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My First Job: Nail Magnate Essie Weingarten

The founder of Essie Cosmetics talks about getting her start at Henri Bendel's while studying fashion buying and merchandising at FIT.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 11/11/2011

My first job in the fashion industry was with Henri Bendel, the number-one luxury boutique in New York City at the time. I had just graduated high school, so I was working during the day while studying fashion buying and merchandising at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) at night.

 

Henri Bendel’s was the first boutique within a boutique, very different from the store it is today. Back then, it was just a totally unique store concept. It had the best designers and was the epicenter of style, taste and luxury. I began my career in the hosiery department — my first encounter with shade names was at the leg counter! We gave names to all the different colors of pantyhose. Then I got a promotion and worked as an assistant buyer for gifts and stationery.

I felt so lucky that I got to work with the most talented group of people. I was fortunate to be mentored by some of the greats, such as Geraldine Stutz, my first boss and the president of Henri Bendel in those days. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that really honed my eye. After a certain amount of time, you understand what makes a great statement; what becomes iconic, classic. It’s that awareness that I try to channel into everything I do. I am currently the only leader in the nail business with roots in the fashion industry. My fashion background is what gives me an edge on color trends.

I also brought the shade-naming phenomenon to nails when I went into business for myself. Back then, nail polish shades were numbered and quite boring. So I gave every Essie color its own personality, because I knew that women would remember it and come to treat it as a new best friend. The names were meant to be happy, positive, whimsical and unforgettable. A lot of it was inspirational, a lot aspirational. We always wanted to keep our customers engaged.

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