Talking Shop with Bluemercury CEO Marla Beck, Part 1

 Beck and the Beautiful People
Image c/o Bluemercury

Interview by Renata Certo-Ware

It's not hard to believe that Marla Beck, a sunny, towheaded Jennifer Aniston look-alike, is in the beauty biz. With a bevy of degrees under her belt (including two - count 'em, two! - Master's Degrees from Harvard University), Bluemercury's co-founder and CEO delivers a refreshing and inspiring Brains-and-Beauty one-two punch.

A decade and a half ago, she, along with husband Barry Beck, built a company on principals she learned at Harvard, a bit of instinct, and her love of the perfect shade of lipstick, which before Bluemercury, she had to make hour-long pilgrimages to find.

Now, when talking about the company the Becks built, she makes numerous parallels between the twin industries of fashion and beauty, referencing certain products as the "fast-fashion" of beauty, and instructing that every product from M61, her two year old line of in-house products, was "made to wardrobe."

Already beloved for its old-school apothecary experience - by design, not coincidence - the beauty product purveyor's next move is a strengthened effort to incorporate technology into the business to get to know customers even better.

We stopped by Bluemercury's Chestnut Hill, MA location - their 50th store! - to chat about the evolution of the company, her new line, and just how many products she uses each day.

One of the pivotal scenes in the PBS series Mr. Selfridge - a scene that really introduced and defined the titular character - showed how he was the first to bring toiletries out from the dark recesses of the top floor lingerie section and out onto the first floor, right by the entrances for all to see, where they still remain to this day - a move that at the time scandalized some of London's more traditional souls. Your first objective when you started Bluemercury was to take makeup and beauty products one step further, bringing them out into the open where customers are encouraged to look, touch, and test-drive them. How has that business model evolved and what do you see as the next step in that evolution?

When I really think about the next wave, it's about becoming truly omni-channel: How can we link technology to the retail experience? That's the next wave. I really want a client to walk into the store, and on my iPhone, your picture comes up and I can see what you bought last time so I can check in with you and say "How did you like that cream?", or "Is that scrub working for you?" or "Do you need help re-learning how to apply that eyeliner?". It's about making it a very personal in-store experience, really knowing your customer without having the same conversation over and over again. I also think about the customization we're going to be able to do; We're working on a mobile app, so as we launch new products, we're going to be able to push them to your iPhone based on your past purchases.

The other thing we need to figure out is: If you talk to people, the most confusing thing for a lot of them is "What order do I use this stuff?" We do prescription pads, but if I had all the products I bought here, could I quickly take a picture with my iPhone and immediately get directions sent to me? It's about how you use technology to get a better experience with the product.
We're currently working on some of this with a Boston firm - but I won't tell you which one! We're trying to think about what we can do now to prepare ourselves for the future.  Oh, and there's that new technology where you'll be able to print products at home...

That was created by a Harvard alumna as well!

I think that's pretty amazing! You can imagine having customized skincare that you can print at home.

How would Blue Mercury be involved in that?

We have our own line, M61, so imagine a cleanser - maybe you buy a base formula and there are a couple adjustments based on your skin type, with a little bit more glycolic acid, a little bit less, or with more of a soother for irritated skin. It's just like cooking - you have a base recipe, and you're adding more to it. So rather than having ten different products, you end up with thousands of opportunities in one product. I believe that's still a ways away from happening, but maybe I'm wrong.

It's a very interesting combination of past and future business models! You speak about adding an element of technology to propel your business into the future, but you also really indentify with the neighborhood apothecary philosophy, an idea that predates department stores. What does neighborhood mean to you?

It's very hard to define and quantify a concept like customer service - how do you know you're doing a good job with it? So if a client is smiling when they are walking out the door, that's good customer service. A neighborhood store means that they are coming to us for their needs as part of their daily rituals, like working out or grabbing a coffee or with their child. That's very tangible to me. We know we're a neighborhood store if our clients come to shop in their sweats after a workout. That means they're comfortable, that we're part of their regular lifestyle. So we'll see here in Chestnut Hill - there's a gym nearby, so if they come in wearing workout clothes to grab a mascara, we've got it right.

There is no shortage of beauty products on the market - there are products for every part of the body and every possible concern. How many different products do you use a day?

I have phases: I'm either so busy that I have a strict routine and that's it, and then I have completely experimental phases where I'll just lay hundreds of products out on my counter and try new things. During the summer, it's mainly experimental, although I've been so busy between my three kids who are out of school for the summer, all the Holiday forecasting...I'm in sort of a "Boom-boom-boom, here's what I need" phase. It's still a lot, compared to most people - I travel with close to 50 products - Travel sized products, but still...

Wow! My routine is pretty simple by comparison - I do a cleanser in the morning, followed by a 24-hour moisturizer.

I'll add one thing to your routine - Power Glow Peel. Some people use it daily, some use it weekly, it's one step - it's like having a facial in a little packet. It's a towelette with glycolic acid, so it's good for people with wrinkles and dry skin or oily skin, it hits both extremes, and has an anti-inflammatory and vitamin K, which deals with redness and rosacea. If you asked me what I travel with, I wouldn't travel without this. It's beauty's fast-fashion equivalent. That said, having a routine depends on time - teenagers experiment all the time. If you look at my freshman yearbook picture I have so much makeup on.

I got to test-drive M61 for myself: The Power Glow Peel ($28 for 10), really is as great as Beck says - I noticed smoother skin after using just one!
Image by Renata Certo-Ware

Stay tuned for Part Two of the interview with this super-CEO to learn more about M61 and get a crash course in what Beck learned about Entrepreneurship at Harvard.

Casual Friday Got An Upgrade!


As a freelance writer, a typical work day is just me and my laptop, so everyday is most likely Pajama Day; Party of One. But sometimes, a girl just needs to pop my bejeweled collar, throw her hair up into a high pony, and head to lunch in the neighborhood.

Yesterday, instead of opting for #basic blue jeans, I sported a baby blue jewel-collared oxford from Ann Taylor, an outer-space inspired Marc Jacobs mini, and a navy leather tote from Neiman Marcus for a quick lunch at East Boston Kitchen, where I indulged in a snack of rhubarb dipped in sugar and a grilled cheese with mushrooms. 

Top, Ann Taylor. Skirt, Marc Jacobs. Gladiators, Dolce Vita at Bloomingdales. Tote, Neiman Marcus.

East Boston Kitchen Owner Robert Sarno and a bag of fresh - and surprisingly refreshing - rhubarb.


Summer Sandals that Transform any LBD

T-bags Knot-Front Jersey Dress, c/o Neiman Marcus Last Call at Legacy Place, Jeweled Sandals, c/o White Mountain. Necklace, Macy's. Bag, Reed Krakoff Micro Boxer at Saks.

Is there anything more quintessentially summer than jeweled sandals? For me at least, it's not enough to just finally kick off those snow boots that seem to occupy my feet for way longer than their allotted few months. I go all out in the summertime with pedicures in new shades (Like Stylenomics, this teal shade by Essie - a deviation from my usual tropical colors) and shoes that wear more like jewelry. The Chrysalis Sandal by White Mountain is just what my closet needed this season, with opulent crystals that would make a Disney Princess swoon, and a super-soft footbed that hearkens that ultimate summer sensation: A barefoot walk through freshly cut grass.

The New England-based shoe brand (which also owns and operates Rialto and Cliffs by White Mountain) is known for pared down basics that put comfort and quality first, but they also have a playful side - the Chrysalis, as well as a ton of other models centered on beaded and shimmery motifs, can attest to that! 

Some bloggers are obsessed with proportion-play, but I love occasion-play! Mixing and matching formal pieces with casual elements is my recipe for style success, so pairing this cocktail-ready, toga-inspired drapey jersey dress from Neiman Marcus Last Call's brand new Legacy Place outpost with sparkly thong sandals is right up my alley. Opting for flats immediately took the look from Wedding Guest to Poolside Drinks, but not any old flats will do - the glam element of the Chrysalis was just enough to stand up to the sleek and chic T-Bags dress.

With travel planned for Turkey and France later this summer, I know I'll be engaged in urban exploration from dawn til dusk, and the last thing I need is footwear that is cozy, but about as chic (and touristy) as a fanny pack. With that in mind, I've been on the hunt for shoes I that will earn me approving (jealous?) glances from stylish Parisian ladies. I'd say I found my match! 

Hey, if the shoe fits...

Visit their brand new website - their summer sale does not disappoint. My Top Picks online for summer:

I love the gently studded Solar espadrilles and The Chicory, White Mountain's take on the upscale, Editor-approved Birkenstock trend.


Summer Leather

Yes, Summer Leather is a thing, especially when it comes in the form of this super flouncy skirt in perforated faux leather from Nordstrom Rack and a perforated leather tote in the sweetest baby blue from Wilson's Leather at Wrentham Village Premium Outlets. Paired with a lightweight, beach-ready cotton top that practically begs for a bikini bottom and a coconut cocktail, leather takes on a new seasonal ju-ju. Tucked in or untucked, it definitely makes the statement: "School's Out!"

Top, DKNY c/o Wrentham Village Premium Outlets. Perforated Leather Skirt, Nordstrom. Perforated Leather Bag, c/o Wilson's Leather at Wrentham Village Premium Outlets. Platforms, Charles David. Golden Locket, vintage. Sunglasses, Anthropologie.

You'll be seeing the skirt again on this blog soon, paired with a more structured top and heels - stay tuned!


Tom Ford Beauty Lands at Saks!

Saks Fifth Avenue Boston has exclusive dibs on Tom Ford's beauty counter here in Beantown, and although it's been less than a month, the debonair designer's zexy line of makeup, skincare, and the richest scents you've ever whiffed has won over our hearts and dresser tops. A standout in the fragrance lineup is Black Orchid, a Tom Ford classic that blends the namesake flower with liquid masculinity and a sweet, fresh note of watermelon at the finish. New this summer is a lighter take on the scent, Velvet Orchid, floral and peppery with a snappy licorice finish. Both are available at the counter in retro-chic bottles that you can envision an elegant Betty Draper reaching for.

The skincare is a simple, concise, and - importantly - effective retinue of products: A gentle makeup remover, a cream and a gel cleanser, a trio of moisturizers ranging from every-day to ultra-rich, and the Intensive Infusion Concentrate, a nourishing serum that makes skins positively glow.

As you might imagine, Ford's makeup is the antithesis of the "Every Girl"/"Girl Next Door" aesthetic that many other lines bank on. Rather, Mr. Ford and his beauty squad have created bases, eye, cheek and lip color, and slick lacquers for the ultimate glamour-puss, a woman who has never been able to just blend in, and is comfortable  nay, accustomed to - making an entrance. Supermodels, watch out! We're coming for you...

Naturally, for investigative and journalistic integrity purposes, I had to give it all a try myself, so Stephanie, a fixture at Tom Ford at Saks, introduced me to the line by way of an ultra-lux makeover. 

I absolutely loved watching her do the contouring and shading. She started with an even base of Illuminating Primer ($72), followed by Traceless Foundation ($78) - both applied with a brush. She then used a sponge to paint on war-like streaks of Shade and Illuminate ($75) to the hollows of my cheeks, right under the part of my hair, and just under my jawlink that she blended using quick, upward strokes in medium pressure.

Next, Stephanie dabbed on the Eye Primer ($45) followed by blended shadow before lining my eyes in Bruise (not as scary as it sounds - it's Ford's creamy, velvety violet - $36). She picked a super-feminine neutral for my lips - a departure from my go-to bright tangerine. The finishing touch was a layer of Ultra Shine Lip Gloss in Sahara Pink ($45), and voila! A glamorous look that I swear gave me an extra pep in my step and even more of a swoosh in my hips as I walked straight over to the Contemporary department to hit up Saks' sale. 

From there, it was right to the rooftop at the Revere Hotel to bask in my Tom Ford glow - and an appreciative glance or two, I'd like to think!

(Sidebar: Doesn't my new hair color kind of perfectly match this art-deco monkey's chest hair? Goal = achieved.)

Above image c/o Saks



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