“The Art of the Beauty Deal”

Although the above heading sounds like the story of how Donald Trump “acquired” Melania’s hand in marriage, but no, it’s not. Instead it was the title of the latest FGI breakfast event at the New York Hilton, featuring an esteemed panel of key people in the cosmetics industry, a private equity firm partner and the beauty and fitness director of a major fashion magazine.

From left to right: Peter Juettner, Emily Dougherty, Brigitte King, Elana Drell-Szyfer,
Alicia Valencia, & Rich Gersten
Photo: Eric T. Michelson

After the scrambled eggs, bacon and hash browns were served, we got “dessert” which was an informative talk by Elle Magazine’s Emily Dougherty on how innovation in beauty works. She highlighted the two types of features: Service and Style. Service is instructive beauty, while Style is aspirational and may focus on celebs. “If you do too much Service, women tend to feel ugly and dumpy, if you do too much Style, they may not relate. That’s why you need that perfect balance between the two” said Dougherty.

Photo: Laurel Marcus

She went on to talk about “niche beauty” and how items that were once esoteric are now mainstream such as face oils. Even the job of “beauty editor” itself has become widespread. “When I started in this business in ’95 there were about 42 listed beauty editors on Google. Now there are about 10,000.” This leads to Elle’s rule of asking the following questions before they feature a product. Does it work? Is it better? Is it breakthrough? Is it inspirational?

Emily Dougherty
Photo: Eric T. Michelson

Did you know that there are three types of innovation? According to Dougherty there are Pivot Products — those that were formulated for one use, such as Glaucoma but are discovered to have another use such as longer eyelash growth; Refinement Products — those that are reformulated slightly, such as compact foundation; and Lightning Bolt (LB) Products — those items that we never even knew we needed such as lip plumping products like Lip Venom.

Okay, I’m sure we’re all familiar with these “advancements” in cosmetics but did you know that there are even newer niche products such as eyebrow serum (Province Apothecary), a dentistry product that negates the need to ever visit the dentist (Living Libations), and a LB product from a company called Bitter Lace Beauty with something called a handmade illuminator or “Rainbow Beam Cheek” whose tagline is “look like you’ve been licked by a unicorn.” This product provides a rainbow on your cheekbone (who knew we needed that)? It is sold out and back ordered constantly since only a certain amount can be produced at a time.

This brings us to what Dougherty termed “The Etsy Effect” — the established vs. the artisanal, meaning that different (and lesser) standards apply to a small niche company than to a larger brand. (Hmmm, this reminds me of the new controversy over the ever in-demand Kylie Jenner Lip Kit ($29) produced by Seed Beauty which also produces a $6 lipstick called Colourpop with the same ingredients and now, according to an article in the Daily Mail UK, the existing colors have been reformulated to the Colourpop line. (See article)

Consequently, Dougherty discussed the Millennial backlash against mid-tier influencers (over 100,000 IG followers!) who may be getting paid to promote certain products. Above all, don’t try to be all things to all people or Millennials will abandon you. “Go back to your heritage, go back to your story, and make sure it aligns with your customer.  Rediscover, Tell, Stick! Don’t try to jump around to other products and out-scale yourself” she added. In other words, if you’re known for nail polish, do that and don’t branch out to hair products.

Next up was Rich Gersten of Tengram Capital Partners, a private equity firm that specializes in branded, undercapitalized companies. He has spent the last 17 years focused exclusively on the consumer and retail sector, with an emphasis in the beauty industry. Companies that he’s currently involved with and on the board of are Cos Bar, This Works, NEST Fragrances, Laura Geller Beauty and Deva Curl, among others. He mentioned that the fastest growing market is for color cosmetics, followed by skin care but not as much since Nestle bought Proactive, while hair care activity has slowed down and is focused on mass products rather than the professional. Fragrance does well with artisanal brands (Estee Lauder has been cornering the market on these) while private equity is more focused on home fragrance. He mentioned two strategic deals: Blue Mercury was bought by Macy’s and DermStore was bought by Target.

Following his talk he introduced  a panel of beauty experts including Peter Jueptner, SVP of Estee Lauder; Elana Drell-Szyfer, CEO of Laura Geller as well as operating advisor at Tengram Capital; Brigitte King, deputy general manager for Kiehls USA; and Alicia Valencia, SVP of beauty for HSN. They each spoke about their past experiences and current challenges. Each emphasized similar themes involving growing a small company into a larger one.

Jueptner spoke of how Estee Lauder grew MAC from its early ’90s origins into the huge success that it is today. “What’s the potential of the brand? Can people be passionate about it?” are questions that are asked. “How to preserve the DNA of the brand is first and foremost how we start using our expertise on how to deal with small companies so they don’t get lost within the big corporation.”

Drell-Szyfer who “wears two hats” in her dual role running Laura Geller and advising Tengram says that she divides her time by giving “100% to her duties at LG while being a sounding board for other CEO’s and keeping her eyes and ears to the ground for interesting brands.” While in the UK on a business trip she stumbled on a Space NK store and sent a photo to Gersten mentioning that it was worth looking into. Within eight months of that photo, they had a deal with Space NK.

King spoke of her job integrating Kiehl’s into L’Oreal. Since Kiehl’s had “very strong DNA which we maintained, business has grown and the brand has been a great success for L’Oreal. Even more than corporate culture the values of DNA must be embraced. You can capitalize but be respectful of the roots” she added.

Valencia calls life at HSN “an eye opening and crazy experience in a good way.” As for capitalizing on a brand: “You need a great product, great story and great storytelling. If you miss one of the three you won’t have success. ” She spoke of her previous job at Estee Lauder and bringing Bobbi Brown into the fold. “We took her story and built the brand. We believed in her brand and in telling her story as brand building strategies.”

The Newswomen’s Club of New York: Spring Photography Show & Auction

Toni Reinhold addressing the members
All photos: 
Gareth Smith Photography
Click images for full size views

Like Woody Allen, I used to jokingly say that “I’d never join a club that would allow a person like me to become a member.” However, last night after attending the Spring Photography Show & Auction of The Newswomen’s Club of New York, I may have changed my mind. Held at The Ukranian Institute of America at 79th and Fifth Avenue, this annual event serves as a fund raiser for The Newswomen’s Club, which was established in 1922.

Seventy-six works of photography were featured, winnowed down from a pool of 400 images, by a curatorial committee headed by my niece, Emily Anne Epstein of The Atlantic. Each image was selected solely on merit, as the committee was not furnished with the photographer’s name or background during the vote. All photos were donated by accomplished and well-known photographers including Gary Hershorn’s (UPI, Reuters) Manhattan scenes, Paul LaRosa’s (three-time Emmy Award-winning journalist and producer at CBS “48 Hours”) When Pigs Swim”; Adrees Latif’s (Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Photography winner) with two images – -“Buddha in Banyan Tree” and “First Snowflake”; and Toni Reinhold (award-winning journalist, photographer, author, and Journalism teacher as well as president of The Newswoman’s Club of New York and Editor-in-Charge on the Americas desk for Reuters) with “Bodega Bouquets” and “Mirror in the Park.”

Attendees strolled around admiring the photos, networking, and eventually bidding on nearly every one. Toni Reinhold welcomed the crowd of members, photographers and friends by likening some of these works of art to what could be found across the street at The Met’s exhibition of Pergamom. She mentioned how bodies were showcased in both exhibitions; here by a photographer’s model; a woman running naked through the streets of Cuba having thrown off her cloak in protest; or one holding up her hands during a Black Lives Matter demonstration with palms that read “Don’t Shoot.” I had actually noticed a water theme as well, since many photos seemed to reference either a body of water, or street scenes of children playing around an open hydrant in West Philadelphia or Brownsville, Brooklyn.

Emily Anne Epstein

When it was her turn, journalist, photographer and editor Emily Anne Epstein gave an impassioned speech thanking the club. “If it were not for the Newswomen’s Club I would not have my career,” she said, adding that she found mentors within its ranks who helped her in her journalistic endeavors. Intent on impressing the credentials of the assembled works of photography on would-be bidders she remarked that “these photographers have agents, they’re in galleries just 50 blocks south of here” and were not small potatoes in the visual art world.

Amazingly, this Club, currently in its 95th year (founded in 1922 before women had the right to vote) is the oldest professional organization exclusively for women in the New York metropolitan area. Much like Fashion Group International (FGI), The Newswomen’s Club’s history goes back to New York Herald (later The Herald Tribune) reporter Emma Bugbee who covered First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Although Bugbee’s first big assignment was the sinking of the Titanic, she was not allowed in the city room and her desk was on a different floor.

Many fellow women reporters had desks in the hallway and were told to cover “the women’s pages” rather than hard news. They were not allowed to join press clubs because of their gender. The then-named New York Newspaper Woman’s Club’s mission was to seek professional equality for newswomen, meritocracy in newsrooms, to build a network through which newswomen could help each other and to promote the highest standards of journalism. Judging by what I witnessed at the event, there really was an air of camaraderie and a spirit of helpfulness rather than any kind of “Mean Girl” one-upmanship that I might expect.

Today the Club counts 250+ New York-based members including writers, editors, producers, photographers, videographers, and editorial cartoonists working on staff and as freelancers for news organizations including The Associated Press, The Atlantic, Bloomberg, Buzzfeed News, CNN, Corporate Counsel, DNAinfo, The New York Daily News, The New York Times, TIME, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, WNYC, Newsday, Women’s eNews, Vanity Fair, ABC and CBS-TV News, and Voice of America.

Perhaps New York Bureau Chief at Bloomberg, Karen Toulon best echoed my experiences in her closing remarks. “We are all just fortunate that we get to work in this wonderful city even at a certain age” she said.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

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