One of the great perks of being a writer in the beauty industry is that I get to meet some of the most inspiring people. They inspire me to keep driving forward and creating my own thing, so much so that I hope they’ll inspire you, too. These women, pioneers in the industry, are the groundbreakers that are blazing trails where others will follow. They are, quite simply, Legends of Beauty.
My first subject for this new series is Nonie Creme, formerly of butter LONDON, and now of a new beauty venture currently sweeping the country, Colour Prevails. Nonie is a true creative force of nature, a fiercely ballsy female, and a dear, sweet friend. Get to know her, and you’ll see why she’s an industry favorite:
This is how Colour Prevails came to be…
“I met Brian Robinson, my business partner, during my butter LONDON days years ago back at an Ulta conference. We’d exchanged cards and built a mentorship relationship. I’m a huge believer in mentoring, and very keen on seeking mentors. Don’t ever think you know everything at all or enough, ever.
So, that was the nature of our relationship for a long time, even though I’m sure he had his eye on me from a business perspective. And then after butter LONDON, I reached out to him with an idea to create very colorful, semi-permanent hair dyes. We talked about it, about what the concept would look like, and as soon as I was legally able to speak to him, he said “Let’s absolutely do the hair, but you have to promise me we’ll do something bigger. “ And I said, “Let’s do EVERYTHING.” And so we did, and launched Colour Prevails. It’s funny that the hair product is the last thing we’re going to launch since it was the genesis of the entire line.
I know people get really cloak and dagger about talking about how their businesses are structured, but I’m a pretty straight shooter. We have a full partnership and we’re very much in bed together on this. Brian is also my CEO, and it’s been a lot of fun to create this thing together. It’s astounding to me: I didn’t even have a napkin sketch until February 2014, and we created this entire thing together with all the formulas and got through stability, package design —the whole thing — in one year. It normally takes two years. We both have all that knowledge, and he taught me how to use it.
I absolutely knew I wanted to be in Walgreens. Brian loved the idea, but was confused as to why I wanted to be there. My theory is simple: if you look across the landscape of the US, Walgreens dominates so much real estate. I just kept walking through their stores, thinking there was money on the table. So, we met with them.
I have this track record throughout my career history that I seem to have a sixth sense of when it’s time to strike from a business perspective. So, I was there to sell them on this concept to help them bring a new perspective to their beauty aisle, and they said this is so timely because we’re having the same conversation. I said, I’m your girl, and they absolutely agreed. It was a done deal very rapidly, and we started working together to create a masstige experience inside their doors for their customers.
I’d never worked with a company that large before. My prior company was a kitchen table start-up with two gals making it up as they went along, and Walgreens is a huge corporate entity. That said, it’s been amazing: they’ve given me carte blanche. When Walgreens said, “Go for it,” they meant it. It’s just been an awesome experience.”
But before I started Colour Prevails, I took some time off …
“I don’t think it’s an over share to say I had a very long non-compete, and I wasn’t allowed to do anything in my traditional realm. Instead of panicking and firing off in a million different directions, I just sat really still and did a lot of parenting, which I hadn’t done before. I had this little three year old person that I didn’t even know: didn’t know what she ate, what time she went to bed…I had never…I was frankly a really shitty mom at that point. So, I spent a few of years completely devoted to my kid, and it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. It’s made me a better businessperson and a better human being. I needed to go away somewhere and lose the ego and the baggage. I needed to get real. Those are the qualities I wanted to take with me into my business: I want to be a good businessperson, but I really want to be a good person. I want to make sure my brand has ethics and morals, and that we live by them, that it’s not total b.s. So, yeah, I spent three years with my kid, broke as a joke.
Everyone always thinks they need to have a plan. Sometimes, the plan is not to have a plan, to make no sudden movements. Entrepreneurs make that mistake all the time. They try to react too quickly, and sometimes you need to just sit still and let the world kind of revolve around you so you can see what’s going on. I won’t pretend I was totally Zen the entire time.
My kid is 3, I’m on the precipice of leaving my former company, and I’m a bag of nerves. She’s sitting there, drawing on paper with a crayon and she comes over and hands me this drawing. She says, “Mama, this guy is leaping!” I framed it, and it’s now by my bedside and a tattooed reminder on my arm. Ever since that moment, any time I don’t think I know what to do or start to lose faith, I consult the “leaping guy.” He always says the same thing: ‘Leap!’”
You live in Seattle but you work in New York. How do you find balance with that?
“Part of it goes back to that time off, getting real with myself about who I wanted to be as a person and as a parent and setting really strong parameters around that. I’m never more than one week on and one week off when it comes to traveling, and by a week I mean five days because that’s really a workweek. I’m really lucky: my husband is a stay-at-home parent, so we have total stability at home for my daughter. It’s a blast, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t great. I’m home Friday night through that next Sunday morning, and I do the school run, walk around in my pajamas, and work from my bed, etc. Then, I jump on a plane Sunday morning and I come to the office in New York for the next week. I land in NYC, put on my big girl heels and makeup and have all these beautiful women I hang out with. I’m super ADD, so I actually get more work done when I can dip in and out like that. Any more time in one thing or another and I get distracted or antsy.”
What do you do to relax?
“This is the lamest thing I’ve ever said, but I work. I work to relax. It’s so consuming. I work out a lot. I have an elliptical in my bathroom, and sometimes I hang the Leaping Guy on a nail on the opposite wall and meditate on that while I work out. I’m also a huge martini drinker, so I do a lot of socializing and martini drinking. But for relaxing, I really like to work. There’s inspiration everywhere, so I’ll do mood boards or collect images for collections.”
About that famous haircut…
“For a bazillion years, I wore a jet black China doll bob. I started going grey when I turned 12, my sister and I both turned grey by the time we were 21. I didn’t want grey hair at that age, so I started dying my hair super Goth-y jet black around 15, and as I got older that dying got more and more frequent. I started thinking, what would happen if I just stopped? So, I wore a headscarf for at least six months while I grew my natural color out. I had wanted a Mohawk since I was a pre-teen, and there were multiple times where I came super close when I lived in London, but I didn’t have the balls for it. One day I thought, “You know what would make this grow-out a lot faster?” and grabbed the clippers and shaved the sides of my head. The grow-out was over in five minutes. Now it’s been like this forever. People always ask me who cuts my hair. It’s Ronelle at the Roosevelt Barber Shop in Seattle. I’m like one of the boys now. I go every two weeks.”
I love other beauty products, too..
“I love all the Oscar Blandi stuff, particularly the Texturize and Volume Spray, and I love Davines. I love that stuff. I also use Phyto Phytargent because it’s hard to keep silver hair silvery; it likes to turn brassy and yellow. It’s a real grind.”
When it comes to skin, I am very honest about the fact that I have used every peel and beauty treatment out there. I use a combination of things, like Tatcha cleansers and for night cream, and then during the day I use SkinCeuticals Physical Fusion UV Defense SPF 50 on my face. I have a number of skin allergies, but I don’t get out of bed without putting on SPF 50. This is the sunscreen that works without irritating my skin. I’m also hooked on Supergoop, particularly their Sun-Defying Sunscreen Oil in SPF 50, which I wear on my body daily.
I’m also a total bathtub girl. I take a bath with my kid; we spend a lot of playtime in the tub. I mostly sit in hot water, but I’ll throw a pint of cold milk in the tub to soften my skin. I also love Cowshed products; they’re epic. I love all of them. I love anything scented.
Also, I only wear men’s fragrances; I like to smell like a hot, rich dude. It has a surprising effect on people. I wear a few: a lot of Comme des Garcons like their Wonderoud. My husband and I have a tray that we share. We wear a lot of Creed I’m more obsessed than he is with Le Labo. Le Labo and Comme des Garcons are my regular go-tos and if I want to exude particular power, I go with Creed Silver Mountain Mist.
My guilty pleasure is a little….um, unusual…
“It’s so disgusting, but I eat in the bathtub. I don’t mean a bag of snack chips; I mean a three-course meal. My husband is so grossed out by it, but I will go in there with my dinner and just shut the door. I eat in the tub, and not just a little bit.”
How I get past the fear of doing something new…
“I’m a tremendous risk-taker. I’m a real Nervous Nellie with my kid, airplanes, even skiing. But with life decisions, I’ve always been a big leaper. So, I don’t suffer too much from that kind of fear. Also, once you hit a stride in your life where you have a support system or enough money socked away where you know you’ll never wind up on the street, you have nothing to fear. Money is exciting and great, but I’m not very financially driven. I live for the excitement I get from creating these companies and products and watching other people’s reactions to them. I think the real dyed-in-the-wool entrepreneurs are that way by nature. The beauty industry has been kind to me whether I’ve succeeded or failed, and I’ve done both. You have to lose your ego. People are mostly afraid of what others will think. It’s not being broke, that great fear is what will people think and say about you. Who cares? What do YOU think?”
If you’re thinking about starting your own venture….
“Apart from the obvious (be fearless, be bold, etc.,) be meticulous in your planning. You can’t plan for everything, but if you have a great idea, be layered in your approach to what you’re doing. Know that no matter what you’re trying to do, it has to have a point of difference. Find that need that’s not being filled. For me, it was products made in luxury labs delivered at a mass market with packaging that makes it easier to apply. Be original and different, and know what and why you’re doing it. Be mindful and know what your point of difference is. Keep working your idea until you know that point of difference, then go for it.”
Nonie Creme, photographed by Kristin Booker in April, 2015 in the Meatpacking District in New York City. All rights reserved.