An Interview With Ellis Brooklyn Founder Bee Shapiro
Anja Tyson | Thursday November 9th 2017
BEE SHAPIRO is a New York Times beauty contributor, the author of the newly published collection Skin Deep, and the founder of Ellis Brooklyn, a luxurious, sustainable, chemical-free line of skincare and perfume. She has coerced the beauty routines out of some of the most sought after stars, and today, by some stroke of luck, she has agreed to the tables being turned to hear about her for a change – her tips, her tricks, and what it is to be a female entrepreneur in the world of clean beauty.
When I first met Bee, she was newly arrived to New York with a Georgetown law degree and an assignment curating contemporary art collections for private clients. The ease with which she moved through the fashion and art worlds was inspiring, and it’s not difficult, looking back, to see how launching her own internationally-acclaimed beauty line was almost predestined. Bee’s most prevalent qualities of grace and confidence are the invisible attributes we hope to be infused in any beauty product.
Her story, below.
Born in Taipei, Taiwan, Grew up outside of Seattle in Federal Way, Wash.
Currently residing in
When and why did you move to New York?
I moved to New York for a law job—I was an attorney for a year if you can believe it—but really it was because I always wanted to be here. I had watched Felicity and dreamed of going to NYU as undergrad but that didn’t happen. So when I finished law school, I beelined for NYC.
How did you find yourself specifically writing about beauty? Were you always drawn to it?
It was luck and fate! I actually set out to be a fashion, pop culture, lifestyle writer. Beauty was something I always loved but not something I thought about covering. Then about less than a year in of writing at the New York Times Style Section, the beauty columnist decamped for the Travel section for her dream job. I was the youngest writer in the section at the time and no one else wanted the column. I was probably the last person they approached! I’m so glad they did though because I have fallen in love with beauty. Beauty can grow with you whereas with fashion, there are times where I don’t feel I’m part of the trends anymore.
Beauty is such an empowering element of personal style, and in your writing for the Times you always seem to capture your female subjects individuality so well. In all of your interviews, have you found one common most important part of any beauty routine?
I have yet to meet a single person who says they wouldn’t want nicer skin. Maybe they have a great complexion to begin with but there is still all the fun of testing out products that make a difference. K-Beauty is really great about making skincare fun. Also, you can load on all the makeup you want, but skin will always be in.
Can you tell us a little bit (or everything) about your beauty routine?
I am that person whose beauty routine is always changing because I’m constantly testing out new products. I do love all the super lightweight serums, essences etc. that are out there right now. When I was growing up, it was either a heavy cream, or slightly lighter cream. Then came the early gel formulas which could be sticky. Now there are so many formulations and transformational type products (like water creams and oil to gel formulas) that it’s mind blowing and super exciting. For nighttime, I like oils such as Vintner’s Daughter for face and Tammy Fender lavender body oil or Uma body oil. For day, I’ve been trying out and really liking the Innisfree range—specifically the intensive hydrating serum. The whole range is so affordable! Nerium has a great cleanser—the double wash one.
I do have to always put on a brow before I go out. I wish I had Lily Collins’ brows but alas it’s not in the cards. I actually have to use two different eyebrow pencils to make it relatively full. I use one for filling in (Benefit Goof Proof) and another for definition (the Dior Universal Brow Styler or the Jane Iredale super thin pencil). I also almost always have some sort of highlighter on. I know you have to be careful with not going overboard, but I just love it. It’s so flattering. RMS has good ones as does Giorgio Armani. CoverFX has really cool drops when you really want to get your glow on. Kevyn Aucoin has a really finely milled pigment so it can be very subtle.
I also never the leave the house in the morning without some sort of fragrance. I made Myth from Ellis Brooklyn, my own line, for myself so that’s usually what I’m wearing. It’s a beautiful white musk that’s perfect for running around the city. It’s unique and pretty and definitely there, but it’s not projecting out and too sweet and all the things that can be too stereotypical in fragrances.
Any amazing insider tricks you can share with us?
If you love loads of mascara, like me, then I learned from makeup artists that you have to wiggle the wand as you apply. You wedge the wand into your lash line and wiggle your way out. It feels kind of funny at first but it definitely makes a thorough coating.
I had little breakouts and skin texture issues and Dr. Dennis Gross told me that if I’m going to workout in the morning, I should actually wash my face and apply oil-free moisturizer before I work out. When you workout, your pores open so you want to make sure you don’t have any dirt or other things clogging them.
What inspired you to launch Ellis Brooklyn?
It was a classic problem-solution situation in that I loved perfumes, but was pregnant and couldn’t find any safe, beautiful options. It was either Whole Foods essential oils or your classic fragrance brands. I did very diligently try the WF type options but just was never fully happy with them.
The line has grown so quickly! The American beauty market is very engaged with natural beauty brands right now. As you launch globally with all of these amazing partners, do you find the same to be true worldwide?
Even two years ago, you’d find that certain countries or regions were more into it than others. For example, perhaps Australian customers were more into the naturals or clean conscious beauty category than Russian ones. But I actually feel the baseline is shifting globally now. I think everyone, no matter where they are located, want a safer option. I do think there are different expectations though for what customers want to get out of their products. So maybe a customer in Dubai does want a safer option but she also doesn’t want to sacrifice on glamour and luxury. It’s an interesting and positive shift.
Aside from the natural formulas, the scents themselves are amazing. How do you get inspired to launch a new scent?
The scents are all inspired by something writerly or in literature. Being a writer day in and out, I wanted it as true or authentic to me. From there, other influences are folded in. Perhaps it’s a film scene or a song that fleshes out the idea even more. It also depends on who you’re working with. I recently started working with a new perfumer, Pascal Gaurin, and he really responds to music. So sometimes I send him a song via Soundcloud.
Where is your favorite place in the world to travel to for inspiration?
Southeast Asia. I think of Bali, of Thailand, of those kinds of places. The smells of everyday life and the natural flora and fauna are intoxicating.
You are raising two gorgeous tiny daughters, who will one day probably realize how lucky they are to have an actual beauty expert for a mom. What are your thoughts on young girls’ relationship to beauty products? Do you remember your own entry into beauty products when you were a young girl?
I think about it all the time. It’s crazy how much they are watching and picking up. In some ways, it’s unstoppable. My 14 month old, Sky, snatched a lipstick the other day and made to put it on her lips. How did she even know? I think taking care of your skin and having a good cleansing regimen is important at any age, but I am hoping to hold off any color makeup until they are in middle school. I hope I can steer them in a lighthanded way although I was completely guilty of wearing nothing when I left the house but then overdoing the eyeliner and lip liner (this was the 90s!) when I got to school.
Favorite places to shop for new products?
I love the excitement of Sephora. The stores are built for play and fun and experimentation with very little judgment. Credo is this wonderfully warm place and there are such a variety of terrific indie brands that are doing amazing things. And then I just love a great local shop like Shen Beauty in Brooklyn. They seem to be always first in bringing in cool new brands.
Products you rely on (aside from your own):
Omorovicza sunscreeen is the best mineral option I’ve ever tried. For second best, Skinceuticals or the Ever radiance sunscreen are both very good. You can usually find the IT Cosmetics CC+ powder or cream in my makeup bag.
You’re a married working mom of two in New York – what do you do to look after your inner beauty? Do you have any self-care rituals? Wellness routines? Crazy diets? How do you always look so youthful and rested??
It’s funny because a little while ago, it seemed everyone I knew that didn’t have young kids was on the Whole 30 diet. The truth is I used to be more concerned about what I eat and in a refreshing way, I just don’t have time to overthink it anymore. I do try to eat all the food groups in a balanced way. I do try to not drink too much wine. I think it’s important to fit in workouts whenever you can. Even breaking a sweat for 30 minutes helps so much with stress. I would love to be able to sleep more, but that’s not much up to me anymore. My husband and I joke that we do not breed good sleepers. When it’s really bad, a simple sheet mask can do wonders as a quick pick-me up.
Can you tell us a bit about your style? Do you have any go-to designers in your life or places you love to shop?
In my dream world, my closet would be half Altuzarra and half Ulla Johnson. Altuzarra would be for when I want to feel fashion-y, pulled together and sharp and then Ulla Johnson for those days when I still want to feel dressed up but not overly so. The pieces are so romantic and gorgeous yet still comfortable. In real life, I am usually in a dress if I’m doing work meetings and in jeans, striped tee and a bomber jacket when I’m chasing after my little ones. I also fill in the gaps with Zara. I’m that New York person who either shops online, usually at Net-a-Porter, Moda Operandi, Fwrd, Revolve, or I go to a sample sale or two of the brands I love and clean up.
I’m super focused on Ellis Brooklyn. I want to bring fun, freshness and also responsibility to fragrance. And I want to tell better stories. For so long it was these super silly fragrance ads that were just about sex and perfection. And yes, while sex obviously still sells, I think there is more to be said about where these beautiful ingredients come from and what is possible from a clean technology standpoint. I’m also over perfection. I think there’s a way to be aspirational without resorting to making people feel less-than. The strive for perfection is overrated. Why not have fun instead?
Photos courtesy of Ellis Brooklyn.