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Violet Grey

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The Founder of Violet Grey on Hollywood Glamour and Old-Fashioned Tenacity

This beauty start-up is in-store, online, and dying to show readers what happens before the red carpet

You know how sometimes getting ready is the most fun part of going out? That’s true for movie stars too, according to Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey, the founder of luxury beauty content and e-commerce company Violet Grey.


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Grey explains that even the most highly-anticipated award shows can pale in comparison to their lead-up. "The mystery is always so much more glamorous than the actual experience," she tells Racked. She should know — she and her husband, Paramount Pictures’ Brad Grey, are a Hollywood power couple. What really interests Grey and the Violet Grey team is what goes on behind dressing room doors prior to events, as Hollywood’s most talented makeup artists, hairdressers, and wardrobe stylists collaborate to create red carpet looks that can make careers.

"The stakes are really high. If you win the Oscar, that image is everywhere. It can often dictate your next film, your next endorsement, all of the ways that these women make a living," Grey said.

Violet Grey channels all that creative energy (as well as makeup tips!) into a site that celebrates the brightest stars in Hollywood from both sides of the camera. Grey started Violet Grey along with cofounders Ariella Feldman and Tiffany Bensley in 2013. The venture-backed company has scored key hires like Estee Lauder’s Maureen Case and Vogue and W veteran Christina Han as editorial director.

Flipping through the site, you’ll find the Violet Files, which features striking, artistic images of stars like Diane Kruger, Kristen Wiig, and January Jones. Violet Grey’s website and Melrose Place flagship store stock the products used and approved by Hollywood’s leading makeup artists, skincare experts, and the stars themselves, from brands like La Mer, Tom Ford, and NARS.

Grey explained to Racked who she’s dying to work with next, the story behind her Kim Kardashian and Pat McGrath shoot, and how Violet Grey is going to take the guesswork out of shopping for beauty.

Do you have any memories that stick out when you first were experimenting with beauty?

I think the first time I was exposed to a photoshoot. I did some very unglamorous catalog modeling when I was a teenager. That's probably my first exposure to makeup as an art and sort of the transformation, the before and after effects of the makeup.

I always knew that I would start a company. My dream was always to be an entrepreneur.

What is the Violet Code?

In the beginning a part of what we really wanted to do is curate the best of the best across all beauty categories. The Violet Code is a list of requirements, a rigorous process we take to see if the product is best in class.

We have a council of experts. Each product on our shelf has to meet these standards of the Violet Code and that's how we give it our stamp of approval.

I think [Hollywood is] a very influential environment because it is like nowhere else in the world, a place where women are being professionally dressed, sometimes by up to six to eight people before they either go on television, or on a red carpet, or on the cover of a magazine. There's so much to learn from this industry and the tricks of the trade.

Do you have anyone on your dream list that you'd love to work with but haven't gotten a chance yet?

So many people. Right now, we're ideating video, and categories of video, like conceptual short films and how-tos, more educational videos to help share actual techniques around application.

And then the third category is kind of behind the scenes. I've found in my exposure to dressing rooms and helping people get dressed, being a fly on the wall and I've definitely had my makeup done my fair share of times, that this is so much more glamorous and fun than the actual events.

"What is that quality that makes a woman so magnetic, that a lot of movie stars tend to have?"

Taking people into that world, whether it's the intimate conversations that happen behind dressing room doors, or the artistry, the way a look is styled from a fashion perspective, the process to get a hair look. I'm personally very, very interested in it and I really want to share it.

I think one of the best things about it is that it is private. If you start to document it, it's more challenging than you think to keep the original integrity of those private moments.

But having said that, there's two directors that I'm hell-bent on working with, which is a director called David Fincher and a director called Bennett Miller. These are two film directors that I want to try to work with on documenting behind dressing room doors. There's an intangible allure of a woman that we're always searching for, that quality that we really want to be synonymous with the word Violet, the quality that makes a woman a mystery. What is that quality that makes a woman so magnetic, that a lot of movie stars tend to have? I have yet to meet a director or a makeup artist or set designer or writer or any kind of storyteller or content maker that wasn't interested in that.

How did the Kim Kardashian/Pat McGrath shoot come about?

"That's where it started, this idea of taking cultural icon like Elizabeth Taylor and reinterpreting an image of her on a modern cultural icon that is Kim Kardashian."

That was so fun. One of our original visual articulations of the world that we wanted to play in, there was a quote that was like, "Celebrating the artist and the artistry that has been displayed on the most famous faces in the world." After we did that shoot, I was like "Oh my God, this has come true."

For us, Pat McGrath is the most influential, most important makeup artist in the world. This is a first shoot in a series that we're doing with Pat once or twice a year. The idea is that it's very much about lost glamour, again, the study of iconography. Obviously Hollywood has been responsible for so much iconography. There's an image by Bert Stern of Elizabeth Taylor, a beautiful striking image that I'd always really loved. It was a nod to Cleopatra, but it was very modern and incredibly striking image of her.

So it started with that image, and me showing the image to Pat and then to Kim and saying, do you want to create an image that is inspired by it. That's where it started, this idea of taking cultural icon like Elizabeth Taylor and reinterpreting an image of her on a modern cultural icon that is Kim Kardashian, arguably the most famous face in the world, with the most influential makeup artist and how would she interpret that inspiration.

Was Kim totally on board?

Oh yeah. Kim was very excited to work with Pat, they'd never worked together.

Did you feel like it broke the Internet for you?

[Laughs.] When we put January Jones in the bathtub, that's what got the most traffic we've ever done. But yeah, that one definitely got a lot of traffic too.

Do you think people are more likely to buy makeup online now, instead of trying in the store?

I think it's really a bit of both. I really believe in multi-channel experience, I guess what they're calling experiential retail. You still want to try things, and you want to have your makeup done. Our bricks-and-mortar, our store on Melrose — it's our Playboy Mansion. It's like our cultural house. There's makeup artists coming and going, stars coming and going, women there coming and going. It's not about the sale for us, it's about the experience.

I think that the experience of shopping at the store should be a fun one, you should do it when you want to versus because you have to. You don't want to run out of this stuff. Only 5% of the [beauty industry] sales happen online. It's very much the beginning, but it's going to grow very fast. Beauty specifically is a replenishment item — you need to repurchase them every six weeks.

Does your website let you set that up, replenishment?

This is the other thing that's keeping me up at night. We're at the very beginning. We're designing and coding the environment where you can keep track of the things that you've bought and the things that you need. We're building that out now, which also gives all our clients their own beauty stylist, which is an actual person that they can talk to, like the makeup artists in our store. But they also maintain this sort of digital wardrobe for you, so they can replenish all the items you need to replenish but also make recommendations to you based on what your preferences are.

What else is next?

I mentioned video. I think for the content part of our business, video is very important but also creating content very specifically for social channels. For example, we're not on Snapchat right now. We want to be, but there's a whole approach that we're taking. It's going to be kind of cool to activate that channel.

We're still curating across categories. We're going to launch our quintessential edit of fragrances, a very, very tight edit that has to be sort of iconic, and it has to be timeless and it has to be coveted.

Is there any advice you would give to other people who wanted to be entrepreneurs?

To be able to attract people that want to work with you, you need to have a strong vision, and you need to have some money. People are the most important part of any company and to attract the kind of people who are motivated by excellence — the people everyone wants to work with and build with — you have to have strong vision.

My advice for anyone wanting to start something is that if you don't really believe in what you want to do and you can't see it, then you're probably not going to be able to convince other people.

"It's really hard. It's definitely 24/7. There's an enormous amount of hurdles."

A lot of people think they want to start a company, myself included, and they know it's going to be hard. But I guarantee they don't know how hard it's going to be. It's really hard. It's definitely 24/7. There's an enormous amount of hurdles. The playbook is that if you're venture, and you're raising money from people that invest in companies, than you're meant to do extraordinary things in a very short period of time with not enough money and resources. Which is just always almost impossible. That's why most companies fail, it's really hard to build something if you don't have enough people and you don't have enough money and you have to do it with the clock ticking.

The only way to I think survive and get through the hurdle is to have an insane amount of tenacity and vision that has attracted a lot of other people with the same kind of tenacity and vision. In my case, I have two co-founders that I would definitely not be able to live without. I certainly wouldn't have been able to build what we've built thus far, from the very beginning, without them and we've only been around for three years.

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