Bette Midler

"It took Tom Ford to help us find a little bit of our mojo again," John Demsey, Estee Lauder and MAC Cosmetics' global brand president, divulged to an audience of Fashion Institute of Technology students Monday evening.

NEW YORK — “It took Tom Ford to help us find a little bit of our mojo again,” John Demsey, Estée Lauder and MAC Cosmetics’ global brand president, divulged to an audience of Fashion Institute of Technology students Monday evening. “Tom Ford is bringing nontraditional thinking to a traditional brand like Estée Lauder,” Demsey added, showing a visual from Ford’s sultry ad campaign for Youth Dew Amber Nude.

Demsey shared this strategic insight, and his personal path into the cosmetics business, during a global branding seminar hosted by FIT’s Department of International Trade & Marketing for the Fashion Industries.

Demsey became energized when discussing Lauder’s partnership with Ford and the brand’s new spokesmodel, Gwyneth Paltrow, but added that celebrities have changed the industry’s advertising and distribution model. The flood of products, he noted, is inflating marketing budgets and creating confusion among consumers.

“Literally, everyone in the world feels that they should be in the cosmetics industry,” said Demsey, referring to the scores of celebrities who have approached Lauder.

For all his frustration with Hollywood, Demsey said he uses pop culture as a crash course to understand local markets. Demsey, who travels 50 percent of the time, even has a trick for immersing himself in a city’s culture: Once he gets to his hotel room, he orders a stack of magazines and flips on MTV.

Demsey said as a graduate student at NYU’s business school, he used to think that not going to Harvard, as did many of his undergraduate classmates from Stanford University, would be “the end of his life.”

Nevertheless, Demsey began his career at Macy’s working for Rose Marie Bravo, now chief executive officer of Burberry, and later moved on to Bloomingdale’s where he met Robin Burns, who became president and ceo of Victoria’s Secret Beauty. Burns retired from that post last year.

“I haven’t looked for a job once,” he said, referring to the contacts he made throughout his career.

Demsey said, “If I had mapped out my career as I had intended, I might never have been as successful as I am today.”

Meanwhile, Demsey is working on another project — involving MAC and Bette Midler. But it’s not a celebrity beauty collaboration, as they have come to be known in recent years.

This story first appeared in the October 21, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

To celebrate Midler’s 60th birthday early, a commemorative MAC lipstick, a bronze burgundy shade called Birthday Bette, will be given to guests at an annual gala to benefit the New York Restoration Project, Midler’s community revitalization organization here. There are plans to give out 700 of the lipsticks.

The costume gala will take place at the Waldorf-Astoria Oct. 31, but the event will be called Hulaween, because Midler, who was born Dec. 1, is from Hawaii. The actress will host the event, which also will mark NYRP’s 10th anniversary. The soiree is scheduled to feature a performance by Elton John, honor Sting and Trudie Styler and to include a live auction held by Martin Short.

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