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Lauren Hutton, wild-haired, barefoot and wearing an unbuttoned oxford shirt that exposes a white tank top, is carrying a watermelon to the garden of her Venice, Calif., home just blocks from the ocean.
If she started modeling to support her taste for globe-trotting, perhaps the nearly 64-year-old stunner founded her namesake makeup brand to secure the freedom of this sunshine-filled California dream. Regardless, Hutton has approached both endeavors in her own way — talking honestly about beauty and aging — and has proved to have staying power despite long odds.
“The reason I keep doing this, because I could stab it in the heart, is that I get literally thousands of e-mails from women saying ‘You’ve changed my life,'” said Hutton during a recent interview in her yard to discuss the brand’s fifth anniversary. “Women feel better and have more confidence at 40 and 50 when they don’t feel they are the leftover dregs of society.”
After an initial investment of roughly $600,000 from her personal savings, Hutton has grown the brand — of which she owns 76 percent; chief operating office Doug Cooper and four other silent partners hold the remaining shares — into a $20 million business last year. Her premiere product, the face disc, is still a bestseller, even though it has gone through several iterations, including a limited edition tortoiseshell variety sold on HSN for $49.95.
The focus of the brand — women 35 and older — has not changed. However, Lauren Hutton has reached into additional categories, one of the latest being mineral makeup, that make sense for its customers. “All of the other stuff I saw I would never use,” Hutton said of the mineral products on the market. “It makes older women look older.”
The Aqua-Elements makeup contains rock minerals malachite, hematite and smithsonite, and silica beads filled with water to hydrate mature skin. Titanium dioxide and zinc provide sunscreen protection, and zinc oxide acts as an antimicrobial. For fall, the Lauren Hutton lineup features a Base Elements Kit with two sheer concealers and two spot concealers for $38, and a Color Elements Kit with contour shadow, an eyeliner and loose powder for $29.
HSN has played an enormous role in building Lauren Hutton’s audience, and she appears on the shopping channel at least four times a year. Insisting she had no financial smarts when she began in the beauty industry, Hutton said she went on television mostly because she needed cash to keep the business afloat. HSN has lately been responsible for 15 percent of Lauren Hutton’s sales, according to Cooper.
“I did it [HSN] to test everything new I was making and also to have a big influx of money besides my own pension fund. You sell [30,000 units] every time you go on,” said Hutton. “Now, a lot of people go on it.”
But Hutton isn’t satisfied with the size of her following as it stands. “I think 600,000 customers are a precious dinky few,” she said. “I would be doing the same work whether it was 10 million. There are 50 million [women] in America who should be wearing it.”
Next year, the brand is plowing into new territory to determine if, in fact, more women will buy into Hutton’s message. Cooper expects the brand to enter retail stores in 2008. “We primarily want to be a direct-to-consumer brand, but we do have a segment [of consumers] that would like to see it retail where they could touch and feel it,” he said. “We have a well-rounded business that should have some retail distribution. We are not looking to be everywhere. We are looking to target a national chain.”
In addition to HSN, about 25 percent of the brand’s current revenues are generated through its infomercials, about 10 percent are from international sources, and the remainder is direct-to-consumer, which includes print catalogues and Lauren Hutton’s Web site, where all of the line’s around 30 stockkeeping units are available.
Timed with its retail debut, Lauren Hutton may run magazine ads for the first time as early as late summer or fall of 2008. Likely to be single-page ads, Hutton speculated that the advertising campaign would feature two sets of images, one with a younger group of women that could include her own goddaughters and one of an older group with friends of hers that are fans of the makeup. “I only used to work with [Richard] Avedon,” she said as she rattled off a list of several notable fashion photographers. “I can’t exactly afford that.”
In the direct-to-consumer business, Lauren Hutton will experiment with an infomercial next year concentrating on Aqua-Elements products, instead of the face discs that have been at the center of her infomercials to date. Two face disc infomercials are running at the moment: One was shot in 2004 and the other last year.
“It was very well received by our customer base,” said Cooper of Aqua-Elements’ launch on HSN in 2006. “It is a product that needs explanation to generate exposure for it. We feel that it [an infomercial] is a sensible next move for us based on success of the product.”
Internationally, Cooper said that Lauren Hutton would spread to France and Germany in the fourth quarter of this year and Japan in the first quarter of next year. The brand has been selling in Canada and Mexico for about a year, and the United Kingdom and Australia for a few months. In two years, Cooper estimated that international sales could constitute one-third of the Lauren Hutton business.
“We want to choose [countries] where Lauren is known, but we also want to chose distributors that have good distribution in those [countries],” he said. “Lauren is a good spokesperson, and this product is such a good product. Even if she is not that well known, the product has such a good selling proposition that it should be successful with or without her.”
What about long-term goals for the brand? Eventually, Hutton predicted she might produce higher-end items. “I imagine I will make a more expensive line, but I will never get rid of this,” she said. “I try to keep [Lauren Hutton] as inexpensive as possible. The money shouldn’t [mostly] go to ads and packaging, it should go into faces.”
And what about aiming for those coveted younger customers? Cooper hinted that Lauren Hutton would work on partnerships in the future to help the brand appeal to those under 35. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen are admirers of Hutton and used her as a model in the look book for their brand The Row. “We haven’t gone for younger women yet because there’s only so much talking you can do,” joked Hutton.
Would she sell the brand? Hutton said she’s had many suitors. “They want me to talk about lifestyle and that sounds like too much work,” she admitted. So, she’s sticking with the existing model, but said she’ll “figure out what to do with it soon.”
In terms of immediate plans, Hutton will be a guest star on the upcoming season of “Nip/Tuck” as Hollywood publicist Fiona McNeil. “She’s deadly,” hinted Hutton, who is not throwing a party for her birthday on Nov. 17. Hutton always avoided celebrating birthdays, she explained, because “I never know where I’m going to be.”