New York Times beauty columnist Bee Shapiroâs pregnancy was the motivation for cleaning up her beauty routine and eventually led to the birth of her own fragrance line. Research led her to the conclusion that natural doesnât always mean clean when it comes to perfumes and launching the Ellis Brooklyn line has been a voyage of discovery.
As far as dream roles in the beauty industry go â if forced to choose, most beauty enthusiasts would have trouble picking between beauty editor or fragrance house founder. But having to forgo one career path for the other has never been an issue for Bee Shapiro. In fact, it was Shapiroâs position as a beauty columnist at The New York Times that helped awaken her passion for perfume.
Pregnancy is often a catalyst for change when it comes to what we put on and into our bodies. Shapiro was no different, except her impending pregnancy also gave birth to an idea that would grow into her now-coveted fragrance line, Ellis Brooklyn. Shapiro says that prior to falling pregnant with her first child, she didnât bother considering whether ingredients were clean at all â she would instead pick her skincare solely on results.
âI started with my body care first,â Shapiro says. âI thought since the lotion we slather all over our bodies is actually covering such a greater surface area than our face alone that it was the right place to start.â While cleaning up her routine, Shapiro was faced with a fragrance fanatics nightmare: having to give up your long-adored scents because of their questionable ingredients.
Beauty editors tend to have a vast array of the latest fragrances at their disposal, yet Shapiro struggled to find anything that fit her new clean routine. Rather than give up fragrance entirely, Shapiro was inspired to create Ellis Brooklyn â her own clean fragrance house that aligned with her personal needs and desires.
Even armed with a little black book filled with insiders in the beauty world, Shapiro admits that getting the brand off the ground was initially tricky. âHere I was, the New York Times beauty columnist, and not having a single perfume house write me back.â Shapiro says it was a humbling, character-building experience for her.
Today, things are different she says.âItâs much, much easier to have a perfume house really dig deep on sustainability measures and safety profiles,â Shapiro explains. âItâs changed so tremendously and for the better, but when we first started, it was all very opaque.â
Founding and developing Ellis Brooklyn also opened up Shapiroâs eyes to the natural versus synthetic debate that rages on in the beauty world. âI actually originally wanted to start a 100 per cent natural line,âsays Shapiro. But while attending initial fragrance development meetings and talking with perfume makers while pregnant, Shapiro quickly learnt that natural materials arent always the safest choices when formulating products.
âEssentials oilsand other natural scent ingredients are highly volatile and very irritating so I pivoted.â She says that while it was an aneye-opening moment for her, it also made a lot of sense. âInstead of focusing on 100 per cent natural I focused on safety because after all thatâs why we’re all looking for clean products.â
CLEAN AND GREEN
Back in 2014, âcleanâ beauty was only just emerging; today itâs arguably one of the beauty worldâs biggest buzzwords. But deciphering what clean really means isnât always easy. Shapiro agrees that today clean has become a very broad term.
She says for Ellis Brooklyn clean is about safety and looking at real science.âOur baseline is that weâre a globally compliant brand,â she says. âThat means right when weâre developing, weâre looking at the existing laws and research that many countries or regions have already done and are actively monitoring.â
From there, Shapiro says they have a âno-noâ list of questionable ingredients that are not banned, but if you look at the science maybe they’re not the most ideal option. She says that allergen-free perfume options are also a passion of hers. âWe recently released a molecule scent, Iso Gamma Super, that is allergen free and made with green chemistry and is completely renewable.â
As for ânaturalâ ingredients and preconceived ideas that natural is always best, Shapiro believes itâs just human nature that we make such assumptions.âAside from being from ânatureâ, the word also conjures up the idea of ease. Whereas âsyntheticâ sounds very foreign and often we are afraid of the foreign even if we have been using some safe synthetics for years,â she adds.
However, as Shapiro explains the irony is that today the line between synthetics and natural ingredients has become more blurry than ever before. Thereâs another pertinent reason we need to challenge the myth that natural products are always best. Certain natural raw materials arenât always the environmentally friendly choice in the fragrance world.
For Shapiro and her Ellis Brooklyn team they ensure that every material is sourced sustainably and abides by the Convention on international Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. âOn top of that, when weâre in the process of scent development I always actively ask our perfume houses what new ingredients they are working on that have a better environmental impact,â she says. âThere is so much going on in the world of biotech that is truly pushing sustainability forward in completely new ways that are exciting.â
FROM THE HEART
Thereâs also the fact that for someone to wear a fragrance, it has to smell good too. Shapiro works closely with a perfumer rather than a team. âI prefer it this way because if I brought in marketing or an evaluator [someone who helps a perfumer create things that are, to put it straightforwardly, likeable], I feel like Iâm being swayed by someones opinion that probably has less to do with an amazing scent than it is rehashing what is already out there,â she says.
âI’ve been reviewing products for The NewYork Times for the last 12 years or so. Iâve seen a lot of lines come across my desk and I think to have a truly genuine, heartfelt process to scent development, it takes time.â
Trends, she says, are not of interest to her. âIâm into the idea that we’re releasing a scent because itâs so terrific and compelling that I feel I need to share this with the world.â Shapiro says there are only two scents in the line that she wouldnât wear because theyâre not really her. âWhen I smell the fragrances, I do like them and I remember when releasing them that this is for so-and-so in my life, so I had a very clear direction who I was envisioning,âshe explains.
âBut interestingly enough those are a couple of our worst-selling scents. Since then, I wonât release something that I canât see myself wearing. The nice part is that I have a varied scent appetite so it works out.â
As for balancing motherhood with running a flourishing fragrance brand and writing her Skin Deep column for the New York Times, she says itâs an idea she gave up on a while ago. âI think of my life more in the sense of priorities and I try to get as much done as I can,âshe says.
âLately, Iâm trying to let go a little bit of my Type A-ness and just try to feel good about what I have done in a day,â she adds. âRunning a business, the work never ends so this was my way of making peace with all the pressures. Ellis Brooklyn will always be a passion for me, but I also want to make sure thatIâm not missing out on the best moment in life!”