We don't often get invited to beauty events at the NYC Bar Association, but it happened earlier this week. A panel discussion, called "Business of Beauty," promised me dirt about the beauty industry that I wouldn't "read about in Vogue," so off I went. Attorneys from Revlon, Avon, Coty, and Elizabeth Arden spoke in a panel moderated by Charles Colman, who's also a lawyer and runs the blog Law of Fashion. Despite the sea of practical suits in a staid shade of navy, the conversation was colorful, and most importantly--I learned things!
Here are some of my takeaways from the discussion, whether you're interested in the beauty industry in general, or you're looking for a job as an attorney:
-While they're selling a beautiful, "aspirational" (that's beauty's fave buzzword) product, it's still ultimately a business. And businesses need lawyers.
-While lots of beauty companies have licensing deals with celebs (like Elizabeth Arden's with Britney Spears), the lawyers rarely meet them or get to go to shows. "That's for the marketing people. It's not that glamorous," said a panel member.
-Wearing jeans to work is a very weird cultural thing for lawyers to wrap their heads around. One attorney on the panel went from a job at big pharma to beauty, where the company had a Friday jeans policy. He couldn't believe people actually wore jeans to work, so he didn't. Then people started giving him funny looks and asking him why he doesn't like jeans, so he adapted. Big culture change from working for a law firm or pharmaceutical company, apparently.
-The product development and advertising happens really quickly, so there's tons of work to be done at all times. Including checking ads (see above--that one caused a lot of controversy.)
-In one of the more shocking revelations, one of the attorneys said she helps design clinical studies to test skin care, etc. When asked if she had a science background, the answer was, "No, but I learned a lot as I went." Oh. So take those "scientific" claims with a grain of salt.
-Speaking of that, lawyers also are there to police what claims a product can make. One poor word choice in a product claim can result in a lawsuit.
-The lawyers are the ones who do the sometimes years-long research to figure out if a product name, print font, scent or even color are trademarked. Dullsville.
-Future trends in the beauty industry are going to be "green" issues. Green/natural products are in high demand by consumers, but guidelines are getting stricter, and companies are going to have to adapt their claims, advertising, etc.
-Lawyers also have the nightmarish job of policing a company's social media presence, which includes commenters who behave like jackasses on Facebook and other platforms.
I think I like it on this "glamorous" side of the industry better, but beauty companies couldn't exist without their attorneys.