Lauren Remington Platt, founder of Vênsette, a hair and makeup booking service
By BEE-SHYUAN CHANG
Published: December 7, 2011
WITH a swirl of honey-blond hair, feline green eyes and a blue bloodline (her great-grandfather was Marcellus Hartley, the 19th-century philanthropist, whose funeral in 1902 drew Andrew Carnegie and J. Pierpont Morgan), Lauren Remington Platt ticks off all the checkboxes of a successful socialite. She is frequently photographed at fashion galas and charity balls, including the recent M Missoni for OrphanAid Africa party and the fall benefit for the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.But Ms. Platt, 27, isn’t content to be a face of good causes. With a growing number of patrician young women, she is turning the work of being pretty into a business.
On a balmy Monday at Sant Ambroeus cafe in the West Village, where the maître d’hôtel nearly tripped over himself to greet her (“My boyfriend owns this place,” she explained demurely), Ms. Platt, wearing slim black riding pants and a tweed jacket, told about how she had been working full time as a hedge-fund analyst assessing water utilities when she was invited to her first Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute gala in 2008.
“I ducked out during lunch for a blowout and then sat in the office bathroom trying to put my makeup on,” she said. “Then, lo and behold, 20 minutes later, you’re on the red carpet next to Gisele Bündchen, who had a hair and makeup team and six hours to get ready. It was such a fun event, but it was so stressful.”
The experience sparked the idea for Vensette.com, introduced in March. Named for an amalgam of the Place Vendôme in Paris and Marie Antoinette, the site offers bookings for a roster of about 30 hair and makeup artists who will travel to the client’s office or home.
Clients can choose from looks labeled with catchy names like the Siren (a 1920s-inspired wave) or the C.E.O. (a rosy lip with defined eyes that not long ago helped steel one Fortune 500 executive at 5 a.m. before ringing an opening bell on the stock exchange). A 90-minute session of daytime hair and makeup costs $250; more-complicated nighttime looks are $325.
“Much of it is saving the women from themselves,” Ms. Platt said. “The looks keep them in check, and the makeup artists are on hand to talk them out of something that may not work.”
Ms. Platt is one of several socialites who have crossed over from charity boards to the beauty industry (although at least one started in the business: Aerin Lauder, who, after coming of age at the company her grandmother founded, Estée Lauder, will introduce her own line of beauty products and other items, Aerin, next year).
The likely role model for many of them, Gloria Vanderbilt, didn’t sell only derrière-enhancing jeans back in the 1970s, she also offered a fragrance that is still sold on Amazon.com.
Olivia Chantecaille, an elegant, whippet-thin brunette often seen on NewYorkSocialDiary.com, is the creative director of Chantecaille, a successful skin-care and makeup line. Daphne Guinness, the heiress and aficionado of outlandish couture, will introduce a makeup collaboration with MAC Cosmetics on Dec. 26. And Julie Macklowe, 34, another hedge-fund veteran who attends many charity events, has founded vBeauté, a skin-care line that made its debut on Nov. 11.
“Going out is always about networking,” Ms. Macklowe said, explaining her decision to capitalize on her social life. “A lot of the contacts in the fashion and beauty industry you make at events are invaluable. It takes years to build these relationships. I moved back to New York in 2002, and the relationships started then through my husband, my family and fashion events.”
“I always find the term somewhat funny, and in this day and age, a misnomer,” she said. “I just think of myself as a girl who works and who likes to go out. Especially in New York, most of the women I know from that scene also work. Sometimes it’s a little misogynist.”
David Patrick Columbia, who chronicles the upper class on his blog, NewYorkSocialDiary.com, has observed social swans spreading their wings over the years. “A lot of these girls, they don’t need the money, but they need a profession,” he said. “I see beauty as a very profitable business.”
But, he added: “I think a lot of it is marketing, and some think that socialite girls have the kind of reach that celebrities have. I’m not so sure that is true. Estée actually went out on the street and worked it.”
No one could accuse Ms. Macklowe of being hands-off, though. She spent two years developing her line, which features a complex based on the Alpine rose. The cornerstone is the It Kit, a travel-size set of eye cream, cleanser, moisturizer, serum and exfoliator, priced at $165. Packaged in a dark silver case that could almost double as an expensive clutch, the kit is carried at Bergdorf Goodman, which will also exclusively sell the line’s full-size products. The set will appear in about 100 stores, including Kirna Zabête, Maxfield in Los Angeles and the Webster in Miami, over the next few weeks.
“That is my personality; I don’t do things halfway,” Ms. Macklowe said, bright-eyed during a breakfast meeting at Balthazar, in SoHo. “I went to each retailer, one by one. You don’t work with Stevie Cohen without going all-in.”
|Tata Harper, who has a skin-care line, has partnered with Lauren Remington Platt, of Vênsette.|
Patrick McMullan for The New York Times
“In fashion, I’m very similar, I sometimes push it too far,” she said with a giggle. “I’ve made it on a couple worst-dressed lists. But I feel like it’s important to have fun with it, take risks.”
Ms. Macklowe was wearing a pinstriped pantsuit that morning, but she’s better known for her attention-getting taste, like the royal blue sequined mini-dress with attached satin train that she wore to the New Yorkers for Children fall gala this September. On Nov. 17, she was honored with the Gay Men’s Health Crisis inaugural Style Vault award. “If the gay man approves, that’s the biggest compliment there is,” she said.
The next morning, after training sales associates on her product line at Bergdorf Goodman, Ms. Macklowe worked at the counter like a high-end Avon lady for three hours. Wearing a knit Chanel dress, leather Chanel over-the-knee black boots and diamond stud earrings the size of dimes, she rattled off a scientific pitch (“to combat free radicals, it has biocellular peptides derived from the stem cells of Nicotiana sylvestris ...”) mixed with personal chitchat. She prattled on about her husband, who hates her new Mia Farrow circa “Rosemary’s Baby” haircut though her female friends love it, and explained that the “v” in the company name is for “victory over aging” while rubbing product on the back of a customer’s hand.
Much of the work of selling socialite beauty, though, happens at night, when its proprietors go out and are photographed, offering their own built-in P.R. package.
Since its inception, despite the dismal economy, the company has grown by a steady 22 percent month over month, Ms. Platt said. A nail and manicure service is in the works, as is an online product shop edited by professional makeup artists.
For the gala, Ms. Platt chose two of the company’s most popular options: the Siren hair style and the Grace Kelly makeup (a flick of black liquid eye liner and classic red lips). The site also offers more avant-garde choices like the Capri, a fashion-forward, slicked-back hairdo, which didn’t suit Ms. Platt but she kept on the menu anyway. “My boyfriend said I looked like Darth Vader’s daughter,” she said with a laugh.
Celia Nichols, 34, vice president for marketing and communications at MaxMara, has booked appointments through Vênsette four times. “I met Lauren out socially maybe three or four years ago, and she told me about the company early on,” Ms. Nichols said on a Wednesday evening before her nighttime work events.
Behind closed doors in Ms. Nichols’s office, also in the garment district, a cloud of fruity hair spray was hanging over her desk. Another Vênsette artist, Ryan B. Anthony, was curling her locks while she reviewed marketing printouts. “I keep going back because it’s really consistent,” she said. “What you pick is what you get, and we’re so busy, I can’t be bothered with hair and makeup after an entire day of work.”
In a neat bit of back-scratching, MaxMara sometimes dresses Ms. Platt for events. Indeed, there is so much friendly overlap in the world of socialite beauty, it might be helpful to sketch the relationships on a cocktail napkin. Sarah Easley of Kirna Zabête knew of Ms. Macklowe through fashion-related events; Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the fashion director at Lincoln Center, sits on vBeauté’s advisory board; Ms. Macklowe is friendly with Ms. Platt after meeting at various charity events.
Meanwhile, Ms. Platt has partnered with Tata Harper, another well-connected entrepreneur known for her largely organic skin-care line. Vênsette artists will begin carrying Ms. Harper’s products this month, using her moisturizer and floral essence mist to help prepare clients’ skin before makeup application.
Calling from a skin-care laboratory in New Jersey, Ms. Harper, 36, said, “I met Lauren through my sister-in-law Michelle Harper and another friend that we have in common, Fernanda Niven.” Both Michelle Harper and Ms. Niven are regulars on New York City’s event circuit.
“They’ve always been part of my life — these girls who are very social,” Tata Harper said. “And they have been vital to my business. They do my word-of-mouth for me.” One of her business partners is Clarissa Bronfman, the wife of the billionaire Edgar Bronfman Jr., who has helped the company grow by an astounding 500 percent since January of this year, Ms. Harper said. A new distribution and work facility is under construction near Middlebury, Vt., where most of the company is based.
To celebrate their new partnership, Ms. Platt and Ms. Harper hosted a cocktail party with Ms. Niven and Marina Rust, a Vogue contributing editor, at Bergdorf Goodman’s BG Restaurant on Nov. 29. Later, Ms. Platt posted images of the event on her company’s Facebook page.
“Once the social girls understand and believe in your product and mission, they really get behind it,” Ms. Harper said. “Between them, they know a tremendous amount of people.”
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