Margarita Arriagada, the former chief merchant at Sephora, is launching her own beauty brand. Inspired by her years of experience in the industry, in branding and product development, the release is also rooted in an incredibly personal story. Named after her late mother, the lipstick-focused line is called Valdé.
“She experienced a lot of challenges and hardships, but with a tremendous amount of grace and joy and love,” Arriagada said of her mother, who immigrated to the U.S. from South America. “I never saw her resentful. I never saw her bitter. I thought she was a little surreal and remarkable. And she loved wearing makeup. She was vivacious. And in particular, she loved wearing lipstick.”
Later in life, her mother developed dementia, continued Arriagada: “In the last few years, she didn’t recognize me. But every time I took out this lipstick, she would perk up, and she’d pucker up, getting ready for me to apply it to her. And when I’d apply, she’d look in the mirror, and she’d kiss the mirror, reflecting that she saw someone that was beautiful.”
The experience had a profound impact on Arriagada. Lipstick is “armor,” she said, and she created the brand to “celebrate this resilience, this inner strength that we have” as women. It’s an important element of beauty that has been “a little bit taken for granted or maybe overshadowed in the fastness of the industry” these days.
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Out in October, via direct-to-consumer, Valdé is offering eight “universal” shades in creamy satin. “Richly pigmented” with skin-care benefits that include hyaluronic acid and flaxseed oil, the collection is vegan, gluten-free, fragrance-free and clean by Sephora standards, explained Arriagada.
Priced on the higher end, she’s providing a refillable packaging concept. She’s focused on lips and aims to become the trusted source for “premium quality formula,” while helping women navigate the “overwhelming” category, she added.
For $199, customers receive the “armor”—the decorative, wing-shaped metallic cover of their choice, which features a magnifying mirror—a metallic lipstick case with the refillable lip product; a faux suede pouch; a storage box, and the option to engrave. Each refill lip product, kept in golden metallic carrying cases, is priced at $40. The release has been three years in the making.
“I’m fully conscious of the price point, and I’m leaning into it, because less is more,” she explained. “And you want to invest in quality and in something that you’re going to get versatility out of, that you’re not going to throw away.”
It’s quality with “meaning and purpose,” she went on. “How can I provide newness in a thoughtful way? There’s too much choice, there’s too much product out there. And unfortunately, it’s driving the price downward. I know what goes into development…the years that it takes, the research, the exploration with manufacturers.”
COVID-19 impacted the entire supply chain of the process, she said. “Everything is unpredictable, and it’s hard to account for that.”
She did, however, foresee the changed climate in beauty today, sparked by the pandemic’s impact.
“The perspective of what we’re living now, I already somewhat felt that,” she added. “I felt this need of evolution, a less-is-more approach to business. I personally feel that beauty without meaning is of limited value. Today, things matter. Everything matters.”
Inevitably, sustainability plays a factor more than ever, she said: “Yes, let’s figure out how we’re going to recycle. But before we recycle, let’s figure out how we’re being thoughtful. Yes, we’re going to supplement, but not at the expense of throwing something away. We just don’t have the energy for product that you’re going to throw away, product that doesn’t last. How do we put more into less? How do we give you a product that’s really going to deliver and also stand the test of time?…How can I create something that is an extension of you, not me?”
The brand’s tagline, in fact, is “very you.” (Valdé is the Latin word for “very.”)
Valdé by Margarita Arriagada. Courtesy of Valdé
“It’s a statement piece,” Arriagada said of the custom lipstick cover. The curved wing detail was inspired by a woman’s figure, as well as women banding together, the idea that “a single feather is so light and fragile, yet together is powerful enough to take flight…There is no branding on these armors. For me, it was important that this be an extension of you, of who you are.”
Developing the shape of the custom case was among the challenges: “I wanted to think out of the box, or out of the tube, the round tube or square tube. And I thought, ‘Why does it have to be round? Why can’t we do something that’s a little bit more artistic?’”
She went through three different manufactures to make it happen. “This is the biggest leap of faith that I have ever undertaken from a professional standpoint,” said Arriagada, who is self-funding the brand.
Margarita Arriagada Courtesy
Before her days as top executive, Arriagada studied at The Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in California, while working part-time at her local department store, starting behind the Clinique beauty counter.
“I’ve always been in-store,” she said. “I’m the person who would always visit the stores, listen to what the customer was saying, reading ratings and reviews and just wanting to have this connection. And honestly that’s what’s always led me. It’s been a compass for me.”
At Sephora, she began as head of color cosmetics, then took on the role of senior vice president of merchandising, before becoming chief merchant. For the last four, five years, she’s been working as a strategic adviser, mentoring brands.
“All my experience, my entire career, somewhat kicked in through this role [of creating Valdé], beginning with the fact that I started out on the selling floor and have always had empathy for the customer,” she shared.
With Valdé, she wants to evolve the concept of armor, “from something that we don’t hide behind, but that really we embrace our vulnerability in order to thrive. The fact is all women are warriors.”