Dolly Parton is the rare star who needs no introduction, a singer, actress, businesswoman, and philanthropist whose category-defying career spans more than half a century. She's composed over 3,000 songs, won countless awards, starred in hit movies, and donated a million toward COVID-19 research — but somehow Parton has yet to parlay her glamorous signature style into a beauty empire. Today, she delves into the category for the first time with a fragrance, Dolly - Scent from Heaven, (currently only available in the U.S.). To celebrate the launch, we spoke to Parton via Zoom about her favourite "old-timey" skin care, plastic surgery, wearing makeup to bed, and more. This interview was told to Rachel Krause and has been edited for length and clarity.
Refinery29: I'm so excited to speak to you and hear more about the fragrance, but first of all, your nails look great.
Dolly Parton: Oh, thank you. That's my OPI Strawberry Margarita.
R29: You've never ventured into the beauty world before despite having the most iconic hair and makeup. So why now, and why fragrance specifically?
Parton: Well, why not now? Like you said, you'd think that me of all people would have a line of makeup and wigs and perfumes and all that. But you just kind of have to go along until the timing is right. I signed a new deal a couple of years ago with IMG for my brand, and I told them I would love to have a perfume because I've always wanted that. We all decided that would be a good thing to start with, although we have some other things going on. But this is the one that's most identifiable to me because it has to do with glamour and all that. I love beautiful things, beautiful smells, and now I've got my own little bottle with my own little personal butterfly. This is called Scent from Above, and it's heavenly.
R29: Speaking of your iconic look, where did you seek inspiration when you were young and finding your personal style?
Parton: Being a mountain girl, a country girl, my beauty inspiration came from nature. I used to love picking berries — I would make my lipstick and paint my fingernails and toenails with the berry juice. I love those wonderful little smells that you can get from flowers; I would mash those up and put them on me. I would strike a kitchen match and after it had burned out, kind of wet it and make some eyebrows. That all came from a natural place for me as a kid; I always wanted to be more than what I was.
R29: You've spoken before about how you don't like to spend a ton of money on your everyday wardrobe. Do you feel the same way about beauty?
Parton: I do, although usually my favourite beauty products are some of the old-timey ones that are not all that expensive. I've always gone with what works well for me, even though I like to try some of everything. Maybelline has great products; I love Olay. Max Factor, Pond's Cold Cream — I've got shelves and drawers full of every new makeup going on, even the expensive ones, but I still tend to go back to old faithfuls.
R29: Smart. You’ve worked in what is historically a very male-dominated industry your entire career, and you have such an unapologetically feminine appearance. Did anyone ever tell you to change or tone down your hair and makeup when you were finding your identity and coming up in the world?
Parton: Absolutely. I always dressed for my own comfort and what a country girl's idea of glamour is. I wrote a song called “Backwoods Barbie” that kind of tells how I always wanted to be pretty. When I saw pictures in magazines or dolls that were beautiful, I just always wanted to be that. I overdid it and I still overdo it, but that fits my personality. In my early years in Nashville, I had some pretty big people tell me that I should tone it down, that people would take me more seriously if I didn't wear so much stuff and didn't look so cheap. Chet Atkins, one of our great legends who was a dear friend of mine, pulled me aside one day and said, You need to look more natural, because you're a pretty girl and you could look good — you don't need all that. Of course, I guess I just got worse and worse, and after I became famous, Chet pulled me over again and said, Well, I guess we know who was right here. We laughed about it. I would never change because this is who I am, this is how I feel comfortable. I think everybody should feel good and dress and look the way they feel comfortable, because if you're comfortable within yourself, people are comfortable around you, no matter how artificial you look. If they know you're real, it still works.
R29: I know you've been asked a lot of questions about plastic surgery. The attitude toward it has changed so much in the past few years, with people more willing to open up about things — it's so much less stigmatised.
Parton: Yeah, well, I think a lot of people have more plastic surgery done than they admit. I never was ashamed to say so because I thought it might help somebody else with it, even helping them find better doctors. Some people are comfortable with the way they look and they don't believe in that, and that's all fine. But if you feel like you need to do something that would make you feel better about yourself, if you've got the nerve and the money and the desire, why not do it? Just go find the best people to do it. I'll make jokes about it, but it's no joke. I'm serious about what I do, trying to keep myself looking as good as I can. If things bother me, I'm better to take care of it than obsess over it. I think it's all fine. People are accepting it now — it's almost fashionable to talk about it, with all the fillers and Botox and all that. People need to feel good about themselves.
R29: Beyond your physical appearance, you have such confidence and comfort with yourself. Have you always felt that way?
Parton: Well, I'm comfortable with myself, and I guess that's why I come across naturally, no matter how funny I look. I know who I am and I like who I am, and what I don't like about who I am, I try to work on that. We're all on our own little individual journey. God made us all the way we are, but I don't think he’d mind us just helping out a little. I think we should always pay attention to who we really are, what we are supposed to be, what our journey really is, and what have you got to do to make that journey easier, to make you feel better doing it? Even if I look awful to somebody else, if I feel good about what I'm wearing or how I look, that's good enough for me. I'm not trying to please everybody — I got to please me first. And that's usually pleasing to other people if you're comfortable with who you are.
R29: What’s your skin-care routine like?
Parton: I'm simple — I don't go all out for all that. I wear my makeup at night because I've always said I never know if there's going to be an earthquake or fire or emergency in the middle of the night and I'm going to have to hit the streets. I'd rather get up in the morning, clean my face, do my facial treatment, and then get ready for the day. I don't think you have to clean your face at night, but you do need to clean it well once a day. Like anything else, that's still your personal choice based on your personal needs and your personality. I also don't want to go to bed looking like a hag with my husband. I look pretty for everybody else, so I don’t want to go to bed with a mask and curlers in my hair. I'd rather do that in the mornings; I get up early and do my thing so at least my husband can see me looking as good as I'm going to look.
R29: I love that — you’ve got to be prepared. Do you have a few favourite products you like to use in the morning?
Parton: I have choices. Sometimes I'm quick about it, sometimes I just use my little mineral oil pads that also take my makeup off. Sometimes I like to just wash my face with good, warm, soapy water; sometimes I like to just spread Vaseline all over my face and then put on a hot washcloth and let that kind of soak in. Everybody does it differently, everybody's got their own things. Being brought up poor in the country, you learn to work with it. Some of that stuff is just as good or even better than the most expensive stuff you can buy.
R29: Do you wear your fragrance to bed, too?
Parton: I don't put on fragrance at bedtime, but I don't take it off, either. Then I'll get up in the morning and take my shower or my bath, and do it all over and start fresh for the day.