The Essentials With Irene Forte

"Sustainability is not only talking about packaging and ingredients," Irene Forte tells Observer. "It’s also about people."

Irene Forte.

A skincare line was never the plan for Irene Forte. Upon graduating from Oxford University, she began working in hospitality for her family’s luxury hotel business, Rocco Forte Hotels. When she began looking after the hotel group’s spas for fun, her interest in wellness quickly took her in an unexpected direction. “I wanted to unify the spas with a product range, and when I started looking for a brand, I didn’t find anything that I was super-excited about,” Forte tells Observer. “We have this amazing organic farm in Sicily, which is at our Verdura Resort, and I started to think about doing something with the ingredients from the farm.”

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Knowing that she wanted to take a “natural but not naive” approach to Irene Forte Skincare, which is centered around sustainability and using local ingredients, Forte started looking for a lab to begin formulating products, and along the way, met the brand’s future scientific director, Dr. Francesca Ferri. “She’s a fascinating lady who’s been formulating for over 35 years in the north of Italy,” Forte says of Ferri, whom she’s now been working with for over nine years. “She had experience with spa ranges, but she’s also been awarded patents for her work on breast cancer tumors using vitamin E supplements.”

Irene Forte at her family’s farm.

With Dr. Ferri on board, Forte went back to her family’s farm, using the olive oil, sweet almond oil and aloe leaf juice produced there as the starting point for product development. Local ingredients like an antioxidant-rich vegan wine from the Di Giovanna vineyard and alpha-hydroxy acid extracted from Sicilian lemons joined the ranks, and Dr. Ferri set out to develop allergen-screened fragrances that would be free from potentially irritating essential oils. “We’re certified for sensitive skin, yet fragranced, which is amazing for the spa environment because you want the products to feel and smell wonderful, but we didn’t want to have an allergenic effect,” explains Forte.

A 360-degree approach to sustainability was also key for Forte, whose line has earned B Corp certification. “For me, sustainability is not only talking about packaging and ingredients. It’s also about people; promoting the local community and providing career opportunities in terms of growth and training. At the end of the day, your team is the most important asset to your business.”

After four years of testing formulations, Irene Forte Skincare officially launched in Rocco Forte spas in 2018. Just a few years later, Covid-19 and its subsequent temporary shutdown of the hotel spas turned Forte’s focus to the retail space, and she brought the line stateside in 2021. Now available across 100 retailers in 11 countries, Irene Forte Skincare is the amalgamation of the indulgent—yet effective—skincare formulas that Forte initially set out to create, combined with the Italian roots and people-first ethos that have been at the heart of her family’s business for nearly 30 years.

With Dr. Ferri by her side, Forte continues to redefine the natural beauty space. In November 2023, Irene Forte Skincare launched its Phytomelatonin Rejuvenating Serum, a calming anti-aging serum that took four years to develop. Based on Dr. Ferri’s patented extraction technique for the melatonin behind its name, the serum will be joined by a phytomelatonin-infused Pistachio Face Oil this month. “Phytomelatonin is melatonin from plants, and Dr. Ferri was part of the group that discovered it even existed. It helps rebalance what gets out of whack,” Forte explains, noting that the ingredient has been shown to visibly reduce the appearance of wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, redness and pore size as it increases skin elasticity.

Ahead of the latest addition to the Phytomelatonin lineup, Observer spoke with Forte on her current essentials—from her favorite spa treatment to her favorite spots in London for coffee or a Sunday roast. 

Irene Forte Skincare’s olive eye cream and almond cleansing milk. Cameron Maynard

Her morning skincare routine:

My Almond Cleansing Milk, which is a cream-based cleanser, then I use my Helichrysum Toner, which has got hyaluronic acid in it so it’s hydrating and plumping, but it’s also brightening. During the day, I’ll then use the Triple Level Hyaluronic Serum followed by the Hibiscus Serum. Then, I will go for our Olive Eye Cream, which is hydrating but it’s very lightweight and great under makeup, and I will seal it all in with the Hibiscus Night Cream during the day, just because I like a richer product when it’s still cold out.

Her go-to spa treatment:

For me, the most relaxing thing is a really nice facial massage—90 minutes with a really long, indulgent kind of face workout massage and lymphatic drainage.

What she’s currently reading: 

I just started reading bill browder’s new book, Freezing Order, and I loved Red Notice, which he wrote all on the Magnitsky Act. Freezing Order is meant to be a continuation of the same theme, which is quite relevant right now with everything going on in Russia and with what happened with Alexei Navalny.

Charlie’s at Brown’s Hotel. Hotel Photography

Current London favorites:

I love Brown’s Hotel in London, which is a Rocco Forte property. The restaurant there, Charlie’s, is great for lunch or a Sunday roast. Another restaurant I love is River Cafe, and for coffee shops, Birley’s Bakery in Chelsea does really nice coffee and treats and chocolates.

Verdura. Hotel Photography

Favorite vacation spot:

I love going to Sicily. It’s at the crossroads of so many different cultures, so you have a nice mix of Greek ruins with Baroque architecture; really good food, nice weather, and the people are so friendly. Where we have the farm, there’s the Verdura resort, and I try to spend August there because it allows me to do a bit more work with the farm.

What she never travels without:

I never use them, but I’ll always pack trainers because I think that I’m going to manage to do some kind of workout, my Hibiscus Night Cream and a nice pair of pajamas.

Irene Forte. Phill Taylor

The one thing in her wardrobe she refuses to part with: 

I have these lace-up Tod’s high-heel boots, which have a rubber sole; the heel has been pretty much fully chewed by my dog, but I’m still wearing them at least twice a week.

The Essentials With Irene Forte