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Smashbox Trio’s New Act: Stroke of Beauty

Stroke of Beauty is zeroing in on members of Generation X and Baby Boomers.

After Estée Lauder Cos. Inc. acquired Smashbox in 2010, cofounder and then chief executive officer Dean Factor left the beauty industry for good — or so he thought. “I honestly wasn’t all that interested in going back into the cosmetics business,” he said. “I just had done it for so long. I had Smashbox for 20 years.”

Holly Mordini changed Factor’s mind. In November 2014, Mordini, who was Smashbox’s vice president of broadcast retail and global artistry for 15 years, rang up her former boss to inform him QVC had green-lighted appearances showcasing her new brand Stroke of Beauty’s hardworking products and asked him if he’d guide its growth. Seven minutes later, he dialed her back to tell her he’d come on board as president and part owner.

A few weeks following Factor’s decisive phone call, Rebekah Laguardia, another Smashbox alumna, joined Stroke of Beauty to spearhead product development. “Product is key and, from what I know, she’s the best at it, so bringing her back was hugely important,” said Factor. “She came up with an ingredient amount of Smashbox products from the concept stages. She’s an innovator. She knows ingredients and everything else that’s out there. She’s constantly looking at the marketplace and the labs. She just loves it.”

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The Smashbox trio has reunited, but not to replicate Smashbox. “We wanted to create something completely different. Smashbox is a studio brand, and the messaging is very much about that lifestyle,” said Mordini. “I like to say, ‘I’m every beauty’s makeup artist.’ I have created looks for over 25,000 women worldwide, and I see my own struggles in the concerns these women have with makeup. We know women often blame themselves when their makeup doesn’t perform. We want to spread the world that they shouldn’t blame themselves, they should blame their makeup.”

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While the beauty segment is mad about Millennial and Generation Z consumers, Stroke of Beauty is zeroing in on members of Generation X and Baby Boomers. They can relate to Mordini’s experiences as a 46-year-old who’s outgrown the cosmetics of Twentysomethings. “One day, the makeup I used to wear and love just didn’t look the same. It didn’t lay on my skin the same way,” she said. “That was the inspiration behind creating a brand that understands my needs were changing, and it had to evolve and change with me.”

Perfecting products that serve aging skin is a high bar for Stroke of Beauty. It’s releasing items — likely seven or eight by the end of this year — only once they both function well and look natural post-application. “Great product is the number-one goal and everything else follows that,” said Factor, elaborating, “When we started Smashbox, we came out with 200 products on day one: all the lipsticks, foundations, eye shadows, everything was out at once and that was a huge mistake. You can’t come out with all those products and have them all be great.”

Stroke of Beauty made its debut on QVC in September with a single product: the concealer Skin Finish. Mordini revealed the secret to making that product cooperate with middle-age skin is a low wax structure. “I wanted to conceal these new problems I was facing, but then I would look like I was wearing too much makeup. You should have the option for payoff and the coverage you need in a very light way,” she said. “You can build it up on some days when you have a breakout or the shadow on your face is darker. It’s a layering process, and it’s not about picking up the most full coverage for everything.”

Stroke of Beauty isn’t afraid to enter categories in which Smashbox has excelled such as brow. In the spring, it’s introducing a two-toned Dual Dimension Sculpting Brow Pencil and Density + Fiber Brow Gel with lightweight, hollow fibers. “Anyone can define, but I set out to create something that would deliver shape and density to make brows look like they have more hair,” said Mordini. Stroke of Beauty is also developing primer, mascara and foundation. “Foundation will definitely be a huge category,” said Mordini, adding, “I am kind of obsessed with the idea of cushion. Not cushion in the packaging, but to deliver a cushioned look for the skin. I have been focused on textures that deliver that look and give us back what we had so the skin looks smoother, has more volume and no shadows.”

Stroke of Beauty met Factor’s sales expectations with its initial appearance on QVC. The brand will appear again in May with its brow products. For Mordini, her reemergence on QVC is overdue. During her tenure at Smashbox, Mordini was on QVC up to 46 times a year and every hour of every day of the week. “Television is very infectious and live television even more so. Connecting with that community really fueled me. It was my absolute favorite part of what I did, and I was fortunate to be able to do it for a long time and have success there,” she said. QVC is thrilled Mordini has returned. Rachel Ungaro, vice president of merchandising, said Stroke of Beauty “seamlessly blends innovation with a compelling, engaging personality, and we look forward to seeing what’s next as the brand continues to develop.”

Stroke of Beauty will stretch beyond QVC, however, to raise awareness and expand into retail. Specialty beauty retail distribution is planned as soon as Stroke of Beauty has a broader assortment. “It doesn’t make sense to go into retail with one or two products. I can’t send a field person into a store to service one product. That’s why QVC is really good because you can do item business there,” said Factor. Before extending distribution, the brand will host workshops in various cities — Los Angeles is first up on April 16 — to communicate with consumers in an open forum format. “I don’t want to stand there on stage and do all the talking. I want to sit on couches and have a beauty think tank session,” said Mordini. “We are using it to connect with her [the consumer]. I feel every seminar will be unique to its location and the interests of the people attending.”

This year, industry sources estimate Stroke of Beauty will generate $5 million in retail sales. In five years, Factor said, “I would like to have a worldwide cosmetics brand like Smashbox that is in the key retail channels. I have done it before, so I know how to do it. We will get there, and that’s the reason why I’m doing it again.”