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Most brands are lucky to create one so-called “cult” beauty product, meaning something that is so beloved by consumers that it pretty much comes to define that brand. Nars Orgasm. MAC Ruby Woo. Maybelline Great Lash Mascara.
But Terry de Gunzburg, 60, managed to make lightning strike twice. She did it first at YSL in the early ‘90s when she created the now classic Touche Éclat, the undereye radiance product that makes you instantly look like you got 10 hours of sleep. Then she did it again for her own By Terry line 12 years ago when she created the $60 Baume de Rose, one of the most expensive lip balms on the market, beloved by celebs and normal people alike.
Both products faced challenges before they hit the market. “Nobody at YSL liked Touche Éclat” says de Gunzburg, who started as the creative director of makeup at YSL in 1985. “It took me three years to launch it. I came with this rosy transparent color and they said, ‘What is that? It’s not a concealer. It’s not a foundation. Who is going to wear that?’”
De Gunzburg said that, as a makeup artist, she used to mix foundation, moisturizer, and toner and apply it under the eye with a flat brush to add radiance. “In 1992 [when Touche Éclat launched], the words ‘radiance’ and ‘glow’ did not exist. It was matte coverage, heavy, perfect, never-see-the-skin,” she claims.
When a manufacturer came to her to show her a click sponge device it had created for dispensing eyeshadow or lipstick, de Gunzburg asked if the sponge could be substituted for a brush. She then set about trying to whip up a formula that mimicked her DIY radiance mixture. She says it took around 2,000 samples to get it right. “It was just the beginning of [using] all the soft focus pigments. It had no coverage but a high level of soft focus. It was blurring more than covering.”
When business execs stonewalled her, she went straight to Yves Saint Laurent himself, who gave her the blessing to produce and promote Touche Éclat. de Gunzburg set out to visit beauty editors around the world with her creation. “[The business people] said ‘Good luck!’ and they didn’t order enough. After one week it was out of stock everywhere. There were waiting lists,” she laughs. “Then they all took the credit.”
de Gunzburg, who is warmly chatty with a thick French accent, takes an unapologetic and hard-earned pride in her accomplishments. Several times she notes that she has been called the “Steve Jobs of the makeup world.” But she also shakes her head and calls herself a “dinosaur” when two young Instagram influencers walk through the restaurant where she has just had an event to introduce a new, less expensive By Terry lipstick (aimed at a younger demographic).
“I like Instagram because it’s obliged me to reinvent myself. We send [products] to influencers because we can’t ignore it. Retailers are asking for that because it builds traffic,” she says. “But I believe in DNA.” She refers to her new, more affordable Click Stick (which calls to mind the click mechanism in Touche Éclat) lipstick line in fashion metaphors, something she does frequently in the course of an hour-long conversation. “It’s not a second line. I hate that. I’m like Hermès. They have the Kelly bag and then the scarf.”
In the mid-1970s, de Gunzburg started out as a makeup artist in Paris in the most elite fashion circles purely by chance. She had been in medical school, and during a break in the summer, took a four-week cosmetology course at the famed Carita school. After completing the course, one of the owners asked de Gunzburg to go to a Vogue Paris photo shoot because no other makeup artists were available. She didn’t know how to do the heavy foundation and contouring that was favored in editorial shoots at the time, so she did a natural face and red lipstick. The photographer loved it, Vogue booked her again, and she never went back to medical school.
She ended up working with every major magazine and photographer of the time, including Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn. “When they were shooting I used to do the best complexion and they loved it. I made their life much easier,” she says, noting that Photoshop didn’t exist and retouching was much more difficult.
In 1985, YSL approached her to become the creative director for its newly launched makeup line. She became a part of Yves Saint Laurent’s (the person) close inner group, creating makeup looks for the designer’s runway shows as well as creating makeup to sell.
de Gunzburg says her most fascinating job was during the couture shows. Saint Laurent himself required her to come up with a new red lipstick for each show. “It’s like composing music with seven notes. It’s endless. You can add special effects, transparency, matte,” she says. “One day I used pure pigments in oil and I was drawing with my team across the lips as if it was varnish. The model couldn’t even move her lips because it was so shiny.” de Gunzburg says she created a deep blackish red two years before Chanel’s Vamp launched, called Cascade.
When Saint Laurent retired and Tom Ford took over at the house, de Gunzburg transitioned out in 1998. During that time, she opened her own shop in Paris offering what she calls “haute couleur” makeup — bespoke makeup for private clients who used to fly in from all over the world to buy $80 custom lipstick. (To put into perspective how pricey that was for the ‘90s, Christian Louboutin lipstick is $90 today; ColourPop is $5.) “It was like the Hermès bag, the Rolls Royce,” she says. The store is still there, and you can still get custom formulated makeup.
de Gunzburg’s customers started asking her to create a line available to the public, and By Terry as we know it was born. It was picked up for a short time at Saks in the US, then Space NK stocked it ten years ago and arguably put the brand on the map. By Terry started with 100 products and now has 275, most of which are at a luxury price point, like the Baume de Rose.
“I was looking for a very light pink, anti-aging glaze for the lips, but during the process, we made a mistake and added 50 percent more of the anti-aging ingredients of the original formula,” de Gunzburg says. “I initially did not want it, but I was attracted to the color and the rest is history.”
By Terry is privately owned and funded, and de Gunzburg says she doesn’t want to sell, despite being approached “all the time” to do so. Her 35-year-old daughter is the CEO. “I’d prefer it to stay in the family for a third generation, like Estée Lauder, Hermès, Chanel. I have a lot of respect for that,” she says.
In the meantime, de Gunzburg is grappling with keeping By Terry luxury while also finding a new audience. While discussing this tightrope walk, she throws a bit of shade at YSL beauty in its current incarnation. “I think what they’re doing with the brand is great. It’s logical. It’s very much for millennials,” she says. “But I remember when my mother and grandmother were kids, Revlon was the ultimate luxurious brand. We’ll see — maybe we’ll find YSL in Duane Reade!”
By Terry will relaunch in Saks’s flagship in 2017, and the brand has an established office in the US now to grow the business further here. But can de Gunzburg reinvent makeup as we know it a third time?
“Every success comes by chance. You have an idea but you can’t decide to make a success,” she says. “It’s responding to a need.”