NEW YORK -- You wouldn't guess it by looking at her, dressed as she is in black from head to toe, but Jennifer Balbier is known for her keen eye for color.
"They call her the queen of color," said fragrance consultant Ann Gottlieb. Gottlieb works with Balbier, who is one of the premier product development consultants in the business, on The Limited's toiletries and cosmetics.
"I've been everywhere, and at all these companies, Jennifer is the best person I've worked with in deriving color formulas," said industry executive Bob Ruttenberg, whose resume includes stints at Estee Lauder, Cosmair and Revlon.
Ruttenberg is now president and chief executive officer of Gryphon Development, the cosmetics manufacturing arm of The Limited and one of Balbier's clients. Her latest project for Gryphon is a spa-like bath and body line with a down-home flavor called Health & Beauty Farm, which will be launched in July at roughly 190 Bath & Body Works stores.
Her client list also has included La Prairie, Tova Borgnine, Frederic Fekkai, Gale Hayman and Quintessence.
"There are not very many people around who know product as well as she does," said Gottlieb. "She understands all aspects of it -- color, skin care, toiletries."
Balbier's work with color ranges from developing makeup palettes to selecting shades for products such as shower gel and body lotion. But her expertise extends beyond pigment.
SG Cosmetics enlisted Balbier to find a manufacturer for its new Studio Gear professional color cosmetics line. Instead of simply coming up with the name of a single contractor, Balbier investigated the market and determined the best contract packer in each makeup category.
"We ended up, as tiny as we are, with six different manufacturers," said Steve Rohr, an owner of SG.
In addition to offering advice on the hues of the 275 stockkeeping units, Balbier left her imprint on some of the more concrete aspects of the business, from pricing to sourcing packaging supplies.
"I find Jennifer just an absolute encyclopedia of everything you ever needed or wanted to know about the cosmetics industry," Rohr said.Balbier's first taste of the industry, more than 20 years ago, was working on the sales staff at Coty under Jerry Abernathy, who is now president. Balbier sold fragrances to drugstores in uptown Manhattan. Within six months, she had switched to marketing and new product development.
After five years at Coty, Balbier embarked on a series of stints at Helena Rubinstein, Charles of the Ritz and Max Factor, then headed by Linda J. Wachner. At Factor, she helped develop the Le Jardin fragrance before moving briefly to Faberge.
It was after leaving Faberge in the mid-1980s that Balbier started her New York-based consulting business, The Pink Jungle, and found herself working for a series of smaller, independent companies, including Hayman and Borgnine.
"I grew up in corporate America," Balbier said, adding that she now prefers her independence. "I was glad I had the opportunity to deal with entrepreneurs. They're rule-breakers. You have to take everything you've learned and throw it out the window."
After joining Borgnine's team, for example, Balbier worked on the development of a women's fragrance called Body, Mind & Spirit, to be sold on QVC Network. Without any pre-launch sampling effort to enable TV viewers to smell it, the fragrance sold out in its first appearance.
"She has an astute understanding of both the position of a product and the story of a product," said Borgnine, who has worked with Balbier for eight years.
Balbier's command of cosmetics ingredients may have led some to question whether she had a chemist's training (she has not), and Ruttenberg insists that Balbier's not being a chemist actually works in her favor.
"Chemists have trouble understanding our language," Ruttenberg said. "She works with the bench chemists to interpret what the consumer wants."
Enhancing her expertise, clients say, is Balbier's energetic personality. Ruttenberg, who affectionately calls her "a flake," marvels at Balbier's ability to generate a profusion of ideas. He noted with admiration, "Jennifer can go from left to right and right to left -- at the same time."
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