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05-13-14 | Posted by

“You are probably looking at the luckiest woman in the world,” said Essie Weingarten, founder of essie, the ubiquitous brand of jaunty nail polish carried in salons around the world. Weingarten detailed her climb from bottling colors at home to selling her brand to L’Oréal at last month’s Fashion Group International (FGI) beauty symposium entitled, The Art of the Beauty Start.

Weingarten was one of five panelists who spoke about ways that small, niche beauty brands can break into the marketplace and stay above the red line. Sponsored by Self magazine and The Estée Lauder Companies, the luncheon event drew a packed crowd to the New York Hilton for insights on what makes or breaks a start-up brand.

In a way, almost all brands have humble origins. Mrs. Estée Lauder herself once peddled Youth Dew to Saks Fifth Avenue to get her break. “Bumble and bumble derived from a small salon and Smashox was a family enterprise,” said Peter Lichtenthal, president, Bumble and Bumble and Smashbox, both part of the Lauder family of companies now.

As a consumer, you may not even notice what propels a newbie beauty brand above the fray. “It’s about storytelling for us,” said Claudia Lucas, merchandise director for beauty, QVC. For example, IT Cosmetics, an anti-aging makeup and skin care line sold through QVC, works hand-in-hand with plastic surgeons to create effective and useable products, explained panelist Paulo Lima, co-founder, IT Cosmetics.

Success for a start up always entails that a brand be true to itself, the panelists concurred. Apparently, the same is true for retailers. Bloomingdale’s was very good at marketing major, national brands, explained Howard Kreitzman, vice president, cosmetics & fragrances, Bloomingdale’s, but lacked the special expertise for smaller lines. As a result, it partnered with Space NK, the UK-originated specialty retailer that focuses exclusively on singular, out-of-the-ordinary makeup, fragrance, and skin care.

At the conclusion of the session, one was left with the definite impression that luck plays no small role in what products the public gravitates toward. After several seasons of creating a range of beautiful pastels, Weingarten decided to break out and go dark with Wicked, a deep, sinister red in the late 1980s. It didn’t sell well, that is, until Chanel launched the global phenomenon Vamp nail varnish. Vamp quickly sold out, but Wicked was there to pick up the slack, and voila, an unknown brand was canonized.

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