It was a cold and dreary morning when I bumbled, disheveled and harried, into the Upper East Side location of Blushington — a beauty bar chain founded by Stephi Maron which aims to make makeup application accessible in a luxurious, highly curated format. “It takes the guesswork out of shopping,” explains Jessica Hill, the regional manager of Blushington for New York and Dallas who took me on a tour of the space. The Upper East Side spot is the fifth and most recent retail store in the chain, and is a model for how all stores will look going forward (including a Brentwood, California location opening this spring).
As Hill led me through the store, I was struck by the outlandish femininity of the place — every surface was covered in Blushington’s signature pink hue, from the walls to the vanities at each station. A column was covered in what appeared to be silver compacts. The effect was girlish, but not saccharine; luxurious, yet in a way that felt accessible.
Every feature in the store is carefully considered. The products for sale, which line the walls, have what Hill terms, “an open sale-and-go” system that allows customers to touch the products and take what they need. The mirrored stations are grouped together in groups of two or four, allowing for a feeling of intimacy, as if you were at your own vanity, but also anticipating the Mother-daughter and bridal shower parties that patronize Blushington in droves. There are outlets at each station with iphone and android cables stored in the drawers. According to Hill, the space is set to slightly cooler than room temperature, for better makeup application. The pop hits played softly in the background as Jessica escorted me to a mirrored station. I watched myself visibly relax as I passed a mirrored station.
The story of Blushington is a classic Jewish tale: it all began with a Bat Mitzvah. Stephi Maron and her family were having their hair done at their local Drybar for Maron’s sister’s Bat Mitzvah. After everyone’s hair was finished, the family turned to Maron — a self-confessed makeup addict who “was always into beauty” — and asked if she could do their makeup. Maron balked at the idea of doing the entire group’s makeup. As she thought through alternative options — a department store would hassle you into buying products you’ll likely never use again, a traditional makeup artist is extremely expensive — she realized that there were no affordable alternatives for having one’s makeup done. And so she decided to create an affordable destination with a celebrity-level personalized makeup experience.
So, at the age of 21, she decided to start Blushington (a portmanteau of “blush” and some of Maron’s favorite neighborhoods from her time studying abroad in London, such as Kensington and Lexington). From the beginning, Blushington was a family affair. But even though her sister, Nicki Maron, who used to do marketing for television and films like the Avengers, helped Stephi build the company, it took her a bit longer to dive headfirst into Stephi’s venture and commit to being there full-time. “About two years into the company, I realized that the best story in front of me was Blushington,” Nicki told me via Facetime. “So I jumped ship and I came in-house. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.” She’s now Blushington’s Chief Marketing Officer.
After I was seated in a chrome chair parked by one of Blushington’s expansive mirrored vanities, Natasha Cornstein, the CEO of Blushington, breezed in. Her blonde hair was perfectly coiffed and she spoke with a measured, practised air — a holdover, no doubt, of her years working as an Associate Producer at Fox News. Her enthusiasm for Blushington was palpable and infectious; as I sat with her, my skepticism (makeup does not look good on me) slowly dissipated and I found myself getting increasingly excited for the supposed miracle that was about to be applied to my face.
Cornstein’s introduction to Blushington happened because, as spokesperson for the jewelry brand Circa, Cornstein needed a headshot. She booked an appointment to get her makeup done at the original Blushington, located in West Hollywood. It was, in Cornstein’s telling, “love at first blush.”
“Everytime I get my makeup done, I don’t recognize myself,” Cornstein explains. But 30 minutes after she sat down in the chair, she found herself, “preening in the mirror, thinking I’m Heidi Klum.” Cornstein met the Maron family, and after three months of emailing back and forth she was hired as company President in January 2015. After a year and a half, in June of 2016, she was promoted to CEO (Stephi Maron vacated her CEO spot and assumed the tile of Founder and Chief Creative Officer of Blushington).
I asked Cornstein the obvious question: is Blushington the Drybar of makeup? She demurred, but did acknowledge that there’s a symbiotic relationship between the two brands — each Blushington location is near a Drybar, and clients are sent to each other. It’s a strategy that has contributed to the growth of Blushington’s business. But makeup application, once seen as a privilege for an exclusive few, is also growing field. Apps like The Glam App and Priv have disrupted the industry and brought at-home makeup application to the masses, who can’t get enough.
“The whole category of makeup has exploded because of the rise of social media,” explains Cornstein. “I always say, everyone is starring in their own movies, everyone is recording their every move and they want to put their best face forward. So I think the phone and social media has become a huge driver of the growth and interest in having your makeup professionally done. So it’s a super exciting time for our category.”
Blushington has a full range of beauty services — from brow waxing to “Simple On The Move” which is minimal makeup that makes your skin flawless. They even do lash extensions in a curtained-off area, with a treatment bed that they changed and tweaked until their customers agreed it was perfect.
Since May 2016, Blushington also offers a Peel Bar with Beauty Rx, the skincare line from storied dermatologist Dr. Neal Schultz. The Peel Bar has been hugely popular with customers, who increasingly buy more skincare products while at Blushington. Blushington has since added other skincare products to their retail line-up, including ToGoSpa and Angela Caglia — the eponymous line by a celebrity esthetician. They will also soon be adding luxury skincare brand Tata Harper to their retail stores, as skincare becomes a greater part of the Blushington brand.
Last month, Blushington launched an e-commerce site in partnership with Best Buddies International, a charity that pairs mentors and job opportunities with adults with special needs and retardation, with a campaign called #prettyforall. Every Instagram post with the hashtag and a caption of what being pretty means to you (with the prerequisite that posters must be followers of Blushington and Best Buddies International), Blushington will donate five dollars.
This initiative is a natural extension of Blushington’s brand DNA, according to Stephi Maron. Helping others is a core part of the brand ethos — an ethos that is largely informed by Maron’s Jewish heritage. “I think just my values, and treating people the way that I want to be treated,” Maron told me by phone. “I think my morals, the Jewish values that I love and hold dear to my heart, I try to bring to my team, to my clients, to our employees. I think that just being nice — we have a saying, “nice girls finish first,” and I think that that’s really true.” Despite the fact that retail spaces like Sephora offer similar makeover services, Cornstein doesn’t consider Sephora a direct competitor. “Blushington is a respite, it’s a haven of peace and relaxation and very personalized and individualized service,” says Cornstein. “Sephora is much more of a mass experience.”
And this dedication to service extends to their product offering. “We curate only the best of the best,” says Cornstein. “We don’t carry the full line from anyone we carry. That was super challenging in the beginning to get makeup brands to understand and buy-in to our approach.”
Every item sold by Blushington comes from a beauty company that is female-founded and female-run, which is no surprise with a company owned, operated and managed entirely by women, aside from Stephi’s father Mark Maron, who is Blushington’s Chairman (not to be confused with the comedian Marc Maron.) Blushington stocks classics like Becca, Stila and Kevyn Aucoin (which is currently helmed by a woman), but their real focus is finding up-and-coming beauty brands run by entrepreneurial women. “We scour for emerging brands by women,” says Cornstein. So they stock brands like Erborian — a Korean-inspired line with BB and CC creams, Julie Hewitt — the eponymous brand from a celebrity makeup artist, and Girlaktic — created by Israeli makeup artist Galit Strugano. “We want to launch brands here and launch careers,” says Cornstein.
They are invested in training their team where listening is important. “Our approach is a dialogue,” says Cornstein. So instead of using a customer’s face to express the makeup artist’s artistic proclivity, artists ask each customer what she wants, where she is going, and what she dislikes. One person’s idea of natural is another person’s idea of over-the-top, so the artists present a lookbook, similar to those found in hair salons, for customers to choose from. The makeup artist checks with the customer periodically to ensure that the makeup is exactly as she imagined. No “voila!” moment here — “they will change and adjust until you love what you see,” says Cornstein.
Blushington is “a place where women, or anyone can feel safe. Whether they’ve never had a makeup application before, they’re going to feel listened to,” says Maron.
I put that promise to the test with my first Blushington makeover. My makeup artist, Ilana, hails from Ashdod, Israel, and she had a sweet, warm demeanor that immediately put me at ease. But I still had low expectations. My skin had recently broken out with cystic acne, and the bags under my eyes were darker than normal. And every time I get my makeup done for a wedding or bar mitzvah, I’ve always hated the way it looks; I’ve long suspected that my features — all long angles and tiny eyes — were incompatible with a painted face. Why would this time be any different?
Watching myself through the mirror as Ilana brushed and buffed and blended, my cynicism started to fade. When she was done, I was transformed — my face glowed, my eyes suddenly grew three centimeters (the fiber mascara made my lashes look ridiculously long and thick). In a matter of minutes, I went from frazzled commuter with a serious case of RBF (Resting B***h Face) to polished woman with an effortless “I-woke-up-like-this” glow.
By the time I emerged from Blushington’s relaxing space into the chaos of the city street, the sun had finally broken through the clouds. As the light played across my face, a funny thing happened: I may have imagined it, but I was getting second, even third appreciative glances from people — from both men and women. It was thrilling — my ego was boosted and I felt lighter, happier even. And powerful — that most of all. It was a power that I took with me as I strutted, confidently, down the stairs of the subway station and into the sea of nameless, faceless commuters.