Kiehl’s president Chris Salgardo advised beauty industry executives to focus on their product formulations above all else at the Cosmetic Executive Women event on Monday in New York.
“There [are] so many new brands. We see them coming from all over the world, whether it’s Korea and China, it’s very exciting. But it’s also very distracting,” Salgardo said. “For our consumers, I think we have to really understand what they’re looking for, what they want from us…and make sure we’re addressing those needs. Because they could be very diverted, and we could lose a few customers here and lose a few customers there and then all of a sudden your brand can really be in trouble.”
Kiehl’s always comes back to its apothecary heritage, Salgardo said, embracing its contradictions. He offered an example of the first time his father walked into a Kiehl’s retail outpost, Salgardo said, “Dad, my mascot is a skeleton,” and his father replied, “son, it has no skin.”
Salgardo also talked about being a gay executive; advice he’s gotten from L’Oréal chief executive officer Jean-Paul Agon, and his new book, “Manmade.”
“In my age group…being a gay executive was challenging,” Salgardo said. “You want to fit in. It’s like, ‘Am I going to be marginalized? Are people are going to think of me less and I’m not going to have those same opportunities others might if I don’t straighten up a bit?’ Nobody told me that, but I kind of just did it myself. Then I got to a place where I’m, you know, I’m going to be me. I’m going to live my life and be expressive and be who I am and live an authentic life.”
Diversity and individuality are embraced by Kiehl’s, Salgardo said. His own personal journey has taken him from a suited, briefcase-carrying Chanel employee to a motorcycle-riding, all-black wearing, bearded Kiehl’s executive, he said.
“I remember like walking down the corridors and I was wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier pants skirt and [Agon] just looked at me shaking his head and was like, ‘whatever.’ He’s so embracing of diversity,” Salgardo said. “The two things [Agon] said to me as I was starting out were…keep your organization nimble because one day you’ll be a big brand and you don’t want to create so much bureaucracy you can’t make a decision, and the other thing was be careful about how you spend.”