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Meet the Founder of TANAÏS—Our Newest Beauty Obsession


Beauty, color, storytelling. The first time I set eyes on the TANAÏS Instagram, I was captivated—by all these things and more. By the vibrant pops of color against earth-tones and earth-toned skin, captions that come to life in such a way that you can actually feel them, and the way self-expression permeates everything you see. You get the sense that TANAÏS is what happens when a founder pours every bit of themselves into their beauty brand.

There are also inspiring and thought-provoking conversations scattered throughout, including reflections on how South Asian women like Tanaïs (both the founder’s moniker and brand name), are navigating societal and cultural norms to explore their true identities and fully express themselves. If we believe (as we do at IPSY) that self-expression and beauty are intrinsically connected, TANAÏS is a manifestation of that.

When TANAÏS’ gorgeous products (launching in June) came across our desks, we knew we had found something special. So, we chatted with the brand founder about how it all came to be—from the evolution of their beauty brand and what it means to be a woman of color in the beauty industry to their heavenly scented lip oils (in the June Glam Bag), and so much more. Read on for everything you need to know about the soon-to-be-buzzy beauty brand.

The meaning behind the name, TANAÏS

A lot goes into a brand name—it’s the first glimpse into its identity. For the TANAÏS founder (she’s also the author of novel Bright Lines and the upcoming In Sensorium), it was personal. Tanaïs is a portmanteau created from their three given names: Tanwi Nandini Islam, and it’s what they go by now. “It traces back to the Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim lineages I am descended from. My name is a way to honor these in one,” they say.

“My family immigrated from Bangladesh in the late 1970s after the Liberation War in their homeland. I grew up very aware how precious and life-affirming holding onto beauty traditions can be for people who've witnessed violence,” Tanaïs says. “We lived in the South and Midwest until moving to New York, which instantly became home. We moved a lot, on long road trips across the country, giving me a sense of place I carried with me until our next destination. My trips to Bangladesh and India in my youth were lush with scent memories that are embedded in all of my creations.”

It began with storytelling through scents

Founder Tanaïs’ desire to express experiences, passions, and struggles (their own and others) inspired them to seek out creative mediums like writing and fragrance mixing. Scents became their first foray into beauty—after a few twists and turns. “I've had many professional lives, from working as a domestic violence counselor to community organizer, and youth arts educator. The intersectional nature of social justice work taught me so much about the struggles, histories, and dreams of the people I worked with,” Tanaïs says. “When I got into Brooklyn College [for my] MFA, I knew I wanted to translate those experiences into a work of art. Similarly, in the process of writing a novel, I began to create perfumes as another way of telling stories to be worn on the body.”

“What helps people survive is being able to transform their suffering into a realization of their own beauty, power, and truth.”

“What helps people survive is being able to transform their suffering into a realization of their own beauty, power, and truth.” After I got laid off from a job at a startup, I had just turned 30. I left NYC for Hawaii to heal the sadness and fear I felt. The gorgeous and spiritual power of the islands, the scent of wildflowers, the ocean, and rain, moved me so much that I came home and started collecting essential oils,” Tanaïs says. They began making their own blends and they were a hit. “I shared these first perfumes at Bushwick Open Studios, a day where artists open up their studios to share their work. People really vibrated with my creations, so I decided to sell some goods in a local market, which led to neighborhood shops carrying my candles and perfumes.”

TANAÏS was born out of change

Before launching their beauty brand, Tanaïs created Hi Wildflower, inspired by the nature of wildflowers “growing everywhere in the wild, on sidewalks, and highways.” Tanaïs adds, “But as I have evolved as a person and author, the name and inspirations of that brand shifted into something new.”

“I've had so many career evolutions, and part of that is related to a certain restlessness and creative spirit that is at the heart of everything I do. While Hi Wildflower came to me very organically, a natural progression from social justice work to fragrance and beauty, the book I'm working on now, IN SENSORIUM (HMH 2022), investigates ancient South Asian and Muslim perfume cultures. The new perfumes, beauty, and jewelry we are making [with Tanaïs] are inspired by this vast history. Flowers die, and it was time for my first brand Hi Wildflower to do so, too. TANAÏS is a rebirth.”

Being a person of color in the beauty space

Creating a successful beauty brand, or any brand, is hard. But for women of color, it comes with a unique set of challenges—from securing funding to facing discriminatory practices in today’s beauty industry. On creating a more inclusive beauty industry, Tanaïs says, “I never saw people who looked like me in beauty campaigns, and even in South Asia colorism is a barrier for brown-skinned people in beauty spaces. So, first and foremost, I reach for universal colors and palettes inspired by earth tones and flowers, which look good on everyone. As an industry, we are leaving behind outdated ideas that certain colors only work on certain people, and we are realizing that certain terms like "nude" are loaded and painful and need to be reimagined.”

On getting things off the ground, Tanaïs says that being part of a close, collaborative artist community helped. “Every single day is as challenging as it is liberating. Securing funding, whether by loan or investment, is not as easy, especially if you don't come from a wealthy network or family. So I had to turn to my community of artists to collaborate with me, whether we were selling our goods at a market, pouring candles for a massive production, or modeling in photoshoots.”

And the products? (We’ll dive into the Lip Oils soon). They’re truly made for all. “Liberation from beauty standards that have hurt so many people is at the forefront of how I create every product.”

“Liberation from beauty standards that have hurt so many people is at the forefront of how I create every product.”

Tanaïs draws inspiration from ancient beauty rituals

“Ancient beauty rituals, like pitch-black kohl and kajal to line the eyes, inspire the eyeliner [I’m creating],” says Tanaïs. “The fragrance of flowers, the old memory of a place I love, the scent of incense, flower garlands I encountered during my time in New Delhi—that is what inspired my Mala Perfume and deep scarlet red Mala Lipstick.”

Scent continues to influence Tanaïs’ creations as well. “Scent connects us to our deepest memories, imparting a sense of transcendence, even as the history of these materials is rooted in pain,” Tanaïs says. “As a writer, I find this complexity endlessly fascinating, as a perfumer I want to reclaim these materials and make something that feels like a record of the past to be worn in the future. Smells evoke the multiple worlds we all hail from, and perfume is a portal into those secret places.”

And about those gorgeous lip oils

Like everything Tanaïs creates, they are transportive—they’re infused with a scent that’s lush and floral, slightly tropical. For the formula, Tanaïs was inspired (like many of our beauty looks) by the 90s when creating them. “As a teenager in the 1990s, lip gloss and those flavored Lip Smackers lip balms were my mainstays. But I hated how my hair would get stuck in the gloss, and how my lips would dry out from the formulations. I wanted to create something that felt luscious, hydrating, and sexy without feeling like a layer of tacky goo on the lips. The Lip Oils are colors inspired by the flowers of Hawaii—plumeria and hibiscus—and the golden sunlight on the ocean. It’s a way to say goodbye to my first brand [Hi Wildflower] as I release TANAÏS.

Now, let’s meet the gorgeous Lip Oils you might score in your June Glam Bag. They’re all buildable and made with coconut oil and pomegranate seed oil to hydrate, plump, and nourish.

TANAÏS Lip Oil in Hawaiian Hibiscus

TANAÏS Lip Oil in Hawaiian Hibiscus is a sheer glossy red tint that’ll be your go-to from every day to full-on glam.

TANAIS Lip Oil in Plumeria Petal

TANAIS Lip Oil in Plumeria Petal is a beautiful shimmery pink that’ll add a touch of whimsy to your look.

TANAÏS Lip Oil in Mahina Moon

TANAIS Lip Oil in Mahina Moon is a sheer shimmery gold that’s like magic hour for your lips.

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About the author
Pia Bhattacharya
Pia is a New York-based beauty editor at IPSY with over 10 years experience including editorial, public relations, and copywriting. Her work has appeared in SELF magazine, in beauty and branding for Bloomingdale’s, and others.
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Article Last Updated June 10, 2021 12:00 AM