The first thing I notice about Ashley Tisdale, after watching her execute an impressive parallel parking job in the height of rush hour, is that she’s brimming with energy. Despite coming off a full morning of press, she pops out of her SUV impeccably dressed, deftly maneuvering across the street- while teetering on impossibly high velvet platform heels, no less- and up to the studio where we’re shooting for the day.

Upon entering, her first order of business is a having stylist Marie-Lou Bartoli capture a quick photo of her before jumping into another round of hair and makeup, “Just cuz [sic] I love my outfit today,” she captions the image on Instagram. Her presence is magnetic in sense that she manages to get everyone in the room not only up and moving, but orbiting around her. In this case, ‘everyone’ is made up of close friends, who also happen to be part of Team Tisdale- Ryan Richman for hair, Tonya Brewer for makeup and Marie-Lou, one half of the Bartoli sister styling duo.

Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow
Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow

Tisdale is a rare case of former Disney stars, those not plagued by perpetual downward spirals and bad press, who have managed to carve out a semblance of normalcy, while still taking advantage of everything the opportunity afforded them. Her story kicks off during a three-year career on Disney Channel’s The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, but her breakthrough, of course, was the premiere of cult-favorite T.V. movie, High School Musical. The 2006 debut introduced the world to an era of teen heartthrobs, including Tisdale, Zac Efron and Tisdale’s real-life best friend, Vanessa Hudgens, serving as a figurative launch pad for the new Young Hollywood.

She played the part of the high school villain well, but the part of Disney star even better- so much so, in fact, that it has taken years of experimental roles to get her off the conglomerate’s hamster wheel. “A lot of people underestimate me, even as an actress,” Tisdale says over the telephone a few days after our shoot. “My whole life I’ve been underestimated, but in order for other people to believe in you, you have to believe in yourself first. I want to inspire the underdogs! I’m not someone who was always the first in mind for acting roles; I have fought for every single character, every single role, but that’s just been my journey.” And it looks like all of that hard work is paying off.

Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow
Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with just one job title for Tisdale. In 2015 alone, she inked a new deal for her development company, Blondie Girl Productions, which included her executive producing Freeform’s [previously ABC Family] comedy series, Young & Hungry, (she’s now starring in the spin-off, as well), and launching a lifestyle website, The Haute Mess, but if you ask her, she’s just getting started.

Her latest venture, a 14-piece makeup line dubbed Illuminate Cosmetics, is aptly named after Ashley’s personal take on beauty (“I love that glowy, illuminated look, but I also always think makeup should enhance natural beauty”). The brand is a collaboration between Tisdale and BH Cosmetics- a pioneer in affordable beauty products that don’t sacrifice quality- but Tisdale is quick to point out her heavy involvement in the creation.

“[Illuminate] is really the first thing I’ve ever created that I am completely hands on with, in the sense that this has been my baby from day one. When you’re producing on a show, you have a lot of people who have a say, or on The Haute Mess, we have other bloggers that help out, but with Illuminate, this is me. I’m putting myself on the line and producing products that I like, everything from packaging to the shades,” she says with the kind of passion that only comes from the blood, sweat and tears that ensue while building a new company from the ground up. “What’s been so rewarding is that I one hundred percent believe in what I’ve created, and to see my friends wearing my makeup… like, one of my best friends was sitting on my couch and told me that she’d been using the same makeup palette for 10 years, but she threw it away and now uses [Illuminate Palette] Beach Goddess all the time. I was like, ‘Can you just say that one more time so I can Snapchat it?’ [laughs].”

Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow

“The Illuminate girl is a go-getter,” muses Tisdale, when I ask about who she had in mind while creating the line. “She’s constantly busy, so for her, the palettes are great because they have contour and highlighter, eye shadow and blush in them. You can throw it in your purse after you put your makeup on for the day, and then transition for when you want to go out with your girlfriends.” The hope is to tap into the millennial audience- those who have grown up with Tisdale since her days on Disney Channel- now recent college-grads and young professionals who identify with her ‘real girl’ message. She adds, “I’m someone who builds off of my [makeup] base look; I don’t wash my face and start over, because I’m usually too busy. I only have a certain amount of time to get ready to go out, so I designed this for the girl who relates to that.”

The products out today, including six Cheek-and-Lip Tints, six Lip Glosses and two Day & Night Eyeshadow & Blush Palettes, are a curated selection of essentials designed to be incorporated to existing makeup routines. Tisdale has some daily go-to’s- Peaches and Cream, Coco and Cabana from the Cheek-and-Lip Tints; Skinny Dipping and Tan Lines from the Lip Glosses-but she cringes when I ask her to narrow it down to just one: “There were so many products we went through that I didn’t approve, so what we’re launching with now is everything I absolutely love.”

Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow

Affordability was important to Tisdale from day one, which was a driving force behind her decision to partner with BH. “I love their price point, especially since it’s high quality makeup,” she says. “If you’re going to spend money [on makeup], the products you want to spend a lot on are moisturizers or foundations, but things like eye shadows or blushes, those are the products you’ll use up the fastest and want to rebuy, so they should be affordable and easy to get.” But don’t think that the accessible pricing  means she cut any corners.

“With the packaging for Illuminate, it was not coming out right early on, ” she recalls. “I wanted a specific rose gold, and unfortunately, rose gold on our box kept printing as more of a bronze, not as bright or as pink [as I wanted]. I know it sounds crazy, but it was such an important piece; I wanted it to be rose gold and matte white, and it just wasn’t getting there. For me, packaging mattered so much because when I go shopping for makeup and I see great packaging, I immediately go over to it like ‘What is this? I need to have it,’ [laughs]. I wanted the Illuminate packaging to be pretty, something you could display. That was a bump in the road that taught me a lot, but by the time we went to the factory to print the final boxes, they were everything I could have ever imagined.”

Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow
Ashley Tisdale for Highbrow

Later, when mulling over the challenges of starting a new business, Tisdale reflects on the few years before she began exploring the idea of creating cosmetics. To her, being creatively fulfilled means tapping into more than just one passion. “Before I started working on [Illuminate], I had about a year or two where I just wasn’t feeling like I was doing what I’m meant to do. I was waiting around for the next job, waiting to be acting, and even though I was working on my production company, I wanted that feeling of being exhausted at the end of the night,” she says. “I wanted to be doing more.”

As we near the end of our call, Tisdale offers some parting words of life wisdom. “At the end of the day, whatever you’re working on, the most important thing is that you’ve done something you’re proud of,”  she reminisces of her experience to-date being an entrepreneur. She pauses. “That’s all that matters.”

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Look One

Blouse Vatanika @vatanika_official
Denim Shorts Levi’s (Similar Here) @levis
Sandals Isabel Marant (Similar Here) @isabelmarant
Makeup Illuminate Cosmetics @illuminatecosmetics

Look Two

Sequin Backless Mini Dress Vatanika @vatanika_official
Fever Leather Platform Sandals ($458) Valentino @maisonvalentino
Makeup Illuminate Cosmetics @illuminatecosmetics

Credits

Photography
Aris Jerome for Highbrow
Makeup
Tonya Brewer
Hair
Ryan Richman
Styling
MarieLou Bartoli