Retail Safari: Boom Town in San Francisco

Rachel Brown visits beauty’s newest outposts in San Francisco and discovers a bustling scene with brands big and small.

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Appeared In
Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 03/21/2014

March 2014

This story first appeared in the March 21, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

MAC’s fourth and largest location in San Francisco features a new format that punches up its retail assortment. The 1,340-square-foot store is organized into four zones: The first showcases new collections and MAC’s color repertoire, the second has six makeup stations plus a private room, the third is dedicated to pro products and the fourth boasts a lash bar. “A lot of people know how significant we are with backstage and theater,” says creative director James Gager, “but the ordinary customer might not be exposed to that. We wanted an interesting way to let them know.”


45 Powell Street; 415.402.0658.

Ayla Beauty
July 2013

After a decade in the corporate beauty world, Dara Kennedy created the e-commerce business Ayla Beauty—ayla means bearer of light—focused on cherry-picking efficacious skin-care products from  hard-to-find brands. Last spring, she expanded into brick-and-mortar with an intimate 600-square-foot store. “We do get to know people really well interacting with them online, but it is nice to be able to see them in person,” says Kennedy. “A lot of customers prefer to touch and feel before they buy.”


1825 Bush Street; 415.520.7320.


July 2013

Thirty-seven years after its founding, Benefit unveiled a West Coast flagship in its hometown. Although much has changed—Benefit is now a global enterprise owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton with close to $1 billion in annual sales—some things have stayed the same. The guiding principal, “laughter is the best cosmetic,” has endured and is inscribed on the walls of the store. “We’re not just selling product. It’s an experience, where people come to laugh and smile,” says Aurelian Lis, general manager, Benefit Americas.


262 Sutter Street; 415.749.9073.


Veer & Wander
May 2013


Arriving in San Francisco from Chicago 13 years ago, Connie McGrath fell in love with the city, but not its beauty retail options. “San Francisco isn’t like New York or L.A.,” she says. “There was no place that caters to the local people who want to walk in and be casual, but have a luxury experience that is not intimidating.” To that end, the 600-square-foot salon-slash-apothecary, which manages to be simultaneously rustic and industrial, features a well-edited selection of niche brands such as Ellis Faas, Clark’s Botanicals, Oribe and Yosh.

Mission accomplished.


6 Brady Street; 415.864.3012.


The Balm
January 2014

It took a decade in business before TheBalm founder Marissa Shipman thought the San Francisco-based brand—which has about 180 makeup, nail polish, hair- and skin-care  stockkeeping units—could support a store. “We wanted to have a presence here, where people can learn more about our story and get a sense of us,” says Shipman. The store, which is infused with the brand’s vintage sensibility, features customizable eye-shadow palettes, waxing services and iPads that record makeup tutorials so that customers can view tips they’ve learned at the store at home after their shopping trips.


788 Valencia Street; 415.817.1800.

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