Filmmaker Sofia Coppola favors the berry-hued balm, which she uses on her lips. Gwyneth Paltrow is a fan of the currant-colored balm, dabbed on cheeks and lips. And a certain NBA superstar favors the menthol balm for its refreshing tingle.
The products that have gained favor with the celebs? Olio e Osso, a Portland, Oregon-based skincare line that includes the balms, oils for face, body and shaving; and a pomade made of simple, natural ingredients like olive oil, beeswax, shea oil and plant extracts.
The line was founded by Paola LaMorticella, a stylist and makeup artist, who tinkered with skin balms and oils when she discovered her then-young son wasn’t responding to commercially available products to soothe his sensitive skin.
LaMorticella grew up in a rustic cabin in the Oregon woods, where her parents—theater people who were among the founders of the fabled San Francisco Mime Troupe during its Haight-Ashbury era—had retreated to get back to the land. “We lived in a one-room cabin with no running water,” LaMorticella recalls. “We didn’t have TV, we didn’t have anything. We learned to make everything.”
As a teenager, she apprenticed with Ric Young, a costume designer for theatrical companies, honing her “making” skills to create costumes for Shakespearean plays and other productions. The gig led her to do styling for commercials and low budget films, and to getting her cosmetology license so she could do hair and makeup.
Along the way, LaMorticella often couldn’t find exactly what she needed for a project, so she would go back to her roots and mix something up. “I work a lot with athletes on photo shoots and commercials,” she explains, “so sometimes, if I needed them to look dirty, I would bake dirt in the oven to make into a pigment I could apply to their skin.”
After her son was born, LaMorticella also went back into her kitchen to mix up something for his tender skin. “I always went back to olive oil,” she says. “I grew up in an Italian family, and we used to buy it by the gallon.” Her balms worked for her son, and she began experimenting with other products, handing them out to family and friends for feedback.
By 2012, LaMorticella launched Olio e Osso (Italian for oil, which she says is life-giving, and bone, which signifies strength and structure), moving it from her kitchen into a commercial facility and lab. LaMorticella still remains careful about her ingredients, believing less is more and fresher is better. “I use simple things,” she says, “and we try to source things locally, then regionally and nationally. We list the ingredients on the package. We avoid chemicals and don’t use preservatives—that’s why we have a ‘best by’ date on the products.”
Now with some 20 products (and more under development) that can be used by both men and women, Olio e Osso is housed in a 2,000-square-foot vintage bakery, where ten colleagues make, package and ship the products. This leaves LaMorticella with a bit more time to create new balms and keep up on her styling projects, including recent work in San Francisco, New York and Austin. She also believes in community, often donating her products to be used in swag bags for charitable events.
“I create what makes sense,” she says, summarizing her Olio e Osso philosophy. “We use the fewest ingredients to make basic, solid products that do more than one thing. You really don’t need to use a lot of creams, serums and toners on your skin. Things should be simple.”
The complete Olio e Osso Balm Collection is available at Amusespot.com.
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