VIOLET GREY editors transform HOPE DWORACZYK SMITH from laid-back model-off-duty to Madonna-circa-1990 pop glam, complete with platinum wig.
Interview by ROBERT F. SMITH
Photography by NAJ JAMAÏ
Creative Direction by CASSANDRA GREY
Makeup by KARA YOSHIMOTO BUA
Hair by ADIR ABERGEL
Wardrobe by JILL JACOBS
Nails by JOLENE BRODEUR
Art Direction by VICEN AKINA
Produced by GIANNA SANTOS
FROM THE DESK OF CASSANDRA GREY:
Since I was sixteen, to 2013 when I founded VIOLET GREY, to right this moment, I have had a I’ve got to figure out how to pay my rent mentality. While I had earned some notoriety as a Creative Director for hire, the reputation that usually preceded me was “the younger (presumed gold-digging) second wife” of Paramount studio head Brad Grey.
It always seems that wives of powerful (and often older) men have been subject to this kind of commentary and labeling that is clearly riddled with misogyny and reprehensible demoralization, dismissing the accomplishments of the wives-in-question. That said, in my case, my late husband taught me most everything I know. Most importantly, he taught me how to love, and all I truly want to accomplish in life is to seek to love rather than to be loved. (That and revolutionize the way people shop for beauty online.)
The New York Times once wrote an article about me called “Don’t Call Her a Trophy Wife” and my first thought was, “Wait...am I not pretty enough to be a trophy wife?” I wanted it all–to be a mother, an entrepreneur (maybe even build an empire) enjoying a reputation for my work independent of my husband, and be a Trophy Wife. A trifecta that is almost impossible to win.
This brings me to the subject of our newest SCREEN TEST subject, HOPE DWORACZYK SMITH. If there is one person who I can say has nailed all three of the aforementioned hopes and dreams, it is this bad bit$h. She is what most would call a bombshell (see images), a devoted wife and mother, and founder of MUTHA, a beauty empire-in-the-making. MUTHA’s six SKUs are formulated with best-in-class, science-backed ingredients that produce unparalleled results. When tested by our discerning committee of industry experts, it was unanimous–all six received the VIOLET CODE seal of approval. This early hero status of her line is an indication that this brand has the potential to become an empire.
HOPE grew up in Port Lavaca, Texas (a tiny, tiny town) and saw modeling as her one-way ticket out. She signed with an agency and found herself in New York in an industry and city with steep learning curves. She quickly figured out that most models have an “expiration date” and at 19, conceived a backup plan by getting her estheticians license and beginning her entrepreneurial pursuit. At 20, she bootstrapped her first medi-spa (in a time when medi-spas were not a thing), which ultimately prepared her to launch what already feels like an iconic brand.
Understanding the science behind skin and skin care, and respecting science-backed products, she began experimenting with creams and oils in her kitchen while pregnant (HOPE is now mother to 4, all under 7 years old) and dealing with stretch marks. As stories like these go, all her friends noticed her amazing skin and began requesting her homemade products. Less than two years later, MUTHA is a staple in celebrity medicine cabinets, plus she has already fielded offers from major beauty conglomerates.
Back to my anecdote about being type-casted as “the wife of”, HOPE is also the younger wife of private equity mogul, Robert F. Smith, a humble and private man known more for his philanthropy than his self-made wealth. You may have heard about him–he’s the guy who shocked the 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College, a historically African American institution, by announcing in his commencement address that he would be wiping out their student debt–an unprecedented gift estimated to be around $50million dollars (!). Robert’s other philanthropy initiatives center around advocating for African Americans, other minorities, and women, and honors the sacrifices and contributions of generations before him who he says paved the way for his success.
HOPE is like-minded in the pursuit of philanthropy so when she founded MUTHA, she partnered with International Medical Corps to help support maternal and infant health programs through a donation of a portion of their profits. Additionally, 100% of profits from MUTHA’s F* RACISM candle goes towards fighting racial injustice. More about that in her interview below.
HOPE and Robert have that perfect power dynamic, supporting each other's goals as much as their own. He certainly champions his wife’s ambition, standing right beside her (in early days, actually helping her make products in their kitchen) as she pursues her dreams.
What is it that they say–“behind every great man is a great woman”? Or in this case, “next to every great man is a great woman”, and HOPE and Robert embody that kind of equal in-step partnership, both in business and in life. It is almost poetic that Robert also happens to be the wealthiest African American in the US, right next to Oprah, the embodiment of ambition and philanthropic pursuits.
We tapped Robert to interview HOPE for this installment of SCREEN TEST knowing their chemistry would shine through the screen. Warning: his adoration for his wife may trigger feelings of jealousy.
ROBERT F. SMITH INTERVIEWS WIFE, HOPE DWORACZYK SMITH
Job Description: Founder and CEO of MUTHA
ROBERT F. SMITH: WIFE, LOVER, FRIEND, MOTHER OF 4, BEAUTY ICON, INVENTOR...YOU SEEM TO DO IT ALL. WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO TAKE WHAT PRECIOUS TIME YOU HAVE TO TRANSFORM YOUR INVENTION INTO FIRST A BUSINESS, AND NOW AN UP-AND-COMING ICONIC BRAND?
HOPE SMITH: Passion. Passion for pregnancy and skin care combined. I had a deep insecurity around my own stretch marks I developed during puberty and knew genetically I was predisposed since every woman in my family had them from pregnancy. I refused to believe it was purely genetic so chose to follow the environmental path and found great success preventing stretch marks. From there, I did a deep dive into what I was using on my face. I thought, if I can develop a product to prevent stretch marks, I must be able to build products for other things I wanted to improve or prevent, like hyperpigmentation and inevitable fine lines...amongst other concerns.
R.S.: TELL ME ABOUT THE TYPE OF RESEARCH YOU DID AS YOU DEVELOPED YOUR FIRST PRODUCT AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU HAVE GIVEN YOURSELF THEN, KNOWING WHAT YOU KNOW NOW?
H.S.: I opened my first medical spa at 20 and am a licensed aesthetician and also trained to do laser hair removal and laser vein removal so I knew about the structure of skin, but I hadn’t studied stretch marks or which vitamins, if applied topically, could help to reverse or prevent them. I did a deep dive into why the skin tears and how to build strong, resilient skin and consulted with a large handful of professionals to help me understand the cause and any possible treatments for external skin conditions.
R.S.: WHEN DID YOU KNOW THAT YOUR FIRST AWARD-WINNING PRODUCT, MUTHA BODY BUTTER, WAS GOING TO BE A HIT?
H.S.: Before it was a brand and before Instagram was what it is today it had a cult following. This group of women could buy anything they wanted on any shelf in the world but were asking me to make this magic crème for them. Feedback and success stories from real people are what told me this butter was magic.
R.S.: WHEN I LOOK AT MY DARLING WIFE’S CABINET, NOT THAT I’M SNOOPING OR ANYTHING, I SEE A WIDE RANGE OF PRODUCTS ON YOUR SHELVES. WHAT MADE YOU BELIEVE WOMEN NEEDED ANOTHER ONE OR NOW SEVEN NEW SKIN PRODUCTS?
H.S.: If I have a skin concern and I can’t find a product or solution that will help me combat it, I want to be the one to develop it. That process starts by working with a chemist and exploring different formulations that will work. Only when my concern was noticeably improved and the product tested and perfected will I launch it. Behind every product there is a very personal story that I feel women, especially mothers, share, and that’s why MUTHA and our product integrity is such a non-negotiable.
R.S.: HOW DID YOU FIRST DECIDE WHOM TO TRUST WITH THE LAUNCH AND DISTRIBUTION OF YOUR PRODUCTS?
H.S.: There was no question that I wanted it to be Violet Grey. VG’s VIOLET CODE APPROVED accolade was absolutely imperative to the brand. If one of my products wasn’t deemed best-in-class, would any of the work had been worth it? I don’t think it would have been. We had to be the best and be carried by the best and VIOLET GREY is the destination for best-in-class products. Absolutely everything you find on the site has been tested, scrutinized, and ultimately approved by a committee of beauty experts so if it is on VIOLET GREY, you know that it works, and it is the best in the category. When working with our chemist, the top of mind questions was, would VIOLET GREY approve this?
R.S.: HOW DID YOU NAVIGATE MUTHA THROUGH THE PANDEMIC AND WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN THAT YOU WILL APPLY TO THE COMPANY GOING FORWARD?
H.S.: More communication than ever before! I’ve spent over 1,700 hours on Zoom since the pandemic started over a year ago. We had to stay flexible and nimble. We had to change our budget and work harder than ever all while managing a whole new work and home lifestyle.
“When working with our CHEMIST, the top-of-mind QUESTION is, would VIOLET GREY approve this?”
R.S.: YOUR PRODUCT LINE SEEMS TO ATTRACT A WIDE RANGE OF AGE DEMOGRAPHICS [GENZ TO BABY BOOMERS] WHY DO YOU THINK THAT IS? AND DO CERTAIN DEMOGRAPHICS TEND TOWARDS SPECIFIC PRODUCTS?
H.S.: The product is clean and natural but has science and clinicals behind the ingredients we use. This is something the older, more skin-savvy consumer really values, and the artistic packaging is a bonus. The younger generations are attracted first to the packaging and then they become interested in the ingredients and supporting research. MUTHA provides everything to everyone.
R.S.: I KNOW OF A NUMBER OF PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT PREGNANT AND NOW SWEAR BY YOUR BODY BUTTER AND BODY OIL AS AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THEIR DAILY ROUTINE. I THOUGHT THIS WAS AN ANTI-STRETCH MARK SOLUTION…WHAT GIVES?
H.S.: Our body care is not only for mothers. It’s for MUTHA’s. There’s a difference. One doesn’t have to have a child to use it. It’s the best hydrator out there. Also, our Body Oil is the best thing that’s happened to my skin post-baby. It’s a dry oil and is absolutely the most nourishing thing you can do for your body in a day.
R.S.: YOU MENTION CLINICALS A LOT. HOW IMPORTANT ARE THESE TO YOU WHEN DEVELOPING A PRODUCT AND WHY?
H.S.: Clinicals are how you build trust and stand out in the market. We make it a point for all of our products to undergo consumer panels and now we have many undergoing clinical testing so that we have scientific backing and proof that our products will do what they say they will do. Before we create a product we make sure that the actives we care most about have clinicals behind them. I also personally test every product and I have wildly high standards. That’s how I know we are putting the very best, highest-quality products out there.
I will never falter on the belief that MUTHA needs to be formulated from ingredients that are proven to be the best in the world.
R.S.: WHAT WAS THE MOST SURPRISING ASPECT OF BEING A BUSINESS OWNER?
H.S.: How much work it actually is on a daily basis. And because it’s my brand, delegation doesn’t always come easily to me. At the beginning, I felt like I had to have a hand in every part of the business, from product development to marketing to operations, but I am trying to get better about that. MUTHA has an amazing team that I like to lead by educating them about the brand and product origins so they really believe in the integrity of everything we sell. I hope this inspires them to see our potential and where we are going.
R.S.: WITH ALL THAT YOU HAVE ACHIEVED WITH MUTHA, WHAT IS YOUR ULTIMATE GOAL FOR THE BRAND? DO YOU AIM TO SELL?
H.S.: Selling MUTHA isn’t something that I am tracking towards. If I were to ever consider selling the brand, it would have to come with the condition that the integrity of the ingredients and the product are never sacrificed. We use the best of any ingredients, and while many products all use Vitamin C, for example, we use THD or Tetrahexyldecyl Ascorbate which is a stabilized form of Vitamin C that is 50x more effective than other Vitamin C formulations. The same can be said not just for the form of the ingredient, but where and how it is sourced. Are nuts better from East African trees or West? Does Bulgaria produce the best rosehip? We scour the planet to find literally the best of everything. I will never falter on the belief that MUTHA needs to be formulated from ingredients that are proven to be the best in the world.
R.S.: DO YOU SPEND ANY TIME TALKING WITH OTHER BEAUTY AND BODY CARE BUSINESS OWNERS, AND WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED FROM THOSE DISCUSSIONS THAT YOU INCORPORATE INTO YOUR BUSINESS PRACTICES?
H.S.: With a handful of women including Cassandra, I am part of a beauty group that is led by a badass woman who I admire and truly respect so much. These women are much smarter than me and have been in the business much longer than I have. These women have been a sounding board and a resource to ask questions and really support one other. You’d think our brands would be competitors, but we have such an open and honest space that I valued deeply.
R.S.: WHY DO YOU DONATE A PORTION OF YOUR PROFITS TO THE INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CORPS AND WHAT MESSAGE ARE YOU LOOKING TO PROPAGATE TO YOUR CUSTOMERS WITH THIS ACTION?
H.S.: We want our customers, especially moms, to not only feel good about their MUTHA product, but the purchase itself. By donating some of profits to IMC, we are authentically supporting mothers–literally putting our money where our mouth is. These funds help fight infant and maternal mortality rate, which is something I am extremely passionate about.
R.S.: WE HAVE AN ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL FAMILY OF SIX, ANCHORED BY A VERY STRONG AND LOVING HUSBAND, ME, WHO IS AFRICAN AMERICAN. DO YOU SEE THE US MARKET THROUGH MULTIPLE LENSES, AND IS THAT WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PRODUCE THE F* RACISM CANDLE, WHICH SEEMS TO SELL OUT ALMOST IMMEDIATELY? I KNOW BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE ONE.
H.S.: Our F Racism candle gives 100% of profits back to The Conscious Kid, an organization that supports organizations and educators in taking action to disrupt racism in young children. As a mom to 4 African American children, this was the right organization for us. When my son was 3 years old he came home from preschool and told me light skin was better than dark skin. I was furious. I was the first one waiting outside for the school to open the next morning and had already called the parent to the child who said it to him the night before. Racism doesn’t fly here so the F*&% Racism candle was my F*&% you.
R.S.: WHEN YOU GET AN INCREMENTAL 2 MINUTES IN YOUR DAY, WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO?
H.S.: Be alone with no music and no noise and no one needing anything from me so I can sort thoughts and take care of me. Time is truly the biggest luxury in the world and the one thing I don’t have enough of in the day.
R.S.: RUMOR IS YOU'RE CIRCULATING A PICTURE OF ME AT A KITCHEN-AID MIXER WHIPPING WHAT I PURPORTEDLY SAY IS THE FIRST BATCH OF MUTHA BODY BUTTER…ANY COMMENT?
H.S.: We’ve made the batch 400+ times at home and in the lab. It’s all a blur. Final answer...no comment.
SHOP HER BAG
VIOLET GREY editors restock Hope’s VIOLET CODE APPROVED skin care routine and add the newest heroes to hit THE SHELVES.
VIOLET CODE APPROVED
UP ALL NIGHT EYE CREAM
A luminescent eye cream that combats signs of fatigue and diminishes dark circles instantly.