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Beauty Inc issue 11/11/2011

My first job in the fashion industry was with Henri Bendel, the number-one luxury boutique in New York City at the time. I had just graduated high school, so I was working during the day while studying fashion buying and merchandising at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology) at night.

This story first appeared in the November 11, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.


Henri Bendel’s was the first boutique within a boutique, very different from the store it is today. Back then, it was just a totally unique store concept. It had the best designers and was the epicenter of style, taste and luxury. I began my career in the hosiery department — my first encounter with shade names was at the leg counter! We gave names to all the different colors of pantyhose. Then I got a promotion and worked as an assistant buyer for gifts and stationery.

I felt so lucky that I got to work with the most talented group of people. I was fortunate to be mentored by some of the greats, such as Geraldine Stutz, my first boss and the president of Henri Bendel in those days. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that really honed my eye. After a certain amount of time, you understand what makes a great statement; what becomes iconic, classic. It’s that awareness that I try to channel into everything I do. I am currently the only leader in the nail business with roots in the fashion industry. My fashion background is what gives me an edge on color trends.

I also brought the shade-naming phenomenon to nails when I went into business for myself. Back then, nail polish shades were numbered and quite boring. So I gave every Essie color its own personality, because I knew that women would remember it and come to treat it as a new best friend. The names were meant to be happy, positive, whimsical and unforgettable. A lot of it was inspirational, a lot aspirational. We always wanted to keep our customers engaged.

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