Nailed It! Robin Coe-Hutshing On How To Make It In The Beauty Industry

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robin-coe-hutshing-profileEver have an idea for a groundbreaking beauty product, one that would undoubtedly become a best-selling favorite of women the world over... only to have that brilliant product never get beyond the "I should really invent that!" stage? Not so with Robin Coe-Hutshing. If there's a woman who can take an idea from concept to counter, it's her. If you've loved Memoire Liquide fragrances, sniffed BURN candles, or used to shop at Studio BeautyMix at Fred Segal, you have Robin to thank — and wait until you hear about her latest endeavors.

After selling Studio BeautyMix in 2010, Coe-Hutshing teamed up with business partner Nicole Ostoya to create Gold Grenade, the SoCal-based agency that dreamed up the nail polish line The New Black and managed to make breath sprays chic with Kissing Elixirs. This year, the duo stepped into the celebrity realm by creating Boldface, their licensing company that helped create the Kardashian's Khroma Beauty collection. Whether she's redefining retail experiences or dreaming up the next primping must-have, Coe-Hutshing has a track record for being a step ahead of the trends. Here, she shares why she stepped away from a legal career to work in beauty, the story behind The New Black, and the indie brands she's keeping an eye on.

How did you get your start in the industry?
"I was chosen to go through the executive training program at Bergdorf Goodman during what I thought was simply going to be a part-time job on a college break. During that time, I was able to experience a number of different positions at that venerable institution. That experience made me rethink my potential legal career. I had always been intrigued with beauty and fragrance, but I just never knew it was a profession that held so many options for until I further explored it. I thought I would have to save the creative part of my life for an avocation. What I found was a world where I could use many facets of my knowledge and creative expression and keep learning and growing all the time."

How did you go about creating your very first brand?
"I launched the first commercial brands with my sister Jennifer when we had our beauty store at Fred Segal. The brand was called e-nail. This was a nail art decal that came in a CD case with Warhol–esque glitter packaging. It was sold at 40 Nordstrom stores, Fred Segal, and hundreds of boutiques. If we released them again now, they would probably be huge! They were a bit ahead of the curve then, but they did well."

What was so different about that experience compared to all of your previous ones in the industry?
"We were so thrilled to get into Nordstrom, but we realized that they expected us to really support the brand in all of their stores. It was a Herculean effort for us as a tiny brand, but the stores and teams were great to us. My sister and I would literally work all week in our store at Fred Segal, then after work, we would drive to a Nordstrom somewhere within 150 miles and do customer events. This experience taught us to plan a bit better on future product launches."

What's the hardest part about launching your own brand?
"Staying the course. There are ups and downs in any brand, and while the highs can be incredible, sometimes there are things that just are not fun. Arduous deadlines, difficult decisions, feeling like David among Goliaths at times… Having a talented and great team can make those moments easier."

What's the most fun part?
"When you see your vision for a brand or product come to life, from a rough sketch, to a comp, to a live product, and it is not watered down, and works, and people like it… it is a feeling of elation. Walking down the street and smelling someone wearing a scent I have created makes me want to stop and hug them, but I refrain out of fear of possible pepper spray attack or arrest. Getting tagged in a magazine and positive blogs and tweets, are icing on the cake. Oh, and good sales are very nice as well."

Photo: Courtesy of Gold Grenade
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Tell us a bit about The New Black and the nail art kits. Why did you come out with those? What makes them different from what we've seen in this space already?
"Any time we bring out a brand, it must have a point of difference in the marketplace. We decided to launch The New Black well before the current nail boom hit, but we sensed that it was going to trend. Our initial offering was the original ombré sets, since Nicole [Ostoya] personally had been trying to source gradient nail colors and found it very difficult and expensive. We thought that DIY nail art sets at very democratic prices would be our point of difference in a crowded marketplace, and it has served us well. No one really does what we do."

What's your advice to anyone wanting to launch her own line?
"Make like a scout and be prepared! Be sure your idea is original and relevant and that you can support it and yourself. Be prepared to hear some rejection and use it constructively. Make sure that your brand has a real story that resonates. Don’t try to fool people. They are smart. Be authentic. It is better to grow a brand strategically and incrementally and have longevity than to burn brightly and fade away."

What are some of your favorite indie brands that you think are doing something cool and interesting?
"I love the way 21 Drops has finally made essential oil treatments comprehensible and beautiful for consumers. Stellar design. I’m a big fan of the French drugstore brand Nuxe, which has increased its presence in the USA recently. I love the products — just simple, old-school French apothecary. Refreshing, with no bells or whistles. Finally, I think that Linda Rodin has done a simply elegant job of expanding her Olio Lusso range of products while maintaining utmost integrity."

In your dream world, is there an existing product on the market that you wished you had invented?
"I would love to have invented the wheel, painted Guernica, written the Chopin nocturnes, invented the iPad… but I guess I could be happy if I created the scent La Chasse Aux Papillons by L’Artisan Parfumeur. Yet I am just content to wear it from time to time."

What products are currently in your beauty arsenal these days?
"I am one big product guinea pig. Because we make so much product, every day I test new things and combinations of things. Some days I think I’m okay, but I’m really just a walking product failure. When I finally get to a mirror, I'm beyond humiliated. Raccoon eyes, blotchy blush, you name it — those are obviously the products that don’t make the cut. Hey, beauty can be an ugly business! When I need to trust something, my go-tos are Laura Mercier tinted moisturizer, By Terry liquid blush, and NARS Sex Machine lip pencil, which I can use on my cheeks in an emergency. I have to say, our new Kardashian Khroma Beauty products are giving some of my favorites a run for their money!"

What's the best piece of advice you've ever been given?
"Philosophically? 'Cultivate your garden.' Working on growing yourself from within makes you a more beautiful person. Practically? Look at your makeup in direct light before leaving the house. Both of these gems from my mother, who believed in leaving no stone unturned."

Photo: Via Nordstrom