What we are doing right now, right here, to help

Two weeks ago, my youngest sister Roxane, a Medical Doctor at the hospital in Sion, Switzerland, asked a very pointed question on our Polla sisters Skype: “What can our beauty businesses do to help during this time of crisis?” I did not have an answer, but I did hear her question. A few days later, I saw on LinkedIn that Mathilde Thomas of Caudalie donated products to numerous hospitals in France. And I thought, well, we also have products that help with chapped hands and irritated faces… 

So I began my week with a donation of products to Medstar Georgetown University Hospital, the hospital that is affiliated with the business school I went to and that is less than one mile from my office. Similarly, in Switzerland, we donated products to my sister Roxane’s hospital (in Sion), the one affiliated most closely with my heart since she works there every day. 

In speaking of this with my sisters and my team, I was amazed to hear about their own initiatives to help and contribute to their communities. Here is what they are doing: 

Angie (NYC): “I gave a donation to New York’s Food Bank last month. This month, I am donating to José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen. I like that some restaurants are feeding healthcare workers and that also helps support the restaurant during these times.”

Emma (Arlington, VA): “I am buying books (used and new) from eBay US sellers instead of Amazon. It makes me feel better that I deal directly with real people and contribute something to them instead from big companies such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The sellers that I’ve dealt with so far shipped everything from their house which is listed on the shipping label of the packages that I received.”

Jenna (Reston, VA): “I baked assortments of cookies and sent them to friends and clients to cheer them up. Also, I live across the street from a trauma hospital so every night at 7 pm people in my building and surrounding buildings go outside on their balconies to cheer for the hospital workers at shift change. A small gesture, but it makes everyone (including myself) feel good.”  

Kelli (Charleston, WV): “I have compiled lists of local restaurants offering delivery or carry out and local businesses doing online sales or online classes that I share regularly on social media.”  

Mandi (Washington DC: “I have been ordering food from all of my favorite local restaurants and taking classes from my favorite yoga instructors (some donation-based and some free) and posting pictures to my social media to help build their client base.”  

Rachel (Geneva, Switzerland): “I have been buying groceries for a few older women who are high risk and should not leave their homes, both among my neighborhood and among my Forever Institut teammates.” 

Roxane (Sion, Switzerland): “I have been extra ‘gifty’ to my friends who have had birthdays in the last few weeks, since they can’t celebrate as they usually would. I have been having cupcakes delivered to them (from a brand called Melazic, a business owned by two sisters) as well as personalized cookies with positive messages from the brand Bobiskuit, also a woman-owned brand.” 

There is no right or wrong way to help or contribute. There is no act of kindness too small or too insignificant to matter. And it makes me so proud to be a part of a family, a team that instinctively takes care of their communities, of their world, of our world. 

 

Remote Inspiration

This week (quarantine week 3) has been particularly challenging because the current reality has lost its novelty and is starting to sink in. I finally realized on Monday that life is going to be this way for another 4-6 weeks (hopefully not much longer, please). 

I wrote last week about my new sanity rituals, which while I am (mostly) following, are not helping (much). I do not feel inspired. I do not feel productive. I do not feel creative. When this happens during “normal life,” I go out in the field and visit Alchimie Forever customers. Nothing re-engages me in my brand, in my work, than being out in the field, listening to our brand ambassadors, learning from them, feeling their enthusiasm rub off on me. 

In “current life,” however, that is not possible. So instead, I turned to customers, business leaders, brand owners, for some remote inspiration. Here are four things that have helped me re-engage. 

 A remote training session with Heyday. This was almost as great as being in the field, visiting with the Heyday therapists IRL. Their questions, their feedback, their enthusiasm was contagious even “just” on the screen. And this gave me an opportunity to wear lipstick (first time in two weeks…), which felt wonderful. 

The COVID-19 speech by Marriott International President & CEO Arne Sorenson. I am a Marriott girl through and through, and will forever be after this speech, possibly the best crisis communication I have heard. Honest, realistic, hopeful, compassionate, emotional. 

The wise and honest words of Jennifer Yen, Founder & CEO of Purlisse, as quoted in Glossy today (article written by Emma Sandler). 

“As a brand founder who experienced the 2008 financial crisis and recession, the experience taught [me] lessons which [I have] applied for the past 12 years, including the importance of keeping a lean team, focusing on profitability versus growth, and reinvesting profit into hiring and product development. … Scrappy is the new sexy. It’s hard to see when the party’s over when times are still good, but I’ve been preparing for another moment like 2008 because it was so traumatizing.” 

The community efforts by Mathilde Thomas, Founder of Caudalie. Her brand sent hundreds of products to hospitals throughout France to help with chapped, irritated skin. In her LinkedIn post about this, she encouraged everyone: FAITES CE QUE VOUS POUVEZ POUR AIDER (Do what you can to help). Her example inspired me to reach out to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital to offer to donate some Dry skin balm, some Kantic Brightening moisture mask, and some Kantic+ Intensely nourishing cream. Because that is what I can do right now, right here, to help. 

How do you stay inspired and engaged in your work, in your brand, during these strange times? 

 

What Should Our Next Product Be?

The very day I announced that our newest product, our Advanced retinol serum with time-release technology was hitting the shelves, I was asked what our next new product would be. I felt like how I imagine a woman feels who has just given birth being and is asked when she is having another child…

Today, exactly two months post launch, I am ready to think about newness again. Here is what is on top of  my mind – I would love to hear your insights, requests, ideas, and input.

It if were entirely up to me, I would create a facial oil. Of all of the product categories that are represented by other brands in my skin care routine, oils are the most significant as I am always using two or three depending on the day. The Vintner’s Daughter Active Botanical Serum may be my favorite of all time (and certainly the most expensive product I have purchased in a long time!). I grew up using Clarins facial oils, which I still use today. I love the oils by Goldfadden MD, Indie Lee, Naturopathica (the carrot oil in particular). Can you tell I have a thing for oils?

Even better, a facial oil in capsules.

And, I love capsules. My Mom used oil capsules on her skin when I was little, and I remember seeing her open one delicately every evening – like it was a treasure of pure liquid gold for her face. She loved an obscure French brand that is no longer in business, and in trying to replicate that memory, I recently purchased the Advanced Ceramide Capsules by Elizabeth Arden. Maybe this purchase also has a little bit to do with my girl crush on Reese Witherspoon? I love opening up those little bubbles of deliciousness and love the feel on my skin, but don’t love the fragrance, or that they contain dimethicone. Could we create an even better product?

Another mask. After all, our Kantic Brightening moisture mask remains our hero product, top seller, and editor favorite, so it would be strategically sound to expand the “mask franchise.” Plus, we have had requests for a mask that is more focused on purifying and detoxifying. (I can tell you it won’t be a sheet mask however, I hate those). The pressure is on  – a second mask would have to be as perfect, as magical, as this first one…

A toner / mist / antioxidant spray. We don’t have a toner in our line because our cleansers are pH balanced to the skin. Having said that, there is something so refreshing about a mist, and it is one of the non Alchimie products I use. I love the Yonka Lotion PS mist that smells like lavender and often use it during travel…

At-home peel pads. Estheticians everywhere love our professional-only Brightening peel. I do too, and I must confess to sometimes using it on myself at home. So it is only natural to think about a “real” at-home version. Yet I have mixed feelings. Can we make better at-home peel pads than the Dr. Dennis Gross top-selling product? If we make them “safe” for consumer use, are they still effective? And if we make an at-home version, will consumers forego our professional peel treatment?  So many questions…

Wisdom from WWD's Beauty Summit

Back in the office after a day and a half of WWD Beauty Summit, my head is so full of information, ideas, and inspiration that I can barely think straight. My mother’s advice when that happens is to write things down: lists, to-dos, key learnings. Putting things on paper, she always told me, will clarify your thinking. So that’s what I am doing… for myself, and also partly for you who might not have been able to attend.

While it is impossible for me to say who was my favorite speaker (well, of course, other than Leonard Lauder who was the keynote speaker of the dinner), it is easy for me to share the one liners that resonated the most with me…

 

On Digital

“The digital world is like the air we breathe; we only notice it when it is not here.” Deb Henretta, P&G

“It’s pretty damned crowded on that Google highway.” Ian Ginsberg, CO Bigelow

“The beauty industry is not leading the way in digital innovation.” Deb Henretta, P&G

“Today is not about brand loyalty, but about brand advocacy.” Julia Goldin, Revlon

“Digital should never be an afterthought, a project… digital is the way we live.” Deb Henretta, P&G

“We can’t let digitization sanitize the essence of beauty.” Deb Henretta, P&G

“Never think you can fool the customer; the bloggers with get you!” Leonard Lauder, Estee Lauder

“No brand is going to survive if it does not have a digital component to it.” Deb Henretta, P&G

“It’s very last century to think of digital media as isolated from the rest of your marketing strategy.” Gina Boswell, Unilever

 

On Bricks and Mortar

“The internet is not going to kill retail.” Ian Ginsberg, CO Bigelow

“Every great city needs its iconic department store.” Corinne Jacques, Rive Gauche

“In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope.” Charles Revson, as quote by Julia Goldin, Revlon

“I go to other people’s stores to find out what pisses me off and make sure we don’t make the same mistakes.” Ian Ginsberg, CO Bigelow

“JC Penney needs a little therapy.” Norma Kamali

“We need retailers in the US to believe here is a 3rd way, somewhere between department stores and mass.” Aliza Jabes, Nuxe

“Be a destination, not an obligation or an inspiration.” Ian Ginsberg, CO Bigelow

“When you grow too fast, you lose your soul.” Bertrand Thomas, Caudalie

 

On Age and Beauty

“This baby will live to be 120.” Gordon Farquhar, Alliance Boots

“Most people see the ideal age as 31.” Linda Wells, Allure

“I am 47 and I still think in my brain that I am somewhere between 28 and 36.” Brooke Shields

“I have to choose my ass or my face… when I am heavier, I look younger.” Brooke Shields

“I have clearly chosen my face over my ass.” Gina Boswell, Unilever

“A facelift without treating skin is like reupholstering a sofa with dirty fabric.” Tina Alster,  MD, Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery

“We all believe that we look younger than we are.” Linda Wells, Allure

“Men want to look like they are old enough to have the job they have, so they don’t come to me asking to look a decade younger.” Tina Alster, MD, Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery

“How do you look your best at 75 when you are trying to find your 3rd life partner?” Gordon Farquhar, Alliance Boots

“Put older women on the pages of your magazines.”  Tina Alster, MD, Washington Institute of Dermatologic Laser Surgery

 

On the Beauty Consumer

“We could be in danger of having a bored beauty consumer.” Ed Burstell, Liberty London

“American women want instant gratification and quick fixes.” Mathilde Thomas, Caudalie

“American women do not understand the subtleties of French packaging.” Mathilde Thomas, Caudalie

“One in two households has a Suave product in their households.” Gina Boswell, Uniliver

“When it comes to how she looks, the biggest pressure is the pressure she puts on herself.” Gina Boswell, Unilever

“We see firsthand everyday how hard women are on themselves; there is a lot of crying in the fitting room!” Claire Chambers, Journelle

“Only 4% of adult women think they are beautiful, which is deplorable.” Gina Boswell, Univelever

“People identify with people, not ingredients.” Ian Ginsberg, CO Bigelow

“Listen to your customers; sometimes they know more than you do.” Leonard Lauder, Estee Lauder

 

On Trends

“What is new and unique today is likely to be irrelevant tomorrow.” Ded Henretta, P&G

“The beauty business is on the verge of new prosperity.” Peter Born, WWD

“I find the idea that the era of single digit growth in the luxury beauty market has arrived unacceptable; I am quite convinced that the luxury beauty segment can continue to sustain double digit growth.” Carol Hamilton, L’Oreal

“Treating the body from top to bottom is the next step.” Ed Burstell, Liberty London

“The holistic approach is the next big thing.” Gina Boswell, Unilever

“Skin care is by far the largest category in China, but men’s grooming has great potential.” Hua Fang, Shanghai Jahwa United

“About our spas: no big news here today, we have not yet found the recipe to making them profitable.” Bertrand Thomas, Caudalie

“Today’s world is VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous.” Gina Boswell, Unilever

“Red is still the highest selling lipstick color.” Julia Goldin, Revlon

“Focusing on cities will be the unique way to achieve growth.” Nathalie Remy, McKinsey

“We sell one Huile Prodigieuse every 6 seconds worldwide.” Aliza Jabes

“It’s about launching less products and opening fewer doors.” Bertrand Thomas, Caudalie

 

On Emotions

“There is an emotional deficit in the world that we as brands can fill.” Wende Zomnir, Urban Decay

“Beauty is personal and emotional, and will always be that way.” Marla Malcolm Beck, Bluemercury

“Inspiration can come from anywhere, as long as you have your eyes open.” Julia Goldin, Revlon

“I like to get really emotional on the data.” Wende Zomnir, Urban decay

“Better be lucky than smart.” Michael Kaplan, Fashion to Figures Stores

“There isn’t a woman in the world who can’t be taken down by a bad hair day.” Norma Kamali

“Happiness is like eyelashes; it is so close to your eyes, sometimes you can’t see it.” Francis Kurkdjian

 

About the French (from the French!)

“The French consumer is more reasonable.” Aliza Jabes

“We have to stop thinking like typical negative French people.” Bertrand Thomas, Caudalie

“Paris is the most beautiful city on Earth, but in wealth it is #4, whereas New York is #2.” Nathalie Remy, McKinsey

“I became obsessed with pleasure of use, with texture, with fragrance.” Aliza Jabes, Nuxe

 

More Words of Wisdom from Leonard Lauder

“A business without a vision isn’t a business, it’s just a pastime. You have to have a vision.”

“When a person with money meets a person with experience, pretty soon the person with experience has money and the person with money has experience.”

“Accountants and lawyers make good accountants and lawyers. Period. Make your own decisions.”

“You’re never too far ahead to lose or too far behind to win.” (quoting Arla Specter)

“Over-distribution will get you every time. We never let distribution run ahead of demand.”

“Start small and become important to one customer. Then 2. If you think you can be important to 100 customers in 100 cities, it will never work. Be an acorn and you will grow into a great oak.”

BeautyView: Mathilde Thomas, Co-founder, Caudalie

A couple of years ago, my mother, Dr. Barbara Polla, had the pleasure of meeting Mathilde Thomas, co-creator of Caudalie, in Paris for an article on women who created beauty brands. I remember feeling a tad envious and wishing I were there to meet the gorgeous Mathilde in person. I have always been fascinated by her, thinking about all of the business questions I wanted to ask her. I only had to wait a year before a beauty conference brought Mathilde and I together. If you don’t know her, you should. She runs Caudalie, a successful beauty brand based on the benefits of grapes (indeed, true to her brand, she loves wine!). She runs the business with her family. She is French in all of the best ways possible. She is kind. And she is humble.

AP: What city were you born in? MT: Grenoble capital of the French alps.

AP: What city to do you live in? MT: New York, NY.

AP: What is your middle name? MT: Julia.

AP: What is your astrological sign? MT: Sagittarius.

AP: What is something about you most people don’t know? MT: I spent 6 years with the French skin team of L’Alpe d’Huez ski resort.

AP: What is your most prized possession? MT: My family and my team.

AP: Describe your fashion style in three words maximum. MT: French.

AP: Do you wear a watch? If yes, what model? MT: Yes. A vintage Hermes watch that my mother gave me when I was 18 and graduated with honors.

AP: Diamonds or pearls? MT: Neither. I like jewelry by young creators.

AP: What is your #1 beauty secret? MT: I try to keep it simple: 1. Maintain beautiful and natural skin with my Caudalie skin care. 2. Stay slim and fit at all times. 3. Keep your hair shiny.

AP: What fragrance do you wear? MT: The Des Vignes at night and Zeste de Vigne in the morning. I designed them with the uber-talented Jacques Cavalier and Francis Kurkdjian.

AP: Botox or not? MT: Absolutely not.

AP: Hair color: natural or not? MT: I like the gentle non-drying INOA color.

AP: What are your special diet tips, if any? MT: A glass of Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte a day.

AP: What do you do for exercise? MT: I run around Central Park, and I run after my three kids all day long.

AP: What are three things that you always have in your fridge? MT: A bottle of white Smith Haut Lafitte 2010 and home-made yogurt.

AP: What is your cocktail of choice? MT: Red Smith Haut Lafitte 2009.

AP: What is your secret to work/life balance? MT: I aim to spend my time 1/3rd as a lover, 1/3rd as a mother, and 1/3rd as a creator.

AP: How many miles do you fly per year on average? MT: Way too much.

AP: What are your three top tips for travel? MT: 1. Moisturize your face and body before getting on the plane. 2. Never eat on the plane. 3. Drink plenty of water throughout travel. 4. And one more, change the time on your watch to the time at your destination as you board your flight.

AP: 3 songs on your ipod right now. MT: ICU by Lou Doillon, Baby I’m yurs by Breakbot.

AP: What book are you reading right now? MT: I am finishing the Grace Coddington biography.

AP: Quote to live by. MT: “Just do it.”

AP: What time do you usually wake up in the morning, and how many hours of sleep do you usually get? MT: I wake up at 7 am daily, and I try to get eight hours of sleep per night.

AP: What is your favorite thing about the beauty industry? MT: My love for the industry can be summarized by this Linda Wells quote: “Beauty has started wars and inspired sonnets. It is serious and superficial. Beauty is about a dream of a better self.”

AP: Who is your mentor? MT: My grandmother.

AP: Words of advice for young women starting their careers today. MT: Focus and keep a balance.