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How the Chic Shop: Talking Luxury Beauty at Fivestory

Five well-heeled ladies discuss what they love about beauty—and what they can live without.

In an era in which luxury has become commoditized, Fivestory, the multibrand fashion boutique located in a townhouse on tony East 69th Street, attracts a sophisticated, savvy clientele with an individualized approach to style. Recently, Fivestory and Cle de Peau teamed up to offer its top customers a skin care and makeup masterclass. We sat down with five of them to discover more about their approach to beauty. A lively group that included an art consultant, an interior designer and an attorney, the women were beauty connoisseurs whose knowledge rivaled that of a professional.

What does luxury in the context of beauty mean to you?
Sarah S: In terms of beauty, luxury means quality. For things you are putting directly on your skin and body, quality is most important. Ideally, I look for products that are paraben and sulfate free, but I’m also really interested in technologically advanced skin care, which doesn’t usually exclude those things, so I am open to both.
Rena: Luxury is whether the product is going to work—so if you had a specific issue that you were trying to address and you tried three items that were intended for that specific use and one worked really well, one didn’t and one was average— it wouldn’t be the packaging or who was promoting it, it would be the end result.
Sarah C: For me, luxury is about products that make you feel good. Skin creams are luxurious if they make your skin feel really, really good. It gives you an extra layer of confidence, if you feel prettier or better looking because you’re using them.
Laura G.: I agree. For me it is more about how my skin feels after. I have really sensitive skin so I feel often times these luxury products are really aggressive on my skin.

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What influences your product purchases?
Laura G: If I get a facial and they tell me I should get the products, I always buy them. I’m also more influenced by someone who has really good skin than by reading about a product.
Sarah S: For skin care, I trust whoever does my facials because they see my skin under a microscope. With makeup products, if I see someone wearing a lipgloss or a bronzer and I think they look great, I’ll ask them who makes it. Or if I’m reading a magazine and I like the way a picture looks, I’m willing to try it. That doesn’t mean I always like it.
Laura N: For me it’s more about personal experience—word of mouth, hearing about something from friends or someone who I trust. For example, there are lunches and workshops that some of my friends do for Natura Bissé where they invite a few friends over and they do a tutorial on exactly how you are supposed to use the products. When you go into a lot of high-end lines they all throw this scientific jargon at you but it really means nothing most of the time. Seeing a demonstration or being in a friend’s home and seeing it being used gets you involved. It is a credible source.

What stores do you like to buy beauty products from?
Laura G: I like Space NK. It’s really well curated and they have really good lines. If I go to a department store, I get overwhelmed.
Net-a-Porter also has a really good selection.

As dermatological services have become more efficacious, does that replace skin care and make you reassess where you spend?
Laura N: It’s hope in a jar baby! I’ve told myself, I’m going to put coconut oil on my face because that is supposed to be very good for you—and I’ll do that as well—but it’s not going to stop you from buying that jar, because definitely you associate the money that you spend with the quality or scientific research behind the product.

Is beauty usually an impulse buy or a replenishment?
Sarah C: I am a big impulse shopper. The place where I do a lot of beauty shopping is duty free. I travel all the time and if I have two hours to kill at the airport I will try a million products and end up buying half of them.

How much do you pay attention to beauty trends, like Korean skin care or strobing?
Sarah S: I don’t’ trust trends when it comes to my skin. I know what works and what doesn’t and I’m willing to try a new product or a new person here and there, but once I find something that works, if it ain’t broke… with makeup it is a little different, but I try to keep everything pretty classic and traditional—I might try a different brand but I’m not going to try a crazy trend.

At Fivestory you have a very curated fashion experience. Is that lacking in beauty retail?
Laura G: A little bit, but it’s different with beauty than with fashion because there are more beauty advisers. You go for a facial or you go to your dermatologist—you’re kind of directed in that sense, whereas in fashion that is the store’s role.
Laura N: I love going into Clyde’s. It’s a high-end experience where people are trained and they know exactly what they are talking about. Everything just looks better and smells better and it makes a huge difference because it just makes you want it.
Rena: I agree—Clyde’s does do that. If you are dropping off your prescription, they say, how about this new eyeliner or whatnot and they often have brands I’m not familiar with.
Laura N: It’s also nice that they don’t attack you. I go to Bergdorfs to buy Metier de Beaute, and I prefer them sending it to me because going in is a painful process. You have to get past the perfume and all the different people who are trying to sell you something. That part is not so pleasant.
Sarah C: When I was using La Mer a lot, I really liked that the sales person would always send me a text message and make it personal, like, ‘We are doing facials. You should come in—this could be good for your skin.’ That personal relationship, people who know what your skin type is and what would work for you, made it easier for me and it all seems more natural that way than being attacked when you walk into the store.

What about hair care? Would you buy in a retail environment or do you like the professional recommendation there, too?
Laura N: That’s where someplace like Sephora comes in. It’s lower end but more variety, so you really get to see what’s new and people are more willing to experiment with hair products than with face.
Sarah S: I trust my salon with my hair care—the same as I am with my facialist.
Laura G: With hair, I always want to switch it up and use a different shampoo and conditioner. Every time I finish one I won’t necessarily buy the same one again, because I feel like my hair gets dull from the same stuff.
Compared to your mother’s generation, how do you think the definition of beauty has evolved?
Sarah S: The products have definitely changed and gotten more sophisticated, but the end game is the same: It’s good skin before your makeup comes on.
Laura N: We go through several layers of products before we’re done, whereas back then it was like you just washed your face and put on cream. Now you have the cleanser, the toner, the pH balance, the serum, the cream, the spf.
Rena: My mom is 90. She uses Pond’s Cold Cream and her skin is unbelievable.

Do you ever use it?
Rena: No! Because it looks weird and it’s very cold but I always wonder why we don’t, because were you all to meet my mother, you would say, ‘Wow, your mother has unbelievable skin!’

What are your favorite brands in skin care, makeup and hair care?
Sarah C: For skin care, I love Biologique Recherche. It is the one thing I’ve used and have actually noticed a difference. For hair care, I always use Kérastase. I am also obsessed with Maybelline mascara and Aquaphor for lip balm.
Laura N: For skin care, Metier de Beauté, La Prairie and SK-II facial masks are insane. They feel so good. Magic. For hair, Kérastase or Moroccan Oil. Tom Ford for makeup and Lancôme mascara—always, since I was 18.
Sarah S: I love Kérastase and Shu Uemura for hair. For skin care, I love Tracie Martyn and I also use coconut oil for everything—body moisturizer, lip moisturizer. Using something natural makes me feel less guilty about putting chemicals on my body. Makeup—I use tinted moisturizer because it is lighter than foundation. I like Laura Mercier and Bare Minerals and Hourglass has a great bronzer. I like Dior mascara and Smashbox eyeliner.
Rena: The Cle de Peau foundation is incredible because it is very smooth and not very thick and the concealer is long lasting and provides a lot of coverage if you have dark circles. By Terry has really beautiful lipsticks that stay on for a long tine and are beautifully packaged. Bobbi Brown for blush. If you’re looking for low cost makeup, Sonia Kashuk at Target. If you look at the packaging it is almost identical to MAC or Nars.

But you still buy the Nars.

Laura N: After a while, you also have some brand loyalty. When you are in your 20s, you are trying everything and after you have tried things and figured out your skin and your skin tone and what works, what doesn’t, you become loyal and stick with them.