As a correspondent for WFIT, it was an honor to interview former Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) graduate and the Founder of Essie Cosmetics, Essie Weingarten at the Baker School of Business and Technology Dean’s Forum.
The saying goes, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…. well, not so much for Essie’s success story. In 1981 Weingarten jetted to Las Vegas with $10,000 she had saved from working and 12 colors of polish. She gambled that Las Vegas would be the perfect place to launch her business because there were dancers, cocktail waitresses, showgirls, and card dealers who had disposable income and needed to look polished and put together. There were less than a hundred salons there, but Weingarten sold door-to-door, was persistent, and acquired every hotel beauty salon. Within a year, Essie was in 10,000 salons.
Back in the day there were a limited amount of nail polish colors and they didn’t have clever names on the bottom of each bottle -they were numbered. Weingarten was able to give nail polish a different spin with fashionable shades that “would go on like silk, but wear like iron”. She set out to find this formula by hiring a chemist who could develop her vision, and in the end, he created exactly what she wanted. With intriguing names like Sugar Daddy, Bikini So Teeney, and one of my favorite colors, Dressed to Kilt, Essie’s witty and fun titles are as important as their color. Weingarten’s business took off and watched Essie grow from an idea into a globally successful brand that has helped invent the industry as we know it today.
Fortunately, I got the opportunity to ask the nail polish queen all of my mani-related questions, advice, and about her journey from FIT student to entrepreneur.
1) What specific colors would you recommend for a job interview versus a night on the town?
Well, it depends on what area you are working in, if its finance or couture then I would like you to be conservative. I would wear the nail polish colors Ballet Slippers, Sugar Daddy, Mademoiselle, or a combination of both. And if you are going be in fashion I want you to be crazy, wild, and have fun… you can wear Wicked, Soul Mate, Russian Roulette, Lollipop, or Candy Apple.
2) What was your major at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT)?
I majored in Fashion Buying and Merchandising which I understand today is expanded to Fashion Merchandise Business which makes so much sense, I’m so sad that I don’t go to school now!
3) What was your first job once you graduated from FIT?
I worked for Geraldine Stutz at Henri Bendel which was a specialty store on 57th Street and was the ultimate boutique in New York.
4) Essie, you’re the perfect role model to me and anyone that wants to be successful. What words of wisdom do you have for individuals entering the professional world?
You have to work hard, no one’s just throwing money at you. Follow your dream and be persistent.
5) What was the moment that defined your career?
You know, I have so many… celebrities from A to Z, doesn’t matter if its Anjelica Huston to Renée Zellweger, I have been fortunate enough to have been able to touch all of these women.