Rare sketches by famed Hollywood costume designer Edith Head, many never seen by the public, decorate the walls of new Melrose Place beauty retailer Violet Grey.
Rat Pack entertainer Dean Martin's leather-upholstered director's chair takes center stage in a room designated for makeup application. And even the "Violet" in the brand's name, inspired by the color of Elizabeth Taylor's eyes, offers a clue to the brand's focus on a renewal of Old Hollywood glamour.
The artifacts and inspirations also point to the insider status of the company's 37-year-old owner, Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey, who married Paramount Pictures Chairman and Chief Executive Brad Grey in a high-profile wedding in 2011.
The flagship bricks-and-mortar offshoot of beauty e-commerce site www.violetgrey.com, which debuted in early March, Violet Grey's virtual and retail shelves feature "hero" beauty products endorsed by celebrity makeup artists.
The brand also curates products editorially, by monthly theme ("18 Beauty Musts For Hollywood Powerhouses," for instance, and the forthcoming "Sex, Sea & Sun," inspired by the Cannes Film Festival and Hotel Du Cap). Under the heading "The Violet Files," the site has tutorials and "cover stories" with original, retro-glam photo shoots starring the likes of Eva Mendes, January Jones, Margot Robbie and Vanessa Paradis.
Given Grey's surname, one might also expect video clips, but test runs have so far not made the final cut.
"It's a process," says Grey. "We are working on cool, inspirational, conceptual short films made with major Hollywood directors and actresses and also bite-size tutorials that speak to [issues] like 'How do I get a cheekbone?' or 'How do I get rid of a blemish?'"
While the current assortment is made up of color cosmetics, nail lacquer and skin care by about 20 prestige brands (think Tom Ford Beauty, Dior, La Mer), Grey promises an "entire beauty wardrobe" within the next year-and-a-half, with the addition of hair care, bath and body products, more facial skin care, fragrance, home fragrance and even dressing gowns, turbans and other boudoir-appropriate accoutrement. Beyond the stable of beauty must-haves, Grey also plans to layer in limited-edition and hard-to-find fashion pieces, collectibles curated by stylists, mirroring the editorial themes.
"The Violet Files are successful because they embrace strong visuals and a clear personal message that is charged with emotion and taste — the two qualities most lacking in the retail environment today," notes Philip Fimmano, director of the New York office of global trend forecasting agency Edelkoort Inc.
A San Francisco native and ex-marketing consultant, who spent eight years in New York, Grey initially launched appointment-only styling salon Studio C.H.G. in 2011 on the same Melrose Place block. Now defunct, the business was an image consultancy and inspiration resource for celebrities, their stylists and makeup artists; also on offer was Coquette Atelier, a collection of reworked vintage apparel created by Grey and retail partner Rona Gaye Stevenson, sold at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. Grey describes that business as a means to developing influential industry relationships and learning the ABCs of red carpet culture.
One of Grey's signatures is use of the term "violet" as adjective, noun and #soviolet, in social media-speak, applied to anything and anyone she considers chic.
"Being 'violet' is about celebrating what makes a woman captivating, whether it's vulnerability or power or a kind heart," says Grey. "And she usually has a secret, which is something that always makes you come back. The aura, that illusion of mystery, is important."
On Feb. 26, prior to the store's official opening May 1, the first in a series of "She's So Violet" salon dinners was held at the Melrose Place space, boasting Eva Mendes, Anjelica Huston, Jack Nicholson, Pharrell Williams and Robert Evans among the starry crowd. The date, the late Elizabeth Taylor's birthday, was chosen to celebrate the legendary actress.
"I am so inspired by the way Elizabeth Taylor lived her life," says Grey. "It was unapologetic, ruled by passion. She made an enormous impact and had a lot of different lives. From a beauty perspective, those eyes were incredible; she was even born with a double set of eyelashes. So metaphorically, giving them the gaze of Hollywood kind of made sense to me.… Star power is incredible. We feel like we're sort of cheating because we are building a story that includes Hollywood, which is like starring in a narrative that everyone's already emotionally connected to."