When Blow Styling Salon opened its doors in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District nearly three years ago, socialite-turned-fashion designer Lucy Sykes Rellie was an eager customer.
A self-described blowout, manicure and pedicure buff, Sykes Rellie’s interest had been piqued before the salon was finished. She remembered that when she met Blow’s co-founders, Jennifer Denton and Vigdis Boulton, “They said, ‘We know who you are,’ and I said, ‘Well, I know who you are.'”
Then the idea eventually came up that the three might work together. Sykes Rellie and Denton were already (and still are) neighbors in the West Village. And tapping into the social network of a woman-about-town could only help Denton’s fledgling business.
Now, Sykes Rellie is on Blow Styling Salon’s advisory board.
“I’m strategically involved with the girls,” she said, from “what color the walls should be” to “where they should be next — L.A.? Downtown? My job is really being a sounding board.”
Said Denton: “From the beginning, we’ve had a tremendous amount of support from Lucy. She sends people in from the fashion and beauty industries. She credits us prior to getting photographed. She references us in interviews.”
Relationships such as these illustrate a point luxury beauty brands have come to recognize: It’s hard to beat word-of-mouth endorsements by the socially prominent. As a result, beauty’s flirtation with high society has turned into an affair.
While brands such as Darphin, La Mer, Lancôme and Chanel have had informal ties to the social set — “devotees” who frequent lunches, teas, dinners and parties held by the brands — others have taken the relationship a step further.
For instance, Dior Beauty hired Tinsley Mortimer as its U.S. beauty ambassador in the spring (see story, this page). In September, Natura Bissé signed Cristina Cuomo as its U.S. ambassador. And Orlane expects to sign ambassadors in the U.S. and Europe in the near future.
Not to be forgotten is Olivia Chantecaille, whose omnipresence certainly hasn’t hurt her mother Sylvie’s 10-year-old beauty brand, which has developed a healthy business with Neiman Marcus, Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman.
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These women of influence are just the type of consumers high-end brands are targeting, especially those selling skin creams for $500 to $1,000 a jar — which, in some cases, include liquid gold, diamonds or other gemstones on their lists of ingredients.
In September, to launch its 1.7-oz., $650 jar of Crème Royale, Orlane held a luncheon hosted by Byrdie Bell, Muffy Flouret, Zani Gugelmann, Olivia Palermo and Carly Steel. Naturally enough, the 400 attendees included many of the hostesses’ friends.
“Socialites are like our royalty in the States,” said Naz Toloui, vice president of sales and education for Orlane. “They expose brands to their friends. If she’s using a cream, everyone wants to use that cream.”
In the company’s search for an ambassador, “we are looking at twentysomethings in New York, the Hamptons and Los Angeles,” Toloui added, declining to name names. “We’re an established line, but our clientele is getting younger and younger. They represent the future of Orlane.”
In an industry that’s celebrity-obsessed, socialites can present an attractive alternative. “Socialites represent luxury,” said Toloui.
“Socialites are tastemakers,” said Beth DiNardo, general manager of Darphin, which launched its Arovita C skin care line in May with a luncheon hosted by Ivanka Trump and, in 2004, had Sally Albemarle host a series of afternoon teas. “They have exposure to the best of the best, so they have influence. They can be more meaningful than celebrities. They are the real users of our products.”
“We looked at celebrities,” said Patricia Fisas, chief executive officer in the U.S. for Natura Bissé, “but we wanted someone with a lifestyle that reflects all the women who use our products.” The firm hopes to make its relationship with Cuomo a bit more formal with the eventual launch of a national ad campaign featuring her.
Beauty retailers also are turning to society. Sephora tapped socialite-turned-model Lydia Hearst as the face of its holiday marketing program. Hearst appeared on the cover of the retailer’s holiday catalogue as well as on visuals in stores, windows and at sephora.com.
When it comes to compensating their socially elite ambassadors, beauty companies don’t hesitate to pile on the products and cover brand-related parties and travel expenses. In Dior’s case, an undisclosed fee for Mortimer is slated to go to a charity of her choice. Natura Bissé is said to have a year-to-year contract with Cuomo worth less than $50,000 in the first year, according to market sources.
Executives were mum on naming prime candidates for a beauty deal lest a competitor snap them up.