Back in 2013, before beauty experts could hop on social media and share their top tips to thousands of followers, Cassandra Grey decided to start asking Hollywood’s most sought-after make-up artists, hair stylists and estheticians about the products they actually had in their kits and medicine cabinets. One of the first people to tap into the influencing potential of beauty insiders, she predicted – correctly, as it turned out – that celebrity make-up artists would be the next celebrity chefs and built a beauty destination based around their expert recommendations.
Eight years later, Violet Grey has established itself as the luxury beauty world’s Colette: a trusted authority with a highly curated selection of products and a cult following of devotees. Carrying a combination of old-school staples and the latest innovations, to be stocked on the site a product must first pass a rigorous vetting process by a 150-strong community of beauty experts. Only between one to two per cent of skincare products a year make the cut and are given the Violet Grey stamp of approval, known as The Violet Code.
At a time when the beauty consumer is overwhelmed by the sheer amount of products available; when there’s a new brand, a new hero ingredient, a new miracle tool coming out every other day, Grey’s mantra, “less but better”, is almost a relief. In a staggeringly oversaturated market, this discerning curation offers some respite. “I wanted to create a platform with a tested and approved edit of the best of the best beauty conveniently located all in one place,” Grey explains. Since then, she says, her core mission hasn’t changed (“it’s simple, we exist to enable customers to feel more confident in their purchasing decisions”) although the platform has expanded to include video content and tutorials, alongside its brick-and-mortar Melrose Place boutique and editorial arm, The Violet Files.
The road hasn’t always run smoothly. “We made every mistake one could make when building the company,” Grey says, “I call entrepreneurship a religion of pain and recovery.” However, her relentless dedication to standards and famously impeccable taste has resulted in a crème de la crème curation of in-the-know products. Violet Grey, for example, exclusively launched Augustinus Bader’s The Cream, introducing to the world a moisturiser that became an instant cult-favourite. Grey was also an early champion of Charlotte Tilbury’s make-up line and Dr Barbara Sturm’s skincare. It’s no wonder Leonard Lauder, heir and chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder, called her “the great beauty curator”.
In the almost decade since Violet Grey launched, Grey has witnessed first-hand the industry’s shift towards influencers, social media and digital content. But to her, the biggest change has come from the beauty consumers themselves. “The current customer is more educated and discerning and now has access to many different sources of information that in the past was kept behind conference room walls,” she says. “Industry titans can’t corner the market with just advertising and shelf space anymore, they have to garner the trust and heartstrings of the customer. And they have to be genuine in that pursuit.” Here, Grey shares her favourite undiscovered beauty products of the year, just in time to treat yourself for the holidays.