The women of “The Real Housewives of New York City” have caught themselves a real beauty. The latest player to join Manhattan’s circle of alpha females — the women aren’t so much housewives as they are masters of fashion, parties and snarkiness — is Cindy Barshop, founder and owner of a string of laser hair-removal emporiums with locations in Manhattan and Scarsdale, N.Y., and units planned for Long Island, Los Angeles, Atlanta and Dallas. Yes, the newest RHNYC works!
The single mom of one-year-old twin girls, who founded Completely Bare in 1998 and has since turned it into a $5 million-a-year business, apparently was up for a challenge, as if motherhood and entrepreneurship weren’t already testing her last nerve.
“I have always believed you can add more and more as you [become more successful], as long as you have a great support staff. Look at anyone at the top. The more you accomplish, the more can accomplish,” said Barshop.
While she comes off as a tough-as-steel businesswoman — Barshop plans to triple sales this year by opening at least a half-dozen locations, overhauling her product line and revamping her Web site so consumers can make appointments and buy items online — it’s hard not to think she’s going to get eaten alive. She is sweet, self-effacing, humble and polite — characteristics not typically showered upon the Real Housewives. She even dressed casually for this interview (skinny jeans, Hunter boots, wrap knit sweater) as per the nasty weather outside. And, enviably, she has all the physical characteristics of a woman who wakes up looking pretty good: dark, straight hair that neatly frames her face; caramel-colored, flawless skin; bright, white, even teeth; almond shaped, dark brown eyes. And, presumably, she’s well groomed, well, everywhere. Overall? She comes off as sexy-adorable, a look that makes the 46-year-old appear much younger than her years.
Her brother, Howie, who works alongside Barshop on the financial end of the business, said his sister is tougher than her petite frame would lead one to believe.
“She is very kind, but let me tell you she is a very sharp lady and when she has to be aggressive [on the show] she has been. In the first month [of filming] she was feeling it out. But then she did get aggressive when she had to. But you won’t see anything too ridiculous coming from her, so I think she will come out looking good at the end of this.”
Both thought going on the show would be good for business, especially as the brand is about to go national in the first quarter, even if there were no guarantees the editing reel would swing their way.
“You know this is a big risk for our business since we are putting ourselves on the line. But I thought it would be a valuable venture,” Howie said. “Just seeing my sister and the publicity of it all, it’s just surreal. But she can handle it. She has been in front of the camera. She’s been on TV with Diane Sawyer talking about spray tanning. She’s been on Regis waxing someone’s back.”
Barshop said the first weeks of filming “RHNYC” threw her for a loop and certainly provided her with the challenge she was looking for.
“No one gave me a handbook on how to be a Housewife or how to interact with them or how to be with them,” she said. “It was like being on [TV reality show] ‘Survivor.’ You have your events, you want them filmed,” she continued, adding: “Looking good every day is hard.”
Seeing that Barshop lives a considerably more hectic life than the other Real Housewives — as the head of Completely Bare, she’s either overseeing one of her four locations in Manhattan, or making changes to her Web site or conducting research and development on the latest laser hair-removal system — she really didn’t have the wardrobe that went along with the role, let alone the accessories. And, filming can be as often as seven days a week, twice a day.
Rather, she describes herself as a hippie-chic, rock ’n’ roll woman who will surely add a downtown element to the mostly uptown crowd, as she resides in the West Village and favors designers such as Rick Owens and Phillip Lim as well as Haute Hippie.
But clearly, the most difficult part of joining “RHNYC” was entering a social dynamic with established players and an unwritten script for how to talk to whom and when.
“It is reality, but you have come into their world, and you’re the new kid. No one pays attention to you. So when I say it was like ‘Survivor,’ I had to work at making myself relevant. Making myself more known. Showing my qualities and showing them right away. This is not a place where you slowly learn about somebody. Or they slowly learn about you. It’s all accelerated. And there is an etiquette.”
So your personality is on speed in front of millions of viewers?
Barshop landed the role on “RHNYC” after a Bravo camera crew camped out in her condo during fashion week last September. At the time, Barshop’s living room was turned into command central for stuffing goody bags with her latest product, Vajewel (sparkly adhesives for the area down there), as her parents looked on. The combination of mom, fashion, businesswoman and accessories-for-private-parts clearly made an impression: Within two weeks, Bravo made it official.
Introducing herself to a national audience with millions of viewers (the show, which began shooting the last week of September, wraps filming this week and is scheduled to debut the second week of February) works nicely with Completely Bare’s expansion. And, like many of the Real Housewives, Barshop now will have a national platform for her passion.
The concept for Completely Bare was born well before Brazilian bikini waxes entered the beauty lexicon. As a national marketing rep for IBM, Barshop, a “nice Jewish girl” with a frequent need for depilatory services, was on a constant search for the latest hair-removal innovations. A born entrepreneur, Barshop took this need and opened the first Completely Bare in 1998 at 764 Madison Avenue, and filled it with the latest in hair-removal technology. The business continues to thrive, she said, because it’s more about “problem-solution than spa luxury.”
“Overall, it’s a results-oriented business that’s a cool, hip brand that can even get you results at home,” she said.
Over the years, Barshop has added other results-oriented services, such as teeth whitening and laser facials. But her model still refrains from the typical spa fare of manicures and massages. She simply wants to be known as the hair-removal expert.
Her largest ventures are just on the horizon as a partnership with elite fitness chain The Sports Club/LA will bring Completely Bare treatment rooms to many of its locations across the country. Completely Bare also will bow in the plastic surgery practice of fellow reality TV star Dr. Felix Rey and in Exhale Spa’s newest locations in Dallas and Atlanta. Closer to home is a 5,000-square-foot space planned for a new retail development complex in Roslyn, Long Island, by the son of furniture tycoon Maurice Villency.
The completion of filming “RHNYC” this week will allow her to focus on the whirlwind of business commitments headed her way. And though most of her fate has been sealed in an editing room, Bravo has yet to finalize her opening credit — the seconds-long spot that will have her simultaneously twirling and talking about what New York means to her, probably while holding an apple. So what’s her mantra?
“I want to say that any woman can create what they want if they are determined and willing to take a risk. I know it sounds pie-in-the-sky, but it’s what I believe,” she said.
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