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In GCI magazine’s August 2008, four business executives—from small to large-scale companies—discuss the high performance quality of grapes, especially those used to make red wines, as a main ingredient in personal care products. One of the interviewees, Lydia Mondavi, principal of 29 Luxury Goods’ 29 Cosmetics (www.29cosmetics.com) met with GCI magazine firsthand at the Oak Brook, Illinois product launch event on April 11, 2008 at Neiman Marcus. Together with her mother, Anita Wilbanks, Mondavi shared with GCI magazine her brand’s business background, ingredient secrets, packaging visions and product knowledge.
GCI: Your Mondavi family is a huge name in the winemaking business. What types of wine do you prefer, and how do they reflect your personality?
Lydia Mondavi: I love red wine—cabernets, petite syrah, malbec and old vine zinfandels are my favorites. I would say red wine represents my personality in the sense that I love color, texture, all things silky, chocolate and richness, and red wine has very similar characteristics.
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GCI: How similar is making a fine wine to formulating a cosmetic product from concept to the shelf?
Lydia Mondavi: Formulation in making wine and making cosmetics is very similar in that they are both luxury products requiring much dedication, perfection and quality. They take time not only in formulation but in packaging, as well.
GCI: I read that you outsource the creation of your cosmetics outside of Milan, Italy, and the finished products are shipped to Georgia where you have a distribution company. Did you partner with a contract manufacturer to create the cosmetics?
Lydia Mondavi: We manufacture our color cosmetic line for 29 in Italy, and the finished goods are shipped to our warehouse in Georgia, where my family handles all of the shipping, receiving and quality control. We did not partner with a contract manufacturer. We make each and every product especially for 29 utilizing our exclusive grape seed age protecting formula.
GCI: Are you of Italian descent, and how has traveling to Italy influenced your style and cosmetics business?
Lydia Mondavi: I am from the U.S., but Italy is an amazing place to experience the world of fashion and beauty. Each time we visit for business or personal vacations, we find new and exciting ideas that inspire us.
GCI: How do California’s Napa Valley and Highway 29—after which you named and designed your cosmetics line—embody the American spirit?
Lydia Mondavi: California inspires beauty and enjoying the indoors and outdoors. The wines in America have been greatly influenced and inspired by the California wine country region, and Highway 29 is the picturesque road that runs the length of the grape-growing region in Napa.
GCI: You spent years formulating spa and beauty products for the luxury market, i.e. with Ralph Lauren. Did this stem from a chemistry or marketing background? Please tell me more about where you got your start in the beauty industry.
Lydia Mondavi: I started with Ralph Lauren as a marketing coordinator in the Cosmair beauty division and then became an executive director for a spa company in Atlanta. I then launched my spa consulting company developing spas and resorts around the world.
GCI: What did those positions teach you that have made you the successful business woman you are today?
Lydia Mondavi: The luxury market is amazing whether you are creating a luxury wine or luxury cosmetics. Working with the spas and resorts around the world has given me a wonderful insight into the needs of the luxury client and the needs in the marketplace for brands of distinction and brands to meet and exceed the needs of our clients.
GCI: Do you still hand out copies of Minding the Store, by Stanley Marcus, to your business associates?
Lydia Mondavi: We give each of our product specialists at Neiman Marcus a copy of the book, Minding the Store.
GCI: Why sell 29 Cosmetics exclusively through Neiman Marcus?
Lydia Mondavi: In the luxury market, the key to success is to always represent and present quality in your product and packaging with consistency. To always represent excellence, it is the quest for the best in everything…. It is so important to us as to why we are exclusive to Neiman Marcus. We made this line for Neiman Marcus—for the luxury consumer. It’s about perfect details.
GCI: You recently unveiled the exclusive 29 Spa at The Mansion on Peachtree in Atlanta, Georgia. What types of personalized services do you offer that feature your new cosmetics line? Is Atlanta where you call home nowadays?
Lydia Mondavi: Each and every treatment at the 29 Spa utilizes the grape seed age protecting formula. We will offer exclusive treatments at the 29 Spa custom created for each client. The 29 cosmetic and skin care collection will be featured at the spa. In each of the hotel rooms we are featuring the 29 amenity collection, as well, with replenishing shampoo, conditioner, body moisturizer, bath and shower gel, bath salts and exfoliating soaps. I live in Napa, Calif., with my husband Robert Mondavi, Jr.
GCI: How much of this new business venture is a family affair?
Lydia Mondavi: This is a completely family business. My husband is a winemaker, and we utilize the grape seeds from the winemaking process to create the 29 collection as a grape seed age protecting line. My mom has been instrumental in developing the design of the tester units, packaging, working on the new product development and she launches the 29 brand in Neiman Marcus with me for every launch. My stepdad, Arthur Wilbanks, handles all of our shipping, receiving and logistics in our warehouse in Georgia, and my grandmother, Stella Abernathy, handles our quality control, bar-coding, gifts, press and marketing sets. We just launched a lipstick color for Mother’s Day named Stella’s Cellar (a beautiful magenta fuchsia color) for Stella working in the 29 cosmetics cellar every day. She is 80 years young.
GCI: What are some benefits and challenges to running a family business?
Lydia Mondavi: Learning what each of our strengths and weaknesses are; learning to have balance between work and home, because we all work together, so we are always talking about the business.
GCI: How many employees work for 29 Cosmetics?
Lydia Mondavi: We have seven people working with 29 corporate, and have we 12 product specialists working in our Neiman Marcus stores.
GCI: How has your husband been instrumental in your business success?
Lydia Mondavi: He is extremely supportive in so many ways. He is a winemaker, which produces many grape seeds for the industry. You will usually see him at our launches pouring his wines for our clients and telling them the benefits of red wine extract, the benefits in each of the 29 products and during our tastings, notes on the wines he is pouring.
GCI: Have you ever worked at one of the Mondavi wineries, specifically, in the Napa Valley?
Lydia Mondavi: I have been the guest speaker for many wine dinners for our wines and worked at many tastings for our winery and our wines.
GCI: Prohibition brought the Mondavi family to California. Do you think creating 29 Cosmetics’ line could have ever been possible if prohibition had never ended? How do you think things might be different now, business-wise?
Lydia Mondavi: Definitely. You would have a much harder time finding grape seeds, so the supply and demand would be greatly affected.
GCI: How important has your face-to-face national product launch tour since February 2007 been to your business?
Lydia Mondavi: Incredibly important. Anita and I launch every Neiman Marcus store together, working the sales floor. We spend every day in store with the sales associates, product specialists and clients, showing the features, advantages and benefits of each product. We love getting to know the stores, the demographic areas and the clients. It is an amazing experience. We wouldn’t launch any other way, and Neiman Marcus is an incredible partner for us.
GCI: Other than the national launch tour, what is another way you market this cosmetics line?
Lydia Mondavi: We do a lot of runway shows with Neiman Marcus. 29 Cosmetics photograph well.
GCI: What have been some challenges to launching this line?
Lydia Mondavi: You have to make sure in each product the grape seed has different functions. The biggest challenge in launching a line is the wait. We were in formulation for four and a half years!
GCI: From what specific region do the grapes used in your line come?
Lydia Mondavi: The red wine grapes are the most concentrated form of antioxidants and are enriched with a high concentration of polyphenols.
GCI: You also co-run Spellbound and Medusa Wines. Do you use the discarded grapes from your wine business for your cosmetics, as well, or do you ever borrow grapes from the Mondavi wineries in the Napa Valley?
Lydia Mondavi: We use grape seeds from various vineyards, as well as ours. It depends on what the harvest is like.
GCI: Which types of grapes do you prefer to use in your cosmetics line, and what do those specific types of grapes offer, performance-wise?
Lydia Mondavi: Red wine grapes are the most concentrated form of antioxidants, rich in polyphenols.
GCI: Which parts of the grapes do you salvage and how quickly must this process begin as to avoid the raw materials rotting, etc.? What’s the basic process of preparing the grapes for use in your line?
Lydia Mondavi: Grape seeds are removed from the winery after the wine is pressed and placed into the barrels. We are using crushed grape seeds, grape seed extract and grape seed oil. We are also using the pomace and the grape skins in spa treatments, as well.
GCI: How important is the grape recycling aspect of this process, and how did you determine this solution?
Lydia Mondavi: It is wonderful because it is so eco-friendly. We are able to utilize every aspect of the winemaking process to create an amazing and beneficial cosmetic line for age protection to fight against free radical damage…. We’re always thinking about sustainability. Even stems get turned into mulch.
GCI: Is this a possible technique that other areas of the food and beauty industries could collaborate on? For instance, could other discarded raw materials from the food industry provide sustainable resources for the personal care market?
Lydia Mondavi: Restaurants are now using grape seed oil for many cooking applications, and some restaurants are recycling even further and using the oils for fueling purposes.
GCI: How common are grapes as an ingredient in the beauty industry?
Lydia Mondavi: Grape seed extract has been researched by chemists and scientists as an antioxidant that is good for the skin in protecting against free radical damage for more than 26 years.
GCI: What other raw materials for the personal care market are harvested in the Napa Valley?
Lydia Mondavi: Olive Oil.
GCI: How would you explain your grape seed age protecting formula to a consumer? Is it a combination of grape seed extracts and other raw materials?
Lydia Mondavi: Yes. We use a combination of grape seed extract, grape seed oil and other fabulous ingredients, including sunscreen, to further protect the skin.
GCI: What tests did your company conduct to determine the right amount of grape seed extracts to add to each age protecting formula in your line?
Lydia Mondavi: Our lab chemists formulate each product with a different percentage, depending on the product.
GCI: Which areas of the face and body seem to benefit the most and react most positively to products made with grape seed extracts?
Lydia Mondavi: Grape seed extract protects from the environmental toxins and free radicals found in our everyday environment. We have found that using the grape seed is beneficial in all areas.
GCI: Which other ingredients seem to symbiotically work best with grape seed extract for overall performance quality?
Lydia Mondavi: Grape seed extract works wonderful with other vitamins such as C and E, and sunscreen, as well, to further protect from free radical damage.
GCI: Your First Crush Lip Exfoliation Treatment is made of triple-milled grape seeds. What’s the advantage of triple milling a product?
Lydia Mondavi: Milling the seeds very fine is important to create a soft exfoliation, being careful not to break any capillaries.
GCI: Other than with grape seed antioxidants, how else can you detoxify your skin and body for a younger look?
Lydia Mondavi: Massage, exercise, drinking water, facials, body treatments and eating healthy.
GCI: Why did your mother, Anita Wilbanks, choose to use patent-finished packaging with silver, winter white and brown accents? How did you design the packaging?
Lydia Mondavi: We wanted a feminine look with luxury and elegance with a contemporary, clean and modern feel. We worked with our architect, Caroline Rolader, and she created renderings, watercolor drawings and mock-ups.
GCI: Why did you design the color palettes after the Napa Valley?
Lydia Mondavi: We created many of the palettes inspired by the Napa Valley. The company is based in Napa, my home is in Napa and the creation of the brand with the grape seeds came from Napa.
GCI: Why did you decide to bridge a travel theme into your cosmetics line (i.e. steamer trunk display cases, the 3 oz travel-sized Napa Mist spray, etc.)?
Lydia Mondavi: We researched our client demographic, and the luxury client is an experienced traveler. We also loved the romance and old world style.
GCI: Many of your cosmetic products include an SPF. Who is the typical 29 Cosmetics woman, and how does she spend her time outdoors and indoors?
Lydia Mondavi: All of our face and lip products have an SPF. The 29 woman loves the indoors and enjoys the outdoors. We find that it is necessary to provide the ultimate in protection for our clients in a complete age protecting formula using grape seed and sunscreen in many of the products. Grape seed extract, when combined with sunscreen, is even more powerful.
GCI: Which of your products do you use in your daily regimen, and how do you detoxify?
Lydia Mondavi: I use the entire 29 collection. I also take grape seed extract in a supplement form. I love yoga, massage, facials and body treatments, and drinking water is a must for me.
GCI: Have you considered flavoring your lip products with wine flavors?
Lydia Mondavi: We try to keep our fragrances and tastes to a minimum in all of our products.
GCI: How does your Napa Mist Replenishing Atomizer work, and are atomizers growing in popularity, especially for the summer months?
Lydia Mondavi: Our Napa Mist is one of our best sellers; it replenishes the skin with rose water and grape seed extract. It is excellent for travel and great on the plane.
GCI: I read that your husband is a fan of your Wine Blot lip balm. Do you think you’ll utilize 29 Luxury Goods to expand your portfolio into other areas of the personal care market, such as a men’s line, a baby line, or a bath and body or hair care line?
Lydia Mondavi: We are already working on many new products for the 29 Luxury Goods brand. We launched the 29 skin care and body care collections in May, and we are also working on some exciting new products for the upcoming year. Our skin care collection is 100% pure and natural, utilizing organic, sustainable fair trading ingredients. We also launched the 29 amenity collection in the hotel rooms at The Mansion on Peachtree, A Rosewood Hotel & Residence, this May.
GCI: How will you ensure that your brand stays ahead of competition?
Lydia Mondavi: We will always focus on quality, consistency and excellence.
GCI: What goals do you have for the future?
Lydia Mondavi: We are looking forward to our continued growth within Neiman Marcus. We are always in search of new ways to be more environmental friendly and to provide more pure and natural products.