Photo: Courtesy of J. Quazi King.When I first met Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, I was in my twenties and a market editor at a weekly magazine. It was my first foray into the world of endless beauty events and press previews and at that time, I noticed there were very few black beauty editors in attendance. So few, it was like playing Where’s Waldo? With such little representation on the editorial side, meeting a woman of color who was a major executive at a major brand nearly blew me away.
She was kind, smart, funny — the hair was amazing, the smile infectious, and the outfit was stellar. Fast-forward to today and I see more women of color at events on both the editorial and executive level. Since it's been years since Stanford-Danuser and I have touched base, I played catch-up with the Estée Lauder VP whose presence in the industry had impacted me when I was a youngster. Check out how she rose in the beauty game, her favorite products, and the story behind her signature ‘do. Did you know she rocked Oprah Winfrey hair back in the day?
What career path did you take to snag a major position at Lauder?
"Actually, it was very serendipitous. They snagged me. I was happily working at a PR agency representing lots of beauty brands. Worlds obviously can collide in this very close-knit beauty sector. The executive, who is one of my bosses today, was at one point an editor of a top magazine. She remembered how I managed her backstage visit during fashion week and she kept me on her short list. Literally, years had passed when she contacted me for a couple of brand opportunities at the Estée Lauder Companies. The rest is history. I always say, 'the world is small, be nice.'"
What factors do you think contribute to the lack of diversity within the industry?
"Honestly, the tide has positively shifted as it relates to diversity within the industry. Today it's considered measurable good business to offer products that resonate with and are relevant to the multiethnic consumer. Those diverse groups of people, with their varied representations of beauty, are deserving of products and skin care technology that meets their specific needs. A beauty company that has a diverse workforce allows for somewhat unofficial consumer insight groups. That company can potentially hear from the people around the table the needs and wishes of various ethnicities and have internal champions for the consumer."
What would be your advice to women who want to break into the beauty biz?
"Like I said, the beauty industry network is quite cozy, so who you know can help, but what's most important is what you know. Beauty is a business. Yes, it makes you look better, smell better, and feel better, yet it's still about progressing a sector, advancing a brand, and elevating consumer awareness to break through the cluttered product landscape. My advice would be to learn about the business and find someone to be your mentor. It will open a lot of doors."
You've worn your hair natural for as long as I can remember. Was it always natural? If not, what prompted you to ditch the straightening process?
"It has been double-digit years since I embarked upon my natural hair journey. I’d say there’s quite a bit of psychology linked to this identity-forming style choice. It definitely suggests some confidence to not use a relaxer. I always thought women with natural hair were open, beautiful, and regal. I can easily remember the time when one of my close friends decided to shave her head. It permanently affected how I thought of her because she seemed stronger and more self-assured to me. It was like I was able to see the real her for the first time.
"Today, I feel like I'm known as a natural, so I can't imagine going back to the relaxed look. I do have blowouts for my quarterly (okay, bi-annual) haircuts, so I have brief periods where I can have a bit of fun playing with a new straight look. Mostly, I feel I best identify with the freedom that's afforded to me by letting go. My natural curls simply let me be."
What are your must-have hair products?
"Well, thankfully I represent a brand that has products I use religiously. Ojon’s Rare Blend Oil is a tri-layered daily treatment that keeps my hair from drying out and gives definition and shine to my wild curls. I use it daily (sometimes more than once). I also like to co-wash (wash with conditioner versus shampoo) using Ojon's very hydrating Damage Reverse Restorative Conditioner."
For styling, I’ve been using Kinky Kurly Curl Custard and some of the DEVACurl stylers. "To be honest, my head is a lab and I’m always trying new styling products to achieve dynamic and manageable curl definition. I also like Bumble and bumble Curl Conscious Calming Crème. Another favorite of mine is Aveda’s Be Curly Curl Controller to condition hair and reduce frizz."
You travel extensively. What are your favorite destination spas and treatments?
"I have a husband and two children, so the sad truth is the time alone on a long flight is my best spa treatment. I put on the ugly airline-provided socks, recline my seat, and watch every ridiculous comedy or sappy romance film they offer on the flight. That's my spa destination: business class aisle seat 4A and warm nuts. Ahhh..."
Aveda Be Curly Conditioner, $21, available at Aveda; Ojon Rare Blend Oil Total Hair Therapy, $35, available at Sephora; Ojon Restorative Conditioner, $25, available at Ojon.
You've worked with tons of beauty folks over the years. What was the best piece of beauty advice you've ever received?
"I’m quite fortunate to work with one of the granddaughters of Estée Lauder. I’ve often heard Jane Lauder quote her grandmother, who wisely said, “You only have one face; take care of it.” That rang in my ears when I was foolishly contemplating another new pair of shoes over a pore-cleansing facial. Thanks, Mrs. Lauder."
I won't reveal your age, but tell people how you keep your skin in tip-top shape!
"I won’t tell my age but I’m sure it can be easily Googled. Then I’ll just deny, deny, deny. The truth is I have an unfair advantage: my mom and dad. It really wasn’t until later in life that I stopped using bath soap on my face. My parents look incredibly young for their age, and neither of them have wrinkles. My lifestyle is quite different from theirs so I’m likely to catch up to them if I stay in the city long enough. Since I’m at best going to get six hours of sleep, I need to make every minute count. My splurge treatment is La Mer Eye Cream."
If we raided your vanity cabinet at home, what would we find besides a lot of Lauder products?
"Could I lose my job for using competitive products? Oh no, it’s my beauty executive duty to “study” the competitive landscape. I always wear a bright red lip. You’ll easily find some shade of red lipstick from mass to prestige in my makeup drawers. I’ve got great Neutrogena and Shiseido reds that always get comments and a very naughty NARS matte lip pencil called Cruella. I’ve been wearing the same quad shade of eyeshadow from CoverGirl since I worked on the brand more than 10 years ago. I love fragrance and believe in having a signature scent, so I wear Jo Malone Dark Amber Ginger Lily in the fall and Marni in the summer. On the weekends I play with others, like Narciso Rodriguez."
If we looked at old pictures of you, what beauty mishaps would we see?
"You’re not actually going to try to find one, are you? I, of course, had a relaxer but the style was the late '80s Oprah flip. I don’t even think it was a good look back then. But, even worse my eyebrows were — as I call them — werewolf-ian. Threading is my friend."
Who is your beauty icon and why?
"My mommy. There are many mainstream or recognizable names I could say. However, being in the beauty and fashion industry, I know all too well the teams of people that are often behind those boldface names are the ones who make them iconic. My mom is just the opposite. She is a striking, effortless beauty inside and out. I think it’s the goodness in her that emanates to the surface of her skin to defy her age even in the face of worry, loss, and challenges. I want to be that kind of beauty when I grow up. Oh and she’s a lifelong devotee to Noxzema Cold Cream. Go figure, since I literally have 28 prestige brands easily within reach."
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Jo Malone Dark Amber Ginger Lily, $145, available at Nordstrom; La Mer Eye Cream, $185, available at Bloomingdale's.