of new hair care brand Pattern Beauty owns our digital cover.

07 Oct 2019

Tracee Ellis Ross is taking control. The Golden Globe-winning star of Black-ish turns makeup artist, hairdresser and photographer for her GLAMOUR UK cover as she adds yet another role to her multihyphenate CV: beauty mogul. Celebrating the launch of her new haircare line Pattern Beauty – for 3B to 4C curls – Tracee talks to Lynette Nylander about how after decades of the beauty industry “specifically leaving me out and not celebrating me”, she has come to a place of self-acceptance.

PHOTOGRAPHS & BEAUTY by Tracee Ellis Ross, Styling by Law Roach

“I grew up around hair, I mean, look at my mother!” laughs Tracee Ellis Ross, speaking on the phone from Los Angeles. “I look back on photographs of myself when I was young [with big hair] and I think gosh, I took the long route to get back there.” Tracee is on a brief break on set, juggling her GLAMOUR interview with preparing for the debut of her new show Mixed-ish. The semi-autobiographical sitcom about growing up at a time where being biracial was far from the norm is the second spinoff from hit series Black-ish – in which she had an award-winning starring role.

A new TV show is just one of this multihyphenate’s talents. The daughter of Motown legend (and bonafide hair icon) Diana Ross and music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein, Tracee made a name for herself in the Nineties as a model, walking the runways of Thierry Mugler. From there she transitioned seamlessly into acting, capturing hearts on cult classic show Girlfriends, before going mainstream with her role as Rainbow ‘Bow’ Johnson in Black-ish. The part won her a Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy in 2017 (the first black woman in over 30 years to do so), as well as numerous Emmy nominations.

She now adds CEO to her CV, by way of her new venture Pattern Beauty, a haircare line that she describes as “juicy and joyful”. The products are geared towards women of colour – specifically 3B to 4C hair types that are so often misunderstood by mainstream beauty brands.

Pattern is very much inspired by Tracee’s personal relationship with beauty. “I went through those teenage years when everybody is searching to figure out who they are and all of a sudden become so aware of how they look, how they are seen, what’s cool, what’s in,” Tracee sighs. While she was inspired by the women around her – including her mother – she adds: “Sadly, there were not a tonne of images, outside of my family, of people who looked like me.”

This, explains Tracee, began her “contentious relationship with the culture of beauty that was around me, but didn’t make space for me. As a result, I tried to beat my hair into submission to do what I thought it should do. I straightened it, I dyed it, I fried it.”

It is a story that is all too familiar to women of colour who have subliminally been told that their hair type was undesirable, their beauty uncelebrated. For Tracee, this realisation, she explains emphatically, was a process. “Oh, there was no ‘eureka’ moment. When I was going through all of that I didn’t have an understanding of the larger cultural context; I didn’t understand that the culture of beauty and the industry of beauty was actually specifically leaving me out and not celebrating me.” What followed is what Tracee describes as an “extraordinary journey of healing, self-acceptance and understanding that it’s not something wrong with you – the messages and the images are just not supporting you.”

Padded Coat, MAISON MARGIELA

That journey saw Tracee pen a business plan that outlined what is now Pattern. “I’ll be honest, she says, laughing, “my initial reasoning for wanting to make these products was absolutely selfish. I was like, ‘I need these, where are they?’”

The brand was 10 years in the making – a decade, admits Tracee, “that has been fraught with many disappointments, me running up against many of the things that were exactly what made me feel bad about myself. People saying to me: ‘You don’t have the credibility to do this, you need to partner with a professional,’ and me attempting to explain that I, like many women of colour and people with curly hair, have become our best experts because the industry has not supported us.”

The passion in Tracee’s voice is quite clear as she explains her frustration with the beauty industry. “There is always an underestimation in terms of our worth, our deservingness and our beauty,” she says.

Tracee is candid about the lack of support she faced in her first business pitch for Pattern. “I remember the first thing that was said to me, which made me cry in the meeting, was: ‘Why do you think you can do this? Why do you think anyone would want these products from you?’ I didn’t have the statistical evidence to support what I knew to be true. I didn’t have all the information, but I knew it in my heart.”

Padded Coat, MAISON MARGIELA

Dress and Sleeveless Jacket, ISABEL MARANT, Earrings, LADY GREY

Following her heart has resulted in a highly anticipated seven-piece drop, (she assures us it is the first of many) that offers a starter kit for curls and comes complete with conditioner and shampoo, washday towels and claw clips. It has been received with rave reviews, which is unsurprising. She has long been embraced by an army of fans – not just as an actress and entrepreneur, but as one of the rare celebrities they can count on for candour and frankness. Her 7 million (and counting) Instagram followers glimpses into her life including behind-the-scenes red carpet selfies, laments following gruelling gym workouts, hilarious lip-synching to her favourite songs and goofing around in front of the camera – whether on her own while facial-rolling or with her high-profile, cross-generational girlfriends from Mariah Carey to Yara Shahidi.

Social media cannot get enough of her ‘Tracee-isms’. But her influence goes far beyond the superficial. Tracee is a vocal activist and advocate of women. She is a founding member of the Time’s Up movement, dedicated to fighting for safe, fair and dignified working conditions for all women. She has also teamed up with her aunt Dr Barbara Ross-Lee to spearhead the new initiative Time’s Up Healthcare, which aims to raise awareness of gender inequalities and sexual harassment in healthcare.

In a 2018 interview with GLAMOUR US, Tracee summed up her approach to empowerment, saying: “The answer to the objectification of women and black women in our culture is not to shut down my sexuality, but to own it as something that is mine. Historically, women have not had ownership of our own bodies. And it is enough.” She has also hired a team of all-female agents to represent her at United Talent Agency.

Dress, ROCHAS

Tracee is now channelling her feminist energy into ensuring that Pattern Beauty is more than simply a hair brand. In a move that aligns with the activism she is famed for, the brand is committed to helping and empowering women who may have suffered stigma as a result of their hair. “It’s about a paradigm shift,” says Tracee emphatically. “It’s about opening up space where we can see ourselves, and creating products that were actually made for us.”

Coat, Dress and Boots, VALENTINO

Padded Coat, MAISON MARGIELA

Oversized Denim Blazer, VAQUERA, Shoes, PRABAL GURUNG

The evolution of Tracee Ellis Ross is just getting started. Next up, she is starring and executive producing TV series Jodie – a spinoff of MTV’s Daria – as well as continuing to build her beauty empire with Pattern. “There is so much we’ve learned with this first drop,” she says. “I have been honing and specifying my dream for 10 years. I’ve written down the language that’s used in the making of the brand, the promise of the brand, a glossary that would help us all to redefine and rearticulate. Now it’s about clarity and specificity of vision. Makeup, skincare, I see them as part of the [Pattern] journey. The gatekeepers of the industry have not had an understanding of the power and the beauty of this community of people. I still am playing within a system that forecasts beneath our worth.” She pauses then adds, defiantly: ‘But I’m playing the long game.”

Pattern is available now at patternbeauty.com