Like many a perfume addict, I occasionally dream of owning my own perfume store. My own reverie revolves largely around having the opporunity to test lots of free perfume samples, and at no time do I bother considering such weighty issues as dealing with customers, much less actually trying to make money. I thought it might be interesting to ask a few retailers what the experience was really like.
Lisa Slavik opened Beauty Cafe in 1997. She carries Bond no. 9, L'Artisan, Eadward, Susanne Lang, Zents, and Comptoir Sud Pacifique among others.
Lisa, how and when did you first become interested in perfume?
When I was a child growing up in Hollywood, CA, there was a very elegant lady that lived in our apartment building. You knew when she had been in the elevator or in the halls because of the lingering fragrance of violets. To this day, some thirty something years later, I can still recall her signature fragrance. She was the epitome of elegance and class to me and as I grew older I swore that one day, I too would have a signature fragrance. Boy was I ever wrong on that one!
Later I discovered alt.fashion on the internet, and through that group I became acquainted with the Comptoir Sud Pacifique (CSP) line. Sigh, Amour de Cacao was my first cult fragrance and soon my bathroom counter was covered in CSP fragrances.
What was your career before you opened Beauty Cafe, and how did you come to open your own perfume business?
I was a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, but I left retail and for over a decade I worked at Hollywood Title Services, a company that specialized in designing Motion Picture Titles and Trailers. It was there that I gained my graphic design and typography skills. Then I moved to Dallas 13 years ago, and worked for several years in the printing industry.
In 1997, alt.fashion had their first annual get together in NYC, and at that event I met Susan Anapol, President of Comptoir Sud Pacifique USA. We became the dearest of friends and it was over lunch that the idea of Beauty Cafe was born. I had the merchandising and retail experience, and combined with my graphic design skills, it was a perfect fit.
What is it like to own a fragrance store? In what ways is it better than you imagined, and in what ways is it harder than you thought it would be?
Looking back, I really did break ground for many of the beauty etailers of today. In 1997, ecommerce and the internet were still in the infant stage. It was actually very difficult for me to get Beauty Cafe started. Many vendors turned their noses up at me because I did not have a brick & mortar store.
I was extremely fortunate to have Susan Anapol championing me, and then a good friend got me an appointment with Laurice Rahme, who was then the President of Creed USA. Laurice was a godsend to me. We sat down and I shared my vision of Beauty Cafe as one of the first high end retailers on the internet. I walked away from that meeting on cloud 9, having become the first authorized online retailer for Creed.
Then the press began -- suddenly there I was in Women’s Wear Daily, and Beauty Cafe took off. I had found a niche and from that point on I wanted to help open the doors for others and I began to focus on the smaller startup fragrance and beauty companies. I still to this day find it so very rewarding when a new line just takes off.
Beauty Cafe has in so many ways become such an important part of my life. When I went through my divorce, I threw myself into the business full time since I was no longer working at my husband's business. It has allowed me to be there for my daughter and I cannot say enough about the wonderful clientele that I have built up through the years. Many of my customers have become almost extended family to me.
Do you ever get tired of trying new fragrances?
Me, never....when and if that ever happens, it will be time to close the doors on Beauty Cafe forever.
Of the fragrances that you carry, can you pick 3 favorites and tell us a little about them?
Vanille Abricot by Comptoir Sud Pacifique: for so many years this has been my beloved fragrance. Tahitian Vanille with the essence of Apricot. I've been told that when I wear it, I smell good enough to eat...enough said!
Wall Street by Bond No 9: If there was ever a fragrance that could be coined "Sex in a Bottle" this would be it. There are notes of sea kale, cucumber, musk, lavender, vetiver and ambergris. Whenever my boyfriend wears this fragrance, the women compliment him to no end. When I wear it, suddenly I feel very, very sexy.
Eclectic by Eadward: A blend of white tea, vanilla and light citrus notes . This is one of the newer lines at Beauty Cafe and I am thrilled that my customers love this line as much as I do. I mentioned to Kareema McLendon of Eadward the other day that I have received more compliments on Eclectic than any other fragrance I have ever worn.
And what are your 3 favorite fragrances that you don't carry?
This is a tough one...Caroline Herrera for Men is a truly wonderful, sexy fragrance for men. I think all men should have this in their fragrance collection. Jill Sander No. 4 for Women has and always will be in my fragrance collection. And I adore the entire Jo Malone collection.
Great interview, R.
Lisa is a class act and Beauty Cafe offers a great selection and amazing customer service! I wish Lisa continued success and I look forward to reading more of her posts on Basenotes.
Hi R! Really ignorant Euro citizen here – so thank you for shedding some light on Beauty Cafe.
Hope all is well.
Hi N, hope you are feeling better! And I will not feel sorry for you as “an ignorant Euro citizen” — you don't need online shopping, LOL!!
Hi Eric, Nice to see you. It is hard to imagine being a perfume addict in the days before we had all these wonderful online stores!
Well – you know how xenophobic the French (perfume) market can be! I need to get to London or ask friends from across the pond to get me stuff. I do need to know these fab online stores unless you want me to be saddled with Carons, Chanels and Guerlains for the rest of my life! ;D
Great interview with Lisa, Robin. Thanks so much for posting this. I too wish that Jo Malone could by some of these etailers, along with the Malles (of course.) But I suppose that the exclusivitiy element feeds into the demand and desire of these fragrances.
Ha ha…”saddled with Carons, Chanels and Guerlains”, you poor thing! I hate to think of you stuck in Paris with such lousy perfume houses. You need to move to my town. We even have a Walmart.
Jo Malone sells online through her own store, and Saks & Neimans have her online too. Maybe it isn't worth it for a smaller etailer to carry her line? I do wish the Malles were easier to obtain online, but I wouldn't be surprised if Barneys insisted on an exclusive. Their website, unfortunately, is not the best.
R, Lisa is one of the nicest etailers in the beauty business today. She is friendly, professional and absolutely delightful. And she deserves nothing but her hard-won success! Lisa helped me get “acquainted” with the L'Artisan line, and was always so generous and prompt with her shippings. Hugs to both of you!
Great interview, Robin. Beautycafe was the first niche etailer I ever found online and I felt like a kid in a candy store ordering samples. I remember rationing out drops of Creed in the summer of 1999, when the price of a full bottle felt a bit too high!
Great to know that Lisa is as enthusiastic as we are about fragrance. Especially nice to know that finding a signature scent is not the goal that a fragrance-addict can comfortably attain!
Thank you R! Have you ever wanted to own a store?
Thanks Karen! I remember my first sample orders very well, although I was mostly disappointed in what I got. I was used to very light fragrances and thought everything smelled heavy and strange. I should have given up then…it would have saved me a lot of money!
See we do NOT have a good old American institution like Walmart! I am rather happy to let you know that I have developed an iron will not to buy any and everything I like here. That is the problem with Paris – so bad for your bank account.
Have a super day!
Robin, thank you for featuring Lisa, and Beauty Cafe. She's one of the first etailers that I ever “got to know” via alt.fashion. Her site is beautiful and classy, much like her, and it's wonderful to see the success since '97.
I was turned on to CSP by Lisa's descriptions, and inspired to become a natural perfumer — something she didn't know! Hugs, honey, best of luck and keep up the good work. Maybe someday Blondie will join BC as VP, eh?
Yep! Only problem is: I would want to carry all of the niche lines and all of the latest releases, and that, of course, would be impossible, as no one etailer gets all of those products. :):)
Ah, but they might get to sample them all at some point…
What a nice comment! I am curious Anya, if you wear CSP any longer, or only perfumes without synthetics?
Ah, Robin, it is funny — now that I have discovered the gorgeous world of natural perfumes, former favorites like CSP Vanille Abricot, the L'Artisans, etc., etc. are barely tolerable. In the 90's they were my sanctuary from the horrid synthetic perfumes that were everywhere. I thought I had the real deal. I developed real sensitivities to the chemicals and have to avoid most perfumes. Actually, CSP doesn't irritate my respiratory tract, so buy from Lisa 'cause CSP and L'Artisan and many others she carries are much less offensive than “mainstream” perfumes.
I keep synthetic-containing perfumes around for historic reference, and spray one, perhaps once a month.
At first, back in 97 or so, I thought that CSP was telling the truth with their ads about the perfumes being natural. Then, as I educated my nose, I picked up the ethyl maltol (at least that's what I think it is, the same stuff L'Artisan uses, according to Chandler Burr, IIRC.) I used to crave VA, like a junkie — now I make my own!
Now I infused and tincture my own vanilla, thank you, and make my own fruity accords with absolutes and essential oils. And I haven't looked back.
I hope this is appropriate to state all this in the thread on Lisa's business. It's like posting about the joys of vegetarianism in a review of a steak house — Lisa's Beauty Cafe is wonderful, carriest the GREATEST products, and looks gorgeous from a design angle — I'm just on a different path now.
I do not see why it should be inappropriate to talk about your own preferences! I have not had great luck so far with perfumes that are advertised as all natural, although I also don't know enough to evaluate the claim, and I probably haven't explored this whole area enough. Something else to look into…
I too discoverd L'Artisan back in 1990 and thought it was a great alternative to the commercial brands but it smells terribly synthetic to me now. I am curious what lines you prefer now Anya? One of mine is Santa Maria Novella but I am looking to expand.
A wonderful interview with a wonderful person — Out of all the beauty industry pro's I have had the pleasure to deal with, Lisa is up their with the very best of them!
is annick goutal considered “all natural”?
A wonderful interviewas always R! It must be wonderful to see a dream come into fruition with both your blog and Lisa's shop!
SMN is nice, in a classical sense. You could give this for Mother's Day or to a child. As far as lines I now like — I like all of the 'fumes I've smelled from members of my yahoo group. Some are classical, some very modern, some alchemical. I host a yahoo group of natural perfumers, and there are over 500 of us. Can I send you to a store to sniff their 'fumes? Nope. Possibility doesn't exist yet. Of that 500, I'm guessing about 50 have developed lines for sale. That is a rough guess, and I suspect many are lurking for whatever reason.
Since NP is so new (you can read an article I wrote recently on the subject on http://aromaticsage.com) many haven't been able to find stores to carry the product -yet. They sell via websites, and you can purchase samples first, of course.
Your question highlights the main stumbling block for NP right now — marketing and getting placement in stores. I'm cooking up something that will help that issue, and can share it in a month or so. In the meantime, if anyone has any questions about a perfumer they see on the 'net, you can email me privately and I can share my knowledge if they are really a natural perfumer or not (some advertise as such, but use synthetics.)
In the meantime, you could write Lisa and ask her. Perhaps some of the 'fumes she carries are natural, or mostly natural. She will know.
Thanks G (if that is you!) and nice to see you!