The Brains Behind Billion-Dollar Brow Brand Anastasia And The Company’s Next Generation Of Beauty
Like many of the most famous people in history, brow guru and beauty industry icon, Anastasia, is known by her first name only. It seems warranted given she single-handedly shaped the way people do their brows over the past three decades and built a beauty empire in the process.
I hardly use the word empire lightly here; Anastasia’s success has placed her firmly on Forbes’s list of top Self-Made Women and also on Forbes’s ranking of billionaires in 2019.
It started in the year 1989, when Anastasia Soare was a Romanian immigrant working at a beauty salon in Los Angeles where she was thinking about brows in a way most people didn’t. Brows were an afterthought, groomed as the last part of a facial or created within the confines of poorly-lit bathrooms through the inaccuracies of magnifying mirrors, tweezers, and the faultiness of human hands.
There were no road maps for brows, only trends and perhaps lessons from mother on how to keep them smart and tidy. There certainly was no thought-out philosophy of how brows should be kept and their importance to the overall beauty of a face.
“Before I started the business, people would come to me with pictures of celebrities and show me the sort of eyebrows they wanted,” Anastasia says on a zoom interview from her home in California. “It just wouldn’t work. Everyone had a different eyebrow, skin tone, and bone structure and I wanted to give people the best version of themselves.”
Anastasia, who had taken classes in art in her homeland, learned through her teacher about the Golden Ratio used by Renaissance artists to map out their work. The artists would employ this mathematical concept to help their work achieve maximum beauty based on the spatial geometry of this ratio. Anastasia was inspired to explore its application to the use of cosmetics, specifically to the shaping of the brows, and began to experiment with the Golden Ratio on the human face, using her existing clients as subjects.
“Slowly, I started building this process and how to create the perfect eyebrow based on bone structure,” she explains.
Around the same time, Kevyn Aucoin, the most influential makeup artist of the early 90s, would pluck out supermodel Kate Moss’s brows to a razor thin state which caught like wildfire and resulted in the 90s trend of the extreme pencil brow. It was everywhere. Aucoin even plucked out Cindy Crawford’s famous bushy brows, and slowly but surely, every influential female had done the same. Angelina Jolie, Gwen Stefani, Drew Barrymore—all their brows were nothing more than arched lines above their eyes, and the public followed suit.
While this trend was ablaze around the world (and in complete opposition to Anastasia’s own philosophy), the brow expert steadily plowed forward on her theory and knew there couldn’t be a one-size-fits-all approach to eyebrows, or that a woman’s brow shape shouldn’t be the result of a global trend.
So Anastasia opened her own small salon in 1992 where the cult following she developed based on this Golden Ratio treatment would go for this new approach to brows which resulted in an instant facial uplift.
Word of this secret brow technician and her novel philosophy began to travel in rarefied Los Angeles circles, and soon the celebrities followed. Naomi Campbell, Jennifer Lopez, Michelle Pfeiffer only ever went to Anastasia to have their brows shaped. Even Cindy Crawford overcame Aucoin’s brows to become a loyal Anastasia client.
Then, the influencer of all influencers of the time changed the game, not only for Anastasia, but for anyone in the world with eyebrows.
In 1998, the talk show host and loyal Anastasia client, Oprah Winfrey, had the brow expert on her show and the appearance catapulted Anastasia into a household name. People were all but breaking the door down for an appointment with her while everyone else around the globe was learning to apply the Golden Ratio to their brows.
THE BILLION DOLLAR EQUATION
It’s been twenty years since Anastasia launched her brand, Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH), in 2000 and she says, “It was not easy when I launched.” Social media, which is a massive vehicle for the ABH brand due to the ease of dissemination of education on these platforms, was not around.
The entrepreneur recalls, “I would personally travel around to places like Nordstrom and teach women how to put on the products, because doing eyebrows was new so education was the basis of selling. Everyone knows how to use mascara, everyone knows how to put on blush. No one knew how to put on eyebrows.”
Even now, education is still the basis of the brand. “When we got on Instagram in around 2012, we desperately wanted to have a way to talk to consumers all the time,” says Anastasia’s daughter, Claudia Soares, who is also the company’s President. “Here we are, launching products all the time but we don’t get to talk to the world all the time. That’s when I saw social media as an opportunity to talk to our consumers.”
When speaking to both the mother and daughter, the elder Soare is keen to emphasize the younger Soare hardly landed a cushy job in the family business. Anastasia put her daughter to task and made her start from the ground up.
“She earned it [her job] because she started at the bottom and I was harder on her than other employees, if I may be honest,” explains Anastasia.
“Her work with me started from the guilt that I was never able to spend time with my daughter because I was working such long hours. So she started to help me in the salon in her free time. It was a way of showing her how passionate I am about my work and also to spend time with her. She was so good at whatever she did, and from the salon she started to take different positions in the company and learned every single department in the business until she got to where she is now.”
“Working with family can have its challenges, obviously,” shares Claudia. “But I think a lot of time has spanned and we’ve ironed out any issues that have risen. In the process of butting heads and having to keep peace we were able to carve out each other’s strengths. Now that’s all we focus on.”
Part of Claudia’s strengths are not only the business acumen she acquired by working her way up the ranks at ABH, but also her love of dramatic and colorful makeup.
While her mother, and the Anastasia Beverly Hills brand, focuses on a natural palette and timeless style (“For people who want to look pretty but not done,” is the way Claudia describes ABH), Claudia’s own beauty lives at the opposite end of the spectrum and is animated, expressive, and full of vibrant color.
This was an opportunity for the company to expand their offerings through Claudia’s taste in cosmetics and so Norvina, a makeup brand focused on electric colors and a dramatic concepts, was born through Claudia’s leadership and under the Anastasia Beverly Hills umbrella.
“It’s our little sister brand that we carved out where we’re really getting a little wild for the crowd that’s looking for that,” Claudia says.
SURVIVING THE PANDEMIC
For all the accolades, growth, and success, like any business, there have been ups and downs and the pandemic has had its impact on the Anastasia Beverly Hills brand.
“Let’s be clear, business was terrible. Anyone who says they had a great business, except Amazon, is talking trash. What do you do when people are not buying impulsively, or don’t have a lot of disposable income?” Anastasia questions. “But it was a good pressure test. We had to re-learn what the customer wants, whether they have disposable income or not.”
“We had to really think about the brand long term and to be able to think about makeup that is necessary,” adds Claudia. “It forced us to think what was the next trend as a brand, and what are the products people are going to buy over and over again.”
The company got through the pandemic by rethinking what they offered to the consumers. Again, they came back to one of the core values of the brand—education.
For them, it was the realization that once everything shut down, everyone was always on Zoom, always looking at themselves, always with others looking at their faces, and only the face.
“And masks!” Anastasia enthuses. “Everyone uses masks so all of a sudden there was a huge emphasis on eyes.”
So they launched AR tool, The Brow App, as a way to connect and educate consumers in her trademarked Golden Ratio method and also as a vehicle for engagement and sales (consumers can have consultations, receive makeup tips, and also buy products on the platform). The highlight of the app is The Mirror tool which uses the front-facing camera on a smartphone to show an outline of a user’s ideal brow shape according the Golden Ratio which then is used as a guide for shaping brows at home.
“Also, I have done more masterclasses on how to do eyebrows because of zoom, and we have seen incredible results doing these masterclasses,” Anastasia says about this other shift to her business during the pandemic. “And our field team was still taking the personalized consultations during this time.”
While the mother and daughter duo were working to rebalance the business during the pandemic, the social justice movements of 2020 were taking place all over the country and the world. Anastasia Beverly Hills had always employed a philanthropic mindset—they’ve consistently partnered with marginalized communities in various ways through the years, including providing higher education grants—although 2020 made the founder and company rethink what philanthropy means to the brand.
During the height of the pandemic, Anastasia Beverly Hills pledged $1m to fight institutional racism, oppression, and injustice which started with an immediate combined $550,000 donation to organizations like The Innocence Project and The NAACP Legal Defense Fund as well as mental health organizations and social initiatives like community restoration within, and for, black communities.
The most important part of the pledge is the $450,000 in grants given in support to 8 black, female entrepreneurs (who were selected through an application and judging process) which Anastasia believes is the most effective way to support a community—by supporting a community’s thinkers and leaders financially.
“We’re very proud of everything we do, because everything we do represents who we are as people and what we believe in,” says Anastasia. “We don’t work for ourselves. It’s our people, our community, our clients. We work for them.”