Editor’s note: Welcome to Well Said, a new series in which we interview industry leaders about the ways they take care of themselves.
Half an hour is not nearly long enough to spend with April Uchitel. The CEO of Los Angeles-based beauty company Violet Grey is funny, warm, whip smart, and wise; her years of experience make her a wealth of knowledge, while her sincerity makes her a true pleasure to talk to. With her signature red lip (more on that later), creamy skin, and red hair, she undoubtedly stands out in a crowd; but it’s hard not to think that her poised, confident yet relaxed presence means she’d be noticed even without those markers. She’s just got that energy.
Uchitel’s background is in fashion, notably at luxury clothing brand Diane von Furstenberg—where she helped the company grow from $6 million in revenue to over $300 million in just seven years. From there she moved to the ecommerce marketplace startup Spring, where she worked until she and her husband decided it was time, after 19 years, to leave New York and move their family of four to Los Angeles. “LA really has this beauty-wellness-entrepreneur-female-founder energy that is super compelling, and for me having worked with a strong female at Diane and really partnering with someone on their vision really set a compelling foundation for this type of relationship that I have [now] with Cassandra [Grey, founder of Violet Grey],” Uchitel says, seated in the glam room of Violet Grey’s Melrose Place boutique. “We were reintroduced through a mutual advisor, and she let Cassandra know that I was coming to LA. We chatted for a few months, and then unfortunately her husband passed away and she went dark for a while; so I got my house and kids set up and then got a phone call from her that said, ‘Come back, let’s keep talking.’ And next thing I knew, I was holding an interim CEO role and then came on full-time.”
Now she’s held the position for almost two years, clearly revelling in the interesting mix of editorial and commerce that Violet Grey has in many ways trail-blazed. Offering a curated selection of products that are vetted by a panel of industry leaders, Violet Grey has earned itself a reputation as a reliable and trustworthy source for the best in beauty, along with juicy behind-the-scenes access to notable personalities with its editorial arm, The Violet Files.
So while 30 minutes isn’t enough time to soak up all that Uchitel has to offer, it’s better than nothing. From makeup to puppies, here are some of the ways she cares for herself.
“I’m the red lip girl. It’s associated with self-confidence. I think what’s amazing about beauty—whether it’s that you had a bad day and you want to take a nice hot bath soaked in amazing bath salts, or you had a great workout and you just want to refresh and tone and slather your body—is that it’s such an emotional ritual.
For me the red lip has always been this signature. I think I started wearing it right after I left Diane von Furstenberg; I moved upstate, I flip-flopped our home base and our weekend house. My kids were in a private school in Woodstock, New York and I just wasn’t going to be that mom who was going to show up at school in my pyjamas. So I literally started wearing a red lip just to get myself up and feeling powerful and not that I left the corporate world to be an upstate stay-at-home mom. (It didn't last long, and I dragged my whole family back to the city.) But to me, that red lip was like: I’m making a statement, I’m putting the effort in, I’m showing up for myself. So I wear it all the time—on a hike, at yoga. I put it on just like I’m putting on my glasses. I don’t even think about it anymore. And I remember when I first started wearing it I was like, ‘I dunno, is it too much? It’s really loud!’ It’s very recognizable; you meet people for the first time and you’re kind of more memorable if you’ve got a statement look.
My favourite is MAC, it’s the Retro Matte Liquid Lipcolour in Feel So Grand and you can buy it at Violet Grey. It goes on matte and it really doesn’t move, and that’s my go-to. And then I love the Nars stick. And that’s really my tool, my trick.”
“I love a lot of our brand’s products; we work with so many phenomenal talents. Augustinus Bader’s The Cream is one of our top-sellers, I’m obsessed and use it every day. Dr. Barbara Sturm, I also love a lot of her products—the Hyaluronic Serum is my go-to for that. And then I’ve been using Royal Fern’s eye cream, and I use Dr. Dennis Gross peel pads which are amazing—it’s a daily peel pad and neutralizer, and you can travel with them so easily, take them camping. They're the best. And then beyond that I go back and forth with different serums. I love Vintner’s Daughter, and then we have a brand called The Nue Co. that has a lot of amazing products; they have a Vitamin C powder that I’ve been using.
And I get educated all the time. We have an incredible team; our editorial team and our merchandise team are sometimes horrified when I say how I use something. ‘No, don’t put that on before that!’ I’m like, ‘How do I do it?’ That’s something that I think every woman wants to know: what do I need, how do I use it, why do I need it? I think the thing I get asked the most is, ‘What’s the one thing I need?’ No one wants this huge routine, you want things you get multi-use from; you want things that are really going to work, and I think we do an amazing job at editing down to those things.”
On animal love
“We got a puppy not so long ago, and there’s something really joyous in playing with a puppy. If you have a really crappy day and things are stressful, all of a sudden there’s this moment of affection that doesn’t expect anything else, and that has been kind of great. I’m not an animal person, my family will tell you, so that’s been an amazing discovery for me.
He’s a lab. His name is Cash and he’s really, really sweet.”
“I’ve started going hiking, which has been fun.
I think we’re so plugged in, and I’m watching my children just lose themselves in screens, so being able to get out into nature—LA is a great place to be able to do that, I didn't get that opportunity in New York. Even being able to just walk the dog around the block and think about nothing except walking the dog around the block.
I love a good massage as well, so that’s a great release.”
On company culture
“I think we’re all challenged with 24/7 life, and I think as someone who’s leading the charge of a startup there’s this expected pace that’s really not sustainable. And I’m trying to find the right way to find that balance for myself and for the team; we’re all working so hard to really take the business to where we know it can go and have fun doing it. I think that’s so important, and sometimes the fun part gets lost and you realize, ‘Wait, am I having fun? How do we take this back to fun?’ So we’ve started doing things in the company called Culture Club: they’re outings and events where you can connect outside of the office and learn things. We brought in a friend of mine who started a probiotic company, she came in and talked to us for two hours about the gut microbiome and we got to ask a ton of questions. So thinking of ways to bring value into the team’s life outside of obviously participating and building something and contributing to that. I think that’s something that’s really important. Culture is really critical when you’re spending 40-plus hours a week with people.
Trying to build a new culture on top of building a brand, on top of figuring out the roadmap, and on top of making sure everybody feels growth opportunities is a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, I have to say. So there are different things at different times that take different priorities. Because you just can’t manage it all at once. But I’ve always tried really hard to speak to our challenges.”
On handling failure
“I think you just have to own it. I think there are definitely decisions I've made that weren’t right, and there have definitely been ways I went about them that weren't right. There have been times in my career that I’ve definitely outstayed my welcome; I probably could have left Diane two years earlier, and probably could have left Spring a year earlier.
I keep going back to parenting, but I think a role model is so critical. How you manage a situation—your children are watching all the time, and your team is watching. It’s really easy to take the whole team down in a day; if one person comes in with a really bad mood, a grey cloud, it’s crazy how much that impacts instantaneously. So you kind of have this responsibility of taking those mistakes and those moments when it wasn’t so great or you’re really frustrated with an outcome and realize that you can continue to berate yourself or the team, or you can just turn it as fast as you can into another direction. But I don’t feel like I’ve made huge mistakes in my career path other than that particular part of staying too long. If I could buy back three years that would be good. But at the same time, I wouldn’t have landed here. So it’s all meant to be.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.