Alexandra Whitcombe is the creator and visionary behind Vendome Beaute. A New York City native, modeling and ballet were her among her early passions as she attended the prestigious High School Of Art & Design. Years in the floral industry taught Alexandra the essence of nature and its inextricable connection to beauty. Vendome Beaute is the product of Alexandra’s background, her worldliness, and her scientific awareness. She personally sources materials from the highest-quality local vendors in Switzerland, France and Italy to create a cosmetics line that is technologically-engineered to make women look and feel beautiful.
Downtown caught up with Alexandra for some Q&A to learn about what it is like to run a successful yet growing beauty company. Prior to running Vendome, Alexandra was known as “The Rose Queen” as the owner of the Chelsea-based Trellis Fine Florals. Alexandra is on Twitter as @AlixAstir, while Vendome can be followed on Twitter via @VendomeDeParis. Vendome products can be purchased via its website: www.vendomebeautefrance.com.
You were born and raised in New York. What is it that keeps you here all these years later?
Alexandra Whitcombe: I am a true New Yorker, and loyal to my hometown. Not to mention that everything I need is right here! Although my heart belongs to New York City, I’ve been afflicted with a bit of wanderlust most of my life, and strayed a few times. I love to travel and have lived abroad. But like Dorothy in The Wizard Of Oz, one day you wake up and you realize you have everything you ever wanted right under your nose the whole time, and you go through a renewed and deep appreciation of your hometown. I absolutely adore New York City and don’t see myself living anywhere else. I am addicted to the excitement and vibrant cultural and art world. New York is my home.
Vendome Beaute is a New York-based company. Given how expensive it can be to do business in New York, did you ever think of basing the company elsewhere?
AW: No, it has never entered my mind to do business elsewhere. We do have a base and office in Rennes, France. We are definitely a Franco-American Company! However, I always knew the central nervous system of the company would be in New York. Although New York City is expensive, I believe New York affords us a level of prestige and respect not found elsewhere. There are also unique resources and opportunities that are available by having a New York City headquarters.
Some of your products are sourced in Europe. What happens in the New York office of Vendome?
AW: Our New York office is the creative force behind the brand. The atmosphere in the office is fun; we are constantly laughing and having a good time as we work. My personal philosophy is if it’s not fun, don’t do it. I’ll stop doing this if it ever stops being fun. For now, all of our products are from Europe, and have a deep French influence. Today, 98% of our collection is curated and made in France. The New York office serves as the idea machine, where we generate the creative concepts that become the products.
What inspired you to launch Vendome?
AW: Prior to launching Vendome, I owned a floral business, which was the catalyst for Vendome. I wanted to create a beauty brand that used color and botanicals to offer women something new in cosmetics. The use of botanicals in skincare was common, but makeup didn’t incorporate florals. I realized that the beautiful aromas and essential oils from the flowers could be infused into makeup as well. I worked with a lab to help develop my recipes, and soon Vendome Beaute was born. The name “Vendome” came from the place where my French husband proposed to me on New Year’s Eve, so the company is influenced by the happiness and emotions of that magical night.
Is there a Vendome product that you are most proud of?
AW: Right now I am in love with my three well palettes. We created eight unique palettes of highly-pigmented, lush, long-lasting colors in charming, collectable boxes. Each of the eight palette boxes are designed with an image reflecting a different moment in a Vendome Girl’s life. The packaging evokes a modern take on the classic French scenes we have come to adore. I dare you not to fall in love with them!
What is coming up for Vendome? New product lines? Collaborations?
AW: It’s a very exciting time for us. Our line of 28 lip colors will be here for Spring 2017, as well as a gel-based foundations infused with fragrant and hydrating rose water. Additionally, our plumping concealer pen will be launched Summer of 2017. I am constantly sourcing new ingredients and designing products, and hope to have even more new products in the near future.
What do you think makes Vendome so different from other beauty-oriented companies?
AW: In my opinion, we are very different in our look and approach. Vendome Beaute is full of charm, whimsy, and humor. We are a lifestyle, a way of being in the world.
Has your experiences from owning Trellis Fine Florals help with Vendome? Or are flowers and beauty products entirely different fields?
AW: No, they cross over. Make up and beauty relies on biology, flowers, herbs and fauna as ingredients. From the time of the ancient Egyptians grinding down lapis lazuli to modern times, women have been continually searching for ways to make themselves feel better and look better. I decided to create Vendome Beaute because I had a vision of a brand that incorporated the science of flowers into color.
I know that you attended the High School of Art and Design. Did you always know that you would be working within fashion and beauty? There was no Plan B?
AW: No, not at all. I was a writer and I always thought I’d be the author of the next great American Classic. Right now I am working on a beauty book for Vendome Beaute. It’s a beautiful workbook for all of the #MissVedomes out there that can’t get enough of our brand and really take the lifestyle to heart and really want to understand our philosophy. The book will feature gorgeous art, snippets of advice, wisdom, anecdotes, and history and how our products are best used.
Is there something you haven’t yet accomplished but still hope to at some point?
AW: Within the next two years we looking to launch our skincare line and first Eau de Toilette.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
AW: Sailing and skiing are two of my passions. I have been sailing since the age of eight. If I am not sailing/racing; I am skiing. If I’m not doing either of those, I really love to keep tabs on the art and antique scene in Manhattan. I’m addicted to collecting Georgian, Regency and Biedermeier Antiques. I never know when and where inspiration will strike for Vendome Beaute, I once created packaging based off of an embroidered silk work from the 1700s. Our lip balm was created when I had chapped lips while skiing in Chamonix.
Are there any upcoming events that you have tickets to? Concerts? Places in New York you plan on going during the holiday season?
AW: I just saw the Danish singer MØ at Terminal 5. She was amazing. Her music is sublime. She’s a true artist. She is unique, refreshing and different. I really respect and appreciate that with artists.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
AW: Eating out is one of my favorite past times. I will never turn away good food! And, NYC has plenty of that. I love Greek food and so Kellari Tavern on 44th Street has amazing Greek food. And they treat you like long-lost family when you go in, which I am; my mother’s name is Papadopoulos. And I also love Philippe on 60th.
Finally, Alexandra, any last words for the kids?
AW: A lot of people throw around the word “entrepreneur like” it is a job title, but starting your own company is very different for starting a new job. I didn’t set out to become an “entrepreneur.” I had an idea and it turned into this amazing journey where Vendome Beaute became a beauty brand. There was more work involved than I ever imagined, and there were times when I thought I’d never reach my goals. What got me through it, and kept me going, was the incredible people who helped me along the way. Many simply business associates who went out of their way to give extra guidance and support. These people were New Yorkers. We often get a bad rap, but honestly, there isn’t a more supportive place to start a business.