Written by A Wild Dove | Photographed by Caitlin Mitchell
She made her name as a beauty columnist at the New York Times and author of Skin Deep, but Bee Shapiro is spreading her wings in many ways, most recently as the creator of Ellis Brooklyn, our favorite sustainable fragrance and skincare brand. To say that her writing has served her passion would be an understatement. “I'm always trying product, which is a lot of the fun of the job, but it's also made me very conscious of what I'm putting on,” says Bee. About four years ago, she noticed a change in the industry, where skincare, haircare and cosmetic companies were becoming more aware of clean ingredients, but this exciting transformation wasn’t taking place in fragrance. That’s where Bee saw an opening. As a huge fragrance fan, and mama-to-be, she leapt at the opportunity to make a positive impact, and thus Ellis Brooklyn (and, in the process, two girls) were born. Some of our favorite scents include the illustrious Myth and seductive Rrose and the velvety Verb Excellent Body Milk is oh-so good post bath. Read on for Bee’s take on sustainability, “balance,” and her penchant for religious masking.
We are huge fans of Ellis Brooklyn. Tell us, how has the brand evolved since the beginning and where do you see it going?
It's definitely evolved! At the beginning, we didn't set out necessarily to be a sustainable company. But if you're talking about naturals, this is stuff that is growing from the earth. There are real people and locations involved. As I started working with my perfumer and packaging companies, I realized that you can't be for naturals and safety and responsibility in formulation and not also be sustainable. We're planning on making more pushes in the industry for sustainable sourcing going forward.
We love that. Can you speak to the idea of growing a business from scratch? What have been some of the pitfalls? Surprises?
I bootstrapped the business which is not for the faint of heart. I knew it wasn't the easiest way to do things but I also knew, being a long time beauty writer, I didn't want to compromise on our products. This allowed me unfettered control. The pitfalls were packaging. Packaging can be so tough! I had no idea you could literally be researching packaging for years.
Who knew?!? What is the ingredient and fragrance process like? Do you have any favorite notes or scents?
I have so many favorite notes. I love the notes that surprise you like Tuberose, Patchouli and Oud. They can almost be repelling but there's also something so intriguing, beautiful and, as the French perfumers like to say, "carnal" about them. When I'm creating a fragrance with the perfumer, I actually tailor the process to who I'm working with. Each person works differently so I want to be able to get the best work I can. For example, with Jerome Epinette, it's starting with very specific references and comparisons and then taking it to a different level. With Pascal Gaurin, who I worked with on our Fawn fragrance coming out in April, he's very into music so I sent him a description plus a song to listen to.
So cool..and how do you balance the business with your writing?
I'm not sure there is a thing in life as balance. I instead think of it as making the most of every day I have. That could mean working intensely for 8 hours straight or that could also mean taking an hour out to take my 1 year old to gym class and picking up my 3 year old from school. If we're talking about straight hours worked, I'd say my writing takes about 30% of my time now and Ellis Brooklyn about 70%. The company has grown a tremendous amount in the last year.
What's your therapy?
Masks and baths! I truly do a ton of masks. I fit them in whenever I can. Sleeping masks, in shower masks, masks right before bed—you name it. I also make time for exercise because I find I'm a better person when I workout at least 3 times a week. If I'm really spoiling myself, I'll go take a tennis lesson. I played tennis in high school and it's my favorite activity.
How has having children informed your work ethic? Values?
It's made me ask for more at work. Before, I was not a good negotiator. I didn't have that confidence to ask for more so I always low-balled my own asks. Now I always think, well if this is going to take time away from my kids, this better be worth it. It's really paid off. My career has been infinitely better since having kids.
And we always have to ask, what makes you fly?
Fly off the handle or just fly? Ha! Though I have a pretty settled existence with my family and work, I am a nomad by heart. I love planning vacations—especially those that are just my husband and me! They come very rarely, but the whole process from planning to going is delicious and exciting.