Kelly St. John, far left, with Erin Sawyer, Kyle Smitley, Caroline Randall Williams and Becky Fawcett.

It was called a Beauty Symposium, but talk of philanthropy and life lessons eclipsed cosmetics at Neiman Marcus’ Dallas flagship the evening of Feb. 9, as four social activists doled out advice and inspiration during a panel discussion with Kelly St. John, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of beauty for the retailer.

The accomplished women had won the retailer’s Faces of Beauty competition, a campaign that highlights good works and heralds the biannual Beauty Event gift-with-purchase extravaganza that starts Feb. 13 and runs through Feb. 28. This marks Faces of Beauty’s seventh season and the only time that the winners spoke at a conference designed to inspire young women.

“We challenge ourselves every year to do the campaign a little differently,” St. John explained. “We felt this year we needed to push the needle of establishing Neiman Marcus beauty as the luxury destination for these women, and we wanted to attract a new customer.”

The crowd of 130 consisted mostly of young women invited via service organizations and schools or because they had shopped with the retailer. Le Métier de Beauté offered all of them a lipstick, a makeup consultation and a lip print personality analysis.

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Organized as a national competition, NM Faces of Beauty attracted 1,200 applicants this season, the highest number in its history, a spokeswoman said.

The winners are Erin Sawyer, a Tesla Motors senior supply chain executive whose nonprofit work encourages girls to pursue STEM careers; Kyle Smitley, an attorney who established and runs the highly successful Detroit Achievement Academy charter school for at-risk children; Caroline Randall Williams, a literature professor at West Virginia University, author and advocate for healthy soul food and nutrition in the African-American community; and Becky Fawcett, a former New York publicist who cofounded and manages helpusadopt.org to finance adoptions.

They each received a box stuffed with myriad cosmetics and treatments, two complete wardrobe ensembles and a trip to Dallas for the symposium.

“These four ladies have truly cut through the clutter in each one of their fields to achieve great things, and their vision and their passion and their sheer gumption truly inspires us,” St. John said. “I always leave this campaign thinking, oh my, I need to go do more with my life.”

The panelists shared quite a bit of advice.

“Don’t be afraid to negotiate,” Sawyer said. “Don’t be afraid to ask for more.”

“Create something that doesn’t exist,” Fawcett advised. “Find something that no one is doing. Make it unique. Know what you’re good at and what you’re going to do personally and know what you’re bad at and hire those people.”

“I spent a lot of high school wondering if I was pretty enough for how other people were seeing me, and I was so cute and sweet as we all are at that age,” Williams said. “I wish I had figured that out sooner and not wasted so much time wondering what everyone else was thinking.”

“My number-one rule I try to live by is as you climb higher as a woman, have one arm reaching up and one arm reaching down tugging somebody up with you at whatever cost,” Smitley reflected.

Beauty products were a tiny part of the discussion near the end. Williams enthused that the La Mer cream she received in the Faces of Beauty gift box was “as good as everyone says it is,” and St. John endorsed Le Métier de Beauté foundation as key to her daily makeup regime.

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