NEW YORK, United States — Alexis Page once believed becoming a makeup artist was “the only career option in beauty.” But after discovering she was a “terrible” makeup artist, Page began studying a BA in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing at the Fashion Institution of Technology.
During her course, she took an internship at Mac Cosmetics in their product development team — and stayed for 10 years, creating formulas, shades and seasonal collections, as well as heading up collaborations with the likes of Proenza Schouler, Carine Roitfeld and Gareth Pugh.
After leaving Mac in 2014, Page was headhunted by Into the Gloss founder Emily Weiss to help her develop the Glossier product line and lead the end-to-end formula and package product development process. In 2015, Page went freelance, with her first clients including Pat McGrath, to assist in the development of Pat McGrath Labs, and Urban Outfitters, for whom she launched their first beauty line Ohii.
Most recently, Page has worked with the holiday and swimwear brand Solid & Striped to launch their sun care line this month alongside the brand’s chief executive Isaac Ross and art director Ezra Petronio. Here, the creative beauty consultant shares her professional path and career advice.
What is it that attracted you to working in beauty?
I’ve always been product-obsessed and I thought that would lead to me being a makeup artist, as I thought that was the only career option in beauty. It turns out I’m a terrible makeup artist. The makeup artist I was assisting suggested I look into the Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing programme at FIT, where I was already a student in Advertising and Communications, and that’s how I moved into product development.
My last semester at school, I interned at Mac [Cosmetics] in the product development department. I had an amazing boss there who, at the time, didn’t have a position for me, but she took a liking to me and carved out a junior product development role. I was there for 10 years and eventually became director of all their collaborations.
What would you attribute to getting that first job at Mac?
I didn’t come into that internship thinking I would get a job out of it, but I had a willingness to learn and do any job that needed to be done. It wasn’t a specific day-to-day set of responsibilities: if someone needed help with a project, I would do that; if someone needed to mail some packages, I would do that; if someone needed to go backstage at a fashion show and do a write up about what products the makeup artists were using, I would do that.
Accept anything that gets thrown at you and do it to the best of your ability. I think the most valuable lesson is checking yourself, making sure that you understand your role in the greater team and not feeling like you’re entitled or above any job responsibility.
Having the experience of being an assistant or having an internship — learning about everything from the ground up — can only help you. It can also help you figure out what you like and don’t like doing, so that you can move through jobs in a way that makes sense and keeps you happy and fulfilled.
What was your most meaningful learning experience during your career?
The Pat [McGrath] experience was probably the most meaningful experience I’ve ever had. I’ve been working in beauty for 15 years and if any client needed me to make any product, I could go to the lab and do it in my sleep. She’s on a different level — she’s an unbelievable artist and her work ethic is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in my life.
I knew that it would be a deep learning experience for me, seeing not only how she does makeup but how she interacts with other people and the joy she has for what she’s doing. In any job, in any industry, there’s a feeling at some point of getting burnt out. That doesn’t exist with her. It’s a really beautiful thing to watch her work.
There’s a reason she’s referred to as mother. Her team is like a family, which I think is really important to keep you going. If you put anyone else in an intense role for a month straight, that would be overwhelming, but it never felt too intense because it’s a warm environment. It’s a crazy schedule but you’re in it together.
How do you approach the task of creating a physical manifestation of a brand through your products?
[It depends] on the clients that I’m working with. With companies that aren’t necessarily in the beauty space but want to be, I work within the parameters of what the existing brand is, who the consumer is and what makes the most sense for them. I try not to be formulaic about it, but I am thoughtful and personal with each brand I work with.
For example, after years of Into the Gloss having a pretty cult readership, and Emily [Weiss, the founder and chief executive] having interviewed several people in the industry and seen the inside of everyone’s makeup bag, we used that information as a starting point for the four products that people use on a daily basis — that we could make a best-in-class version of. That’s how we decided to create the Priming Moisturiser, the Balm Dotcom, the Perfecting Skin Tint and the Rosewater Face Cleanse. From there, we made colour products, face masks and lipsticks on top of that basis.
But with Solid & Striped, it would make no sense for me to give them an eye shadow palette and a lipstick. They’re a beach and swimwear brand so the vibe that they’re selling is about vacation, which is different from any other beauty product I’ve worked on. Sunscreen and SPF are really technical and regulated by the FDA — it’s a serious, scientific skincare product, but also one that is more of a day-to-day cosmetics product. We went through a million iterations of the formula until we found the perfect one we liked.
How has the beauty industry changed in recent years?
Beauty is now a more intimate experience. For decades, it’s been giant beauty companies telling you what you should want, or what you should look like — that they know better than you. But, if you think about how women shop and how women speak to each other about beauty, it’s not like that. Most women buy products based on what their friends recommend.
This idea of expert versus customer doesn’t exist as much anymore and I think people understand now that an advertisement you see in a magazine is not reality. People have trust issues with these giant beauty companies. Instead, these smaller indie brands are thriving because they are listening to what people want and making things in a more thoughtful way, with a different value system than a large corporation. It feels more like your friend.
Where would you recommend starting a career in the beauty industry?
If you’re getting into the beauty industry now, you probably don’t think that the big brands are cool. Moving from that structured, formal environment into a more start-up environment or an indie brand environment, where things are a little looser, I understand why people may not want to work for these giant companies at the beginning. But I still think it’s a good learning experience and you gain the professional knowledge that you may not get if you start working at a smaller beauty brand.
I feel lucky that my path started in a corporate place because I learned to do things the right way. Mac is the best of both worlds as it is a corporate environment as a part of Estée Lauder, but it is also an open and progressive company. I learned how to write an email and how to communicate with other people that I work with.
I feel lucky that my path started in a corporate place because I learned to do things the right way.
But if you’re working in a corporate environment like that, worrying about any sort of office politics is always where you can get yourself in trouble. Stay on your own course and be intuitive about what you know is the right thing and [don't] get caught up in what other people are doing.
What is the reality of your day-to-day?
I’m a creative beauty consultant because what I do now, with all my different clients, is a bit of everything. It’s not strictly product development. Working with clients to build independent beauty brands, doing the product development, but also helping with creative direction and the marketing, carving out a specific brand presence for each client that I work with.
I’ve structured myself so that nothing really overlaps. Solid & Striped is a totally different brand premise than Pat [McGrath] or Urban [Outfitters] or other clients that I’ve worked with, so keeping everything separate is interesting because it allows me to work on different things at once and use my brain in a lot of different ways.
But I am a one-woman show. It’s a lot to keep straight and a lot of time spent thinking about different ideas for everyone, but I always think that there’s new interesting stuff to be done. There are always new needs to be met and new technology, innovation, ingredients and competition coming out and it keeps it exciting.
What core skills do you believe are necessary for success in your field?
There are fun, glamorous parts but there’s also day-to-day paperwork or shipping, so being ready and willing to take the fun stuff and the not-so-fun stuff is a non-negotiable for me. There’s a sense now from people entering their first job that they should straight away be in charge of the whole company, which is not realistic and is something to work towards — it’s not something to be handed out.
These are essentials to not only beauty but every job. That’s something my parents instilled in me, to have a strong work ethic and not be afraid to work hard and do whatever is asked of you. Certainly not to feel like you’re above anything, because if you’re willing to do that stuff, you can do anything.