The Beauty Analyst: Kelly Kovack

The Beauty Analyst: Kelly Kovack
One part analyst and one part aficionado, BeautyMatter founder Kelly Kovack was once a self-proclaimed tomboy who “fell into beauty by accident.” Growing up, she never saved her allowance to buy lip gloss or spent hours in front of the mirror perfecting her look. In fact, makeup was forbidden entirely at her Catholic school in Florida. “I don’t have that beauty-junkie genesis to my career,” says Kovack. “I was a late bloomer when it comes to my passion for beauty!” Perhaps keeping the industry at an arm’s distance gave her a leg up later on—allowing her to take a more emboldened and critical approach to the copious amounts of lotions and potions that launch around the world every day.

Kovack regularly talks shop on BeautyMatter, a site-slash-consulting agency that tackles everything from technical innovations in skincare to Silicon Valley’s obsession with “unicorns” to the reason Dollar General is the retail landscape’s dark horse. “I often get my ideas from the tech space, architecture, art, and traveling. I felt like there wasn’t an outlet for entrepreneurs and other people in the beauty industry to tap into information that was relevant to beauty but wasn’t only coming from the beauty industry itself,” she explains. “It’s about connecting the dots, which I’ve always done in my consulting practice.”

 Whether she’s developing content for the site or advising a new beauty brand, Kovack pulls from her current experience as a business owner (she is one of the founding members of cult fragrance brand Odin) as well as her past life at Bliss when the startup burst onto the scene in 1996 by breaking all the rules. “I started the catalog with Marcia [Kilgore] and fell in love with the psychology of beauty from a business standpoint,” she says. “We were young, we were in New York, we didn’t know any better, and we just went with our gut instincts and did things. As archaic as it sounds now, selling beauty in a catalog was a revolutionary idea at the time. I can’t tell you how many times I was told no and that you can’t sell skincare, fragrance, or color [cosmetics] through a catalog.”

 Fast-forward 24 years and the brains behind Bliss pioneered the way we shop for beauty, with hard-copy catalogs ultimately shifting to digital platforms. In addition e-commerce, Kovack sees social media as another “tipping point” that allowed brands to create one-on-one relationships with consumers. That said, Kovack still believes building a “traditional brand foundation” with a strong point of difference is key to standing out in a sea of “sans serif sameness” and millennial pink. “There’s actually a term for this: blanding,” says Kovack. “I’ve seen so many millennial-style brands that look the same and have the same proposition, yet everyone thinks they are a disruptor. Some wheels just don’t need to be reinvented. They are round. They already work.”

Here, Kovack explains which brands are getting it right and why the oral care space is the next “sexy and cool” frontier.

Her future beauty predictions:

Dentist appointments are getting upgraded: “Beauty and wellness have already joined forces, but now were seeing the merging of healthcare and beauty. Startups like Parsley Health and Tend are redefining what an office visit to a medical professional looks like—and it doesn’t involve a weird waiting room with old magazines. It’s sexy and cool. Everything is personalized. The Tend location in New York City offers Bose headphones. Your x-rays go up on a big tv screen—which is frightening—but dentists can show you where the problems are and how to fix them. They take a very consultative approach. There’s also an obvious retail opportunity. Of course Tend is going to launch their own oral care line. Why wouldn’t they? People are thinking holistically about beauty, wellness, and health.”

 40 is the new 20: “There’s been so much focus on the millennial consumer for such a long time and I think there’s a huge opportunity to [speak to] the people on the edges—like women who are 40 to 50-plus. We have a lot of money and we want to spend it…I think we're going to start seeing more luxury skincare launches because I think the older consumer has an appreciation for that and has an appetite for the price points that come along with it. Augustinus Bader did it and they are killing it. I also think luxury brands are going to be the ones that unlock refillable packaging in a way that gets traction because executing it in a way that’s interesting is expensive. Personally, I can’t wait to get the new Hermès lipstick.”

 Demographics are dead: “There are people behind the data and brands need to figure out who their people are. Age and geography don’t matter so much as figuring out who is in your tribe. In order for brands to fully maximize their tribe, they need to take a cross-generational approach. Brands who put teams together where the generations mesh and work cohesively will be powerful.”

My beauty mantra is to always be looking. I believe in finding the beauty around you. Beauty isn’t so linear.

Her daily routine: “It's really pretty simple, but definitely very skincare heavy. In the morning, I usually don’t wash my face, but I'll put on either a serum or an oil followed by foundation. I like Zelens’ Youth Concentrate Serum and Ilia’s True Skin Serum Foundation. Then I’ll apply mascara, eyebrow pencil, and maybe some lipstick. Shu Uemura is the only eyebrow pencil I’ve ever used and I’m obsessed with it.”

 Her ride-or-die  beauty product: “It has to be the Makeup Forever Aqua Lip Waterproof Lip Liner Pencil. I literally have it with me all the time in case I have to go to an event or an important meeting. I might be delusional, but I feel like a red lip is a fast and easy way to pull [yourself] together.”

Her signature scent: “I’m most proud of [fragrance] 12 from Odin because I had to fight for it. There are three of us who develop fragrance and we all come to the table with ideas. If one of us truly believes a scent is a winner then usually we agree to launch it. Number 12 was that for me.”

 Her biggest beauty indulgence: “A very expensive facial! In New York I got to Yelena Royzen. She was one of the first aestheticians at Bliss, so I’ve known her a long time. She developed a facial that features a caviar mask. It’s literal caviar in essential oils, so not for vegans, but it’s unbelievable! Her facials also incorporate microdermabrasion and oxygen. In LA, I go to Mila Moursi. She has a two-hour treatment that includes a facial and massage. Her technique involves dry contouring and sculpting to lift and firm without using machines. After you experience it, you’re incapable of doing anything because you’re so relaxed.”

 Her go-to beauty pros: “I’m a huge fan of Jin Soon and her girls. I’m a regular visitor to her spas. JINsoon Abyss is my absolute go-to. I wear it constantly. I also love Dr. Shirley Madhère. Ocean McDaeth at Art + Autonomy Salon is my hair pro, but she’s also my niece!”

 Her biggest beauty mistake: “I feel like when you work in the beauty industry and you have to try or develop product, mistakes happen on a fairly regular basis. The most recent one happened when I was road-testing a foundation oil. Since it’s cold in New York and my skin is dry, I put on a regular face oil and put the foundation oil on after. I had foundation sliding all over my face all day long. It was an absolute disaster.”

Her beauty icon: “Diana Vreeland. She embodies what beauty is for me. It's non-traditional. It's smart. It has a sense of humor. It takes risks. Even though she's a fashion icon, I think she is also a beauty icon with her red lip. She owned her beauty. She wouldn't be considered a traditional beauty by any stretch of the imagination, but she was a stunning woman. Her strength and ability to articulate what she felt was beautiful in her world was amazing.”

Her ultimate escape: “A real retreat for me is the Lake District in England because it's rugged and the internet is spotty, which I love! You don't have to worry about putting on makeup or having your hair done. It's all about hiking and exploring. I can be there for two or three days and feel completely restored. I literally bring sunscreen and that's it.”

Her dream vanity raid: “Makeup artist Fiona Stiles. I've had the pleasure of meeting her a few times and she's an amazing person. I also love how she organizes her kit. She's forever taking things out and putting them in palettes. There is a scientific precision to the way she organizes a massive amount of product.”

 Her beauty mantra: “My beauty mantra is to always be looking. I believe in finding the beauty around you. Beauty isn’t so linear. For example, doing meditation can make you look and feel more beautiful because you aren’t so stressed. It’s about looking for those moments that inspire beauty or help you take care of yourself.”

Written by Amber Kallor

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