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Beauty Unlimited: Industry Titans Convene at WWD Beauty CEO Summit

Marc Jacobs summed up the critical challenge every executive and creative has on their minds today.

Leave it to Marc Jacobs to sum up the critical challenge every executive and creative has on their minds today.

You can’t try to be cool — but you can try to be relevant.

“I always feel curious and I feel like there’s more to learn,” Jacobs said on Tuesday night in one of the key takeaways at the WWD Beauty CEO Summit at the Breakers in West Palm Beach, Fla. “But I think being relevant, feeling relevant, I personally always feel that there’s just so much more to know. And maybe that’s the key.”

New beauty authorities like Mazdack Rassi, founder of Milk Makeup and Marianna Hewitt shared advice on using social media in as native a way as a content creator or influencer would.

“Companies don’t create great ideas, people do,” Rassi said, noting that the edgy Milk Studios community feeds the Milk Makeup brand, and that’s what the company uses to hit trends instead of Harvard MBA-holding forecasters. “Our community is where trends are born,” Rassi said. “They don’t research them, they create them.”

For Hewitt, who with Summer Fridays co-chief executive officer Lauren Gores Ireland have about one million combined Instagram followers, access to that community serves as both a sounding board and a customer. “A lot of us [influencers] are realizing we know how to market a product. We’ve tested and tried everything, we know what we like and don’t like. We’ve never needed to pay for a focus group because our one million followers tell us what they like,” Hewitt said.

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According to Facebook’s Karin Tracy, head of industry, beauty, fashion, luxury and retail, Instagram consumers come back to the app 33 times per day. “People want to see your stories. More than one-third of the most viewed stories are from businesses,” she said.

Here are other key takeaways from the opening sessions of the Summit:

Sephora Stays Customer-Centric

Sephora chiefs discussed the beauty retailer’s shift from market challenger to market leader 20 years after its launch in the U.S. “The business is almost 10-times bigger than it was then,” said Christopher de Lapuente, global president and ceo of Sephora. “Since 2010, we’ve tripled the business worldwide. We’re in 32 countries, [and] market leader in about half of them. And two, three and four in a few others.

“But in answer to the question [as to] whether we are challenger or leader, the attitude is still the same,” he continued. “At the end of the day, what we aspire to do is to delight customers better than anyone else.”

De Lapuente added that the vision for Sephora “is to create the most beloved community.”

In the U.S., Sephora is reportedly the market leader with $5 billion in sales, including its online business. Calvin McDonald, president and ceo of Sephora Americas, said that pole position had never been the goal. The focus and obsession has always been the client, he said, adding that’s as “it was [when] we started 20 years ago. It’s really what shaped our innovation through disruptive spirit, never-stop attitude, remaining curious and very action-oriented. We will continue to be focused 100 percent on the client for the next 20 years.”

Reinvigorating In-store Experience

Thinking differently in the age of e-commerce is propelling Saks Fifth Avenue’s beauty offering, said Kate Oldham, senior vice president and general manager, beauty, jewelry and home. The business is spending $250 million to renovate its New York flagship, which includes a revamp of the beauty floor — opening May 22. The retailer is thinking differently as beauty competition floods the market. “The expectation to grow a brand went from years to minutes,” Oldham said. Uniqueness, individuality, quality, experiences, personalization and immediacy are shaping the future of luxury, Oldham added.

Re-envisioning Retail

Sugarfina’s Rosie O’Neill made her stores (now, there are more than 50) Instagram-able on purpose. She outlawed traditional in-store greetings in favor of candy samples and storytelling, and is expecting the business to grow to more than $60 million for 2018. It’ll be at the $100 million mark in the next year or two, and is creating a second purchase with in-store gifting kiosks and a program called Candy Gram, where customers can send gifts to friends regardless of if they know their address or not.

Travel Retail — Millennials and China

Ariel Gentzbourger, executive vice president, global merchandising at DFS Group Ltd., said the company’s core consumers today are VIP clients. “Where we are less at ease, and I think we all are in the room, is who’s our future customers. It’s the Millennial,” she said. “They’re very pragmatic, they want authenticity. It’s about lifestyle. They browse like crazy before they even travel, and they’re sharing actively on all the social networks, so it’s really a different way of operating.” Last week, during the Golden Week national holiday, Millennials were the biggest population traveling out of China. “In 2020, we expect that China will be the biggest beauty market,” said Gentzbourger.

Entrepreneur Evolution

Marcia Kilgore, beauty and footwear entrepreneur, most recently of Beauty Pie, said her latest venture comes from “a million points of data, of the things that I’ve experienced and the things I saw the world experiencing. I don’t like to do things the same twice — so I had already done a spa business, I had already done a retail business.…I always like to do something new.” Kilgore cited Ray Dalio’s “Principles” in which he “says that the meaning of life is evolution. And then there’s Blaise Pascal, who says that the meaning of life is to be alive. So for me to really be alive is to evolve. Every time I come up with a new business idea, I do want to do it better than the one that I did before,” she said.

Slow Beauty

Frédéric Fekkai, ceo and cofounder of natural beauty line Bastide, is a proponent of “slow beauty.” He is bemused by the rapid pace of everything today.

“It’s 200 kilometers an hour,” he said. “I want to do the opposite. I want to slow down. That doesn’t mean that I am going to be slower — I may actually go faster. But I will slow down. What is the future? We cannot be successful if you don’t take care of yourself.”

Personal Genomics

Terry Young, ceo of Sparks & Honey, said the future of personalization is biology, and that DNA technology is becoming increasingly sophisticated to the point where consumers will be able to personalize beauty, health and fitness regimens based on their own DNA structure.

Reinvigorating Heritage Brands

Jane Lauder, global brand president of Clinique, is bringing the brand’s core competencies — creating good skin “simply, safely and effectively” — into the modern age. Clinique is approaching this next era of change with a “challenger mind-set,” Lauder said, and that includes shifting in today’s beauty landscape. “As a heritage brand you need to assess your roots and anchors,” Lauder said. “What makes us special and unique and how do we change and tweak our brand execution so we can really be able to be relevant for the now.”

Wellness Remains Big

Wellness isn’t just about weight loss anymore, according to Weight Watchers ceo Mindy Grossman. She is reinventing the company internally and externally with a plan that has included slashing sku’s — Grossman cut 70 percent of Weight Watcher’s retail products this year because they contained artificial ingredients that didn’t support the company real-food-based philosophy. “It’s more about what you decide not to do than what you do,” said Grossman of maintaining a purpose-driven business. “People want inspiration not just information — people want stories of hope.”

The Rise of Influencers

Are influencers the next wave of brand founders? Marianna Hewitt thinks so. Hewitt and Lauren Gores Ireland launched Summer Fridays in January with one hero sku, The Jet Lag Mask. Sephora snapped up the $48 product almost instantly, and the brand will roll out to all Sephora doors later this year. In the near future, “You’ll see a lot of influencers consulting for and founding brands,” Hewitt said.

Ingredient Focused Skin Care

An industrial engineer by trade, Tata Harper was a beauty industry outsider when she founded her self-named natural skin-care line. “Sometimes having ignorance is a key component of being an entrepreneur because it lets you do things differently,” said Harper.

Going Global
With two acquisitions under its belt, The Body Shop and Aesop, Natura Brazil is building upon its leadership in Brazil to grow across the globe. The cross pollination of the brands will benefit all of the companies, said João Paulo Ferreira, ceo. “Natura is primarily in Latin America, Aesop is already in major cities around the world and now The Body Shop will give us the launching platform to be presence worldwide in more than 70 countries,” he said.