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Bee Shapiro of Ellis Brooklyn

The New York Times beauty writer on why she decided to craft conscious fragrances, the top three lessons she’s learnt in her career and the beauty products she’s coveting.

A mother of two, author (her first book, “Skin Deep” launched in October 2017) and beauty columnist for The New York Times, Bee Shapiro is a true-blue multi-hyphenate. But there’s more: The Brooklyn native is also the founder of an editor-friendly luxury fragrance and lifestyle brand named Ellis Brooklyn.

Named after her first daughter and favourite borough, Bee teamed up with Jérôme Epinette of Byredo fame to blend scents that passed her own stringent specifications. With almost a decade at the Times — testing every product under the sun, getting daily deliveries of every kind of product one could think of and witnessing countless brands overlook conscious packaging and formulating — Bee decided to carve out her own niche in the oversaturated marketplace.

At the “baseline”, Bee settled for nothing less than phthalates-free, paraben-free, cruelty-free and eco-friendly formulations. Out of love for fragrances, she started from there before branching out into body care and candles. Going further, Bee partnered with vendors who shared her vision by only using recycled, lead-free glass, as well as FSC-certified, Green Seal-certified paper stock for the packaging.

Three years since, Ellis Brooklyn is now stocked at Sephora, Mecca Beauty, Barneys New York, Net-a-Porter and other retailers that budding beauty companies can only dream of being stocked in. But don’t expect Bee to push her products out like an assembly line. “Each launch of ours should have the potential to be a bestseller”, she says. What does that entail? Well, Bee knows best.

“For every product I create, I’m measuring myself and the product against all that I’ve tried.”

Why fragrances, and why did you decide to make them phthalates-free, paraben-free, cruelty-free and eco-friendly?

Of all the beauty categories I’ve covered for The New York Times, I find fragrance the most fascinating. It’s part of our lives in so many ways. Almost everything we use — detergent, lipsticks, blush and so much more — might be scented and also so powerful. There’s no stronger association with our memories, for example.

As much as I love fragrance, I also saw that luxury perfume brands weren’t doing anything to make the category more responsible, safer and more transparent. I think the baseline for all beauty products should be phthalates-free, paraben-free, cruelty-free and eco-friendly. That’s why I started down the path of creating Ellis Brooklyn.

As a beauty writer, what were the top three things you took from your experiences and put towards launching Ellis Brooklyn?

The most important experience I brought is how picky I am. Having tried products for nine years and counting (!) for The New York Times, you really come across a ton of amazing things. For every product I create, I’m measuring myself and the product against all that I’ve tried.

I think it’s also key for a brand founder to be continually innovating and adapting. I’ve seen many brands over the years launch with a smashing, buzzy debut, only to fizzle out later. It’s one thing that I always think about when I launch the next product. There are so many products out there now that each launch of ours should have the potential to be a bestseller.

And I’ve learned through my editor job that a brand can’t be everything. One of the exciting things about beauty is all the fun, gorgeous brands to explore.

A brand should offer something very much within its own vision and DNA. With so much chatter and information out there, I have to remind myself of that.

Ellis Brooklyn Scents

What does beauty mean to you?

Beauty is a complex, multi-layered thing. For women especially, we’ve been judged on our beauty for eons. I think it’s dismissive to not recognise that and how as humans, we are visual creatures. On the other hand, I hope that we’re at a place that for a woman to succeed or do well in life, she doesn’t have to depend on her beauty. Now that I have young daughters, I continually think about how to address this because beauty can often be seen as frivolous. So it’s not a straight answer here but beauty is all of the above. I prefer personally to think of beauty products as a way to make do with what I was born with and to have fun.

What are three of your favourite organic beauty brands, their products, and why?

Aside from Ellis Brooklyn? I actually care a bit less about whether something is organic or not (although it’s a huge plus!) than the overall impact they’re making with their formulas. I think Kahina is a beautiful body care brand with a great sustainability programme. I also like Marie Veronique for skincare and there’s a very affordable product line out there called Skinfix that have effective, natural formulas.

Tell us about your skincare and hair care routines.

I am always reviewing products for the Times, which is perfectly fine by me because I am a product junkie! I am currently loving the Virtue shampoos and Miriam Quevedo Extreme Caviar Conditioner Balm. I also love Miriam’s Glacial White Caviar Hydra-Pure Shampoo. It’s so good, I don’t even need to use a conditioner with it! For flyaways, I use the Christophe Robin Moisturizing Cream. This one is not clean beauty, but Oribe really does make amazing styling products. I recently tested this spray wax that they are about to launch and it’s amazing! It gives you that rocker, second-day hair thing.

For skincare, it’s a mix of clean products — and not because I’m often testing so I’ll just highlight the ones that I have liked a lot lately. The Skinfix Foaming Clay Cleanser is so good — just the right amount of oil control without any of the tightness. The Elemis Superfood Superfood Facial Oil is divine and this is coming from someone who is not an oil person. It’s hydrating and soaks in nicely.

Before a flight, I’ll put on the AmorePacific Time Response Skin Renewal Sleeping Masque. It’s a sleeping mask but it’s like a heavy cream that really protects. For under-eye, I was impressed by the Elemis Pro-Collagen Eye Renewal. I used the entire container, which is high praise coming from a beauty editor. That is one category I haven’t found an entirely clean option; eye care is tough.

If my skin is on the fritz, I default to Avène products which always calms everything down. The Cicalfate cream is a lifesaver. The A-OXitive Antixoxidant Defense Serum is very good too. I also do a ton of masks. Some of my favourites include the SkinCeuticals Biocellulose Restorative Masque, Glow Recipe Watermelon Glow Sleeping Mask and the Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask (although I found it works better on me if I rinse it off with water instead of tissuing it off like they recommend). The m-61 Fast Blast Facial mask with vitamin C is awesome too. I pop it in the morning before I jump in the shower. You only need two minutes — a win/win for a busy mama!

What does your favourite scent smell like?

One of the perks of creating Ellis Brooklyn is that I created scents for myself with an amazing perfumer. That would be Ellis Brooklyn MYTH, which is an ambrette musk. It’s soft, inviting and somewhat subtle, which to me, living in a crowded city, is my usual preference.

Where do you take inspiration from?

I take a lot of inspiration from nature. I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle and I spent my childhood playing in the woods down the street. For me, getting back to nature, whether it’s trails, the beach or desert is revitalising.

What is your ultimate dream for Ellis Brooklyn?

I would love to grow the brand and see it in all the retailers I admire but I also want to influence the beauty packaging industry for the better. I am very much against plastics, which is a huge problem for the environment but is in the majority of beauty products. If there are brands like Ellis Brooklyn pushing the packaging manufacturers towards better options, then perhaps we’ll see some innovation there.

What does conscious beauty mean to you?

To me it means taking the entire product as a whole. Yes, beauty is fun but being conscious suggests an awareness with what you’re using, what you’re standing behind and putting your time in. I think today’s consumer already shops like this. With all the options out there, why shouldn’t they ask for and demand everything they want?

Myth by Ellis Brooklyn

Images courtesy of Whitney Pavlas; Liz Strupat