Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — “Show me your gums,” commanded Linda Roberts over lunch one afternoon at Fifty Seven Fifty Seven.
The immaculately turned-out blonde in the Jimmy Choo stiletto boots is not a dentist. She’s the owner of Private Edition, a Nashville beauty boutique, and she has a certain theory about finding the perfect lipstick. “The best colors for you are those that match your gums,” she insisted.
The advice might seem a little kooky, but there’s nothing crazy about her line. Her sales have increased every year since Private Edition opened in 1981 and 1999’s retail sales hit $2.5 million, according to industry sources. Her store has grown from 888 square feet to 6,000.
“I never anticipated having a business this big,” said Roberts. “It’s been remarkable how it’s grown.”
Roberts, who was an underwriting manager for Allstate insurance, got into the beauty business after moving to Nashville. “I was getting a divorce, and I had a very young child, so I wanted to start my own business,” she recalled. “I loved two things — shoes and cosmetics. I knew that if I went into something I truly loved, I could be successful. But why on God’s green earth I picked retail, I do not know.”
She started with a four-foot counter in a high-end women’s clothing boutique and carried Stendhal, Clarins and a private label color cosmetics line. After three years, she struck out on her own. Today, her store covers two floors and features seven treatment cabins.
“The reason the business has stayed so viable is that I know what my customer wants,” Roberts said. “I really know the Southern woman, the Nashville woman. We still don’t have a Saks Fifth Avenue or a Neiman Marcus down here, so she shops in Atlanta, New York and Paris. She really wants the best.”
Today, the brand lineup at Private Edition includes La Prairie, Darphin, Yves Saint Laurent, Trish McEvoy, Laura Mercier, Shu Uemura, Make Up For Ever, Fresh, Benefit, Bumble & Bumble, Leonor Greyl, Annick Goutal, Hermes and Antonia’s Flowers. Customers will also find “every candle known to man,” Roberts promised, and quirky items like Winkies and Frownies, adhesive strips that provide an instant facelift.
“We have two little old ladies who come in and they want their four boxes apiece, so we can’t drop them,” Roberts said.
The store offers a number of spa services, including manicures, massages and facial treatments. “We’re known for being facial experts,” Roberts noted. “We do glycolic peels, and we’ll be doing microdermabrasion.”
Six year ago, Roberts launched a skin care collection called Therapy Systems that has grown into a 32-stockkeeping-unit line. All the products contain active ingredients like glycolic acid, retinol and hydrocortisone. Prices range from $28 for the RX for Lips lip balm to $55 for Revitalizing Treatment Serum to $195 for Clinical Treatment Formula No. 1, a moisturizer that is said to hydrate, soothe and revitalize.
“The line is the culmination of everything I’ve learned at Private Edition,” noted Roberts. “It’s clean, modern and uncomplicated.”
Therapy Systems was picked up last year by Henri Bendel in New York, and it will be sold at Fred Segal Essentials in Santa Monica starting this month. Roberts has been approached by several e-commerce sites, but she has yet to chose an online partner.
Industry sources expect Therapy Systems to do nearly $2 million at retail in 2000. Don’t expect Roberts to resort to high-pressure sales tactics to hit that number.
“I have a little thing I tell my employees when we have trouble reaching a sales goal,” she said. “Put the customer first. Greed won’t win out. Honesty wins out. All I had when I started was a $13,000 profit-sharing check and no contacts. There is only one reason our business is huge, and that’s because we’re honest with the customer.”

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