Should I add the full text in these postings...or have people just watch the videos....? Hm...still figuring it out....but comments are welcome!
As per request....the text...
I reach out, running my fingers across the milky creamsicle eye shadow. A stark contrasting glare from the skylight directly above highlights the depth in the color and I spread a thin swatch on my inner wrist. The actual pan is almost pristine, the powder so soft I can run my finger through it and leave it like a virgin, to quote Madonna. The orange is a warm shade, perfect for those with a likewise warm undertone to their skin. But it’s also pastel enough to work on those with cool undertones. A perfect shade. I need them.
I turn on a Lily Allen playlist. It’s hard to be a bitch… Yes, it is.
Muse, my cosmetics company, is housed in a restored auto repair shop just off Main Street in Santa Monica. Main Street is the hip and trendy commercial drag of this reluctant tourist town. My Muse is Estee Lauder who drove my childhood dreams forward to this very hip locale and into top retail spots in Sephora and Nordstrom.
I’m glad to be alone in my office as I look at the final options for my new and vastly expanded makeup line. Except for Trotsky, of course, our chocolate lab two-month-old puppy and company mascot. She sleeps quietly at my feet, brown eyes closed and dreaming, as I contemplate my future and hope fate will be kind. Saying I bet the farm is understating the risks I’ve taken in so aggressively adding to my offerings. I did it anyway.
And the evidence is littered before me on the bronzed aluminum oversized table that serves as my desk. For now I need my own impressions of the merchandise, independent of outside influence. Rainbow stacks of brights, blushes and eye shadows. Tubes of mascara and eye liner. Bottle with foundation and piles of powders. Lipstick tubes in rows. It’s a fortune in research and manufacturing. A hope that someone likes the new shades and will embrace them on a daily basis.
My gut built this company, from my sophomore year at UCLA to this dubious semi headquarters 12 years later and finally growing fast. I even managed to graduate with a joint degree in literature and economics. Everything around me reeks of Estee but with a twist. She was so elegant, as befit her start in the 1940s, but my settings and offerings are edgier.
The building is a gift from a friend’s parents. They transformed what was an auto repair shop into an airy and bright office space. My small offices are separated with a wall from my cosmetics warehouse, products all in steel bins and in rows. The floors are still a cool brisk grey cement but the walls are Robin’s egg blue, more true blue than Estee’s slightly greenish shade, but still a part of its family. The ceilings are a deep cerulean which is the exact coloring of my packaging. Again, following Estee but not Estee. I used silver not her gold for my text. Besides, blue is my favorite color. I’d considered having clouds painted, but then began to also consider unicorns, and that all became too overwhelmingly silly and I’m not a girly girl. So I kept things stark.
We brought in cool steel or aluminum furniture, and scattered it sparingly through the empty space. Adding fake fur white beanbag chairs and a shaggy white couch in the entry-way for guests, in the end the feel of clouds won over my first instincts. Now we hold our small company meetings on the plush couch when the sun begins to set, casting shadows like diamonds through our many slanted glass sky roofs. The glass is blue, the exact color of water in my imagination. Chinese takeout or vegan burritos and sometimes a bottle of champagne spread before us, we debate how to market beauty and the freedom it brings.
Lana Del Rey begins to sing of video games and how everything she does is for “you”. I likewise sing to a sleeping Trotsky and wonder if someday I’ll do all for someone other than a chocolate lab puppy rescued from a local shelter. Outside is the hum of cars and I hear my neighbor shouting something. We have businesses to the west and a residential neighborhood to the east. My employees are mostly quiet, working, but the phone doesn’t stop its constant rings.
For now I drag my oversized remains of a leather armchair to the edge of my table desk. I have more appropriate seating options but I like to kneel on the familiar chair and focus on my samples. The leather is worn to the point of butter softness and the brown has faded unevenly. This chair and this office, like much of my life, is a favor granted. I grew up on charity, my brother and I both smart and lucky enough to be the token poor scholarship students at one of the city’s most prestigious and competitive private schools. Here, cheap rent provided by my best friend’s parents and Muse’s first investors literally has made my success possible. They looked out for me and gave me enough lucky breaks to get my company off the ground and soaring. The chair came from another friend’s mother when she redid her library. She’d always seen how I loved it and gifted the monstrosity to me when I was sixteen. I did what all poor kids do when granted such luxuries: I said thank you and continued loving her to this day. When you have little such a precious object takes on great importance.
At first I couldn’t believe I owned such a marvelous chair. My mom had looked on in silence as I sat down in its depths upon its arrival, massaging the lush armrests. One of my first eye shadows was the exact brown it was at that moment. It reigned like a queen in our Brentwood apartment until I moved it here, into my office.
Before me is my next challenge. The makeup samples are my own hard work, though many others have touched them in different ways to get them to this almost final stage. The beauty industry is a grind and I fell into it when running away from an ex-boyfriend. I needed a distraction after a breakup and created a line of 10 lipsticks. Next, a “sporty girl” complete set that UCLA decided to carry in their bookstore as an add on purchase. Now it’s a real business unless I mess it up.
For me the colors are a passion. I love how a slight change in formula or undertones changes their look completely. And how each shade reacts with every different woman fascinates me. Perfect beauty is an unattainable ideal for most, but all women can glow with the right mix of shades done just so. The planes of every face are like a canvas and should be treated with respect. All women are beautiful in their own way.
I first began mixing colors in high school as an escape, before the boyfriend and breakup it was just beauty. My moods are dependent on outside influences, too much so. Scents, weather, what people say, or even the shifting landscape around me as I rush through my day can leave me reeling or exhilarated. I hate that aspect of my personality and have had to learn how to center and refocus so I don’t go insane. Do I possess crazy genes that leave me destabilized too easily?
My office door is closed and it’s almost 10:00 in the morning. I need to hole up and visualize what women want over the next year. Sure, they want to be beautiful but what does that mean? I can make them clean, clear their skin and brighten their face. But while I can modify features I can’t change them. A woman at her best is confident and that I can do: make a woman feel good about herself. It only takes a few steps and I’ve prepackaged them.
Now I’m adding to my basic line and the evidence is before me.
More importantly, the scents are before me. I’ve never done perfume before. I glance down at my baggy faded jeans and a very old James Perse T-shirt worn to its last shreds. Black. I need the comfort to be creative but as I look at my final product choices all I feel is fear. What if I pick the wrong ones and the new lines don’t fly? Every year I’m introducing something new and every choice could fall flat.
But I glance down at Trotsky and listen to the ever confident Beyonce begin her song and keep going. She knows that all can be replaced and that no decision is ever permanent. How I wish for her utter confidence.
So I pick up another eye shadow and finger the cerulean package. After the creamsicle I’ve chosen a subtle purple, full of sparkles in a mix of reds and browns. Gold dances in the mix and ultimately seems to take charge. This shade is so sultry and attention seeking. I grab a mirror and rub some above my upper lash line. I love how it shimmers yet also simmers.
Eventually I’ll show my final choices to others but for now I revel in being
able to play and visualize who will wear these shades. Does a young girl wear this Mata Hari purple or a more mature woman, sexy versus seductive? I can imagine both as I smell the local scents of exhaust and salt. Bread from a nearby restaurant warms up the air. And my phone rings.
My assistant only answers if I don’t pick up by the third ring. I grab for the phone but something inside me, an instinct, warns me away. I ignore it.
“Hello,” I start, trying to juggle my mirror, eye shadow, imagination and trepidation.
“Lise, I won’t make it tonight,” Brad, my boyfriend begins, as always skipping a courtesy at the start of any call. A master of the universe, he doesn’t believe in pleasantries. Does he believe in manners? When having them helps him. Yes, the bloom is off this rose. I love him, I love him not? Lately less so. But I’m dependent on him. And he’s helping me get financing to expand my line. In private equity, he buys companies and doesn’t fund them. He has friends who fund and they’re working on the final paperwork to make my dreams a reality.
Feel free to judge me but I’ve been with him for almost five years now. Eleven years my senior and much more savvy than I am in business, he, like my office space and chair, has been a gift that I’m not always sure how to manage.
“Okay,” I respond, having learned to let him keep speaking before jumping to conclusions. He likes to hear himself talk and I’m always curious to hear what bullshit he’ll come up with before I cut him off.
“Work crisis. Fucking CEO has been faking his numbers and the media is about to go public with it. I need to talk to the key reporters and get them to write more sympathetic stories. Too late to shut it down completely.”
“Okay,” I repeat myself. We were to be having a nice sushi dinner tonight but, honestly, I’m better off finishing my work here. It isn’t like I’m not betting my whole company on these new collections and perfumes.
I picture him, slightly tall and very hard from his workouts. His eyes fade to brown and his hair is just a flush of almost black. And while he can look me in the eye when delivering a tough message for the most part his eyes are always shifting around, maximizing his options. His shirts always have collars unless he’s exercising.
“Ted is happy with most of the terms of your financing but…,” Brad continues and I take a deep in-breath, picturing my yoga teacher as I do so. Brad’s buts are legendary. He never speaks about anything directly, preferring a lethal sideswipe to the gut. How did I end up here?
I don’t respond, deciding that not showing desperation is always the best course of action. And I need that money. Desperately. The phones are ringing outside my personal office and in the main company. People like and want us. We’re in People magazine this week.
“But nothing. I told him just to sign it or I’ll fund you personally. Of course, I’d put you on a diet as a term of the deal.” He laughs and I’m glad he isn’t here or I’d kill him. My jeans have been feeling a little tight but I’ve been under so much pressure I really haven’t been paying attention. He’s saying I’m getting fat? I look down. He might be right.
I struggle to find my voice. As if doing so is easy in the best of circumstances and this is hardly that. Is he seriously saying that he’d risk my financing and my company to force me to lose weight?
“Fuck you,” I hear myself say and hang up on him. What have I done?