Meet the most powerful women in the beauty business
by Elle Team
You don’t have to look beyond Estée Lauder and Bobbi Brown to see women’s influence in beauty. But do it anyway. The three women we profile here are revolutionising India’s beauty space through sheer guts. The guts to launch companies, execute big ideas and set the trends that appeal to millions of women in the country’s metros and small towns. This is the story of how their ambitions have shaped our relationship with beauty.
Chief Marketing Officer, consumer products division, L’oréal India
It’s the rare marketing exec who says, “Right now, it’s about democratising beauty—giving everyone access and a right to it.” But then Shalini Raghavan’s mission has always been to shape beauty aspirations into tangible products, and it’s this authenticity that makes her a real influencer.
Raghavan joined L’Oréal just six months ago. She earned her stripes at Lux, Lakmé and then Dove, where she was global brand director for the Asia and Africa markets. This has given her masterful insights into what makes product design successful, how campaigns can build brand love and which specific ingredients make a formula more appealing.The scope of their work touches on everything from how a product is introduced to the way it is experienced. “The craftsmanship [this process] requires is very exciting and gratifying,” Raghavan says. “So much work goes into even small things like getting the [make-up] shade right.”
Besides building brands, Raghavan also wants to expand beauty ideals, as she did at Dove. At L’Oréal, her team finds the halfway point between global trends and Indian aesthetics, and that comes with challenges. “Women need to feel that they can express themselves through beauty,” she says. “We’re not quite there yet, but everything is becoming more adaptable.”
Georgette shirt and suede heels, both Zara. Crepe skirt, Marks & Spencer.
Founder & Ceo, Nykaa.Com
Until four years ago, Falguni Nayar was still trying to figure out the right foundation for her skin tone, and would be baffled if you brought up primers. But today, the former managing director of Kotak Mahindra Capital Company heads multibrand beauty e-tailer Nykaa and can dish out tips for thicker brows while explaining to you why Indian women are stocking up on false lashes and hate lipgloss. She learnt everything she knows about beauty on the job, but it was the 19 years as an investment banker and stockbroker that helped her read data, spot trends and find a winning formula.
Her decisions are already showing impressive results. In just four years, Nykaa has brought in 1.5 million customers and an annual turnover of Rs 250 crore by creating instant access to 450 mass, prestige and luxury Indian and international brands across categories like make-up, skincare, haircare, fragrance and wellness. This includes an in-house line of cosmetics and bodycare products launched to fill the gaps in the market. So they have on-trend nail polishes and lipsticks, as well as quality shower gels, body mists and lotions. Nayar’s strategy is simple: “We only push genuine products that will last you in the long run—it has to be something we believe in.”
The website is designed on this principle and offers a shopping experience that flows seamlessly from an editorial vision. It introduces you to the bestsellers, nurtures a large, active community of reviewers, and hosts tutorials and tips in its BeautyBook section. “This kind of knowledge makes shoppers feel more confident,” Nayar says. “Earlier, we had to visit stores to get advice, but now we have the digital medium to dispense this information more quickly.”
In the coming months, Nayar plans to add more luxury brands to their roster, introduce an in-house eye make-up line and open more offline stores.
Cotton sari, silver watch, both Falguni’s own; Gold chain, Amrapali.
Head of innovations, Lakmé
Purnima Lamba likes to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a professional requirement but also a personal compulsion. It’s her job to analyse demands, look out for the latest beauty tech, create the next big trend and keep an iconic brand like Lakmé current. But even when she’s off the clock, she’s thinking about which beauty solutions can help women simplify their daily routines. What would it take to get them to step outside their comfort zones—white eyeliner or a daily-wear mousse foundation? “My biggest war cry has been against black eye products,” says Lamba. “We treat it as gospel. We’re comfortable with the standard matte lipsticks and kajal, but I would like to see a lot more experimentation.”
Lamba started her career in marketing with Lakmé almost a decade ago. After a few years, she moved within Unilever to brands like Lux, Fair & Lovely, Pond’s, Vaseline and Dove, before she came back full circle to Lakmé as it was going through an identity shift. Lamba’s team was responsible for bringing together the brand’s skincare, make-up and salon expertise to give it a ‘pro stylist’ edge—and getting that right is no easy job considering the brand’s 60-year heritage. But she’s clearly been successful—now anyone looking for a starter kit for face-care, party looks or long-wear make-up for work will find something at Lakmé. “Make-up and the right skincare can change how you feel about yourself,” she says. “It’s exciting to evolve with the Indian woman, even staying ahead of her to deliver efficiency.”
Crepe dress, Marks & Spencer. Cotton jacket, Bhaavya Bhatnagar. Patent heels, silver watch, diamond bracelet; all Purnima’s own.
Photographs: Manasi Sawant; Styling: Ananya Mehta; Make-up and hair: Maleka Fatema