Not long ago, the cosmetics industry veteran Andrea Robinson was in her New York apartment, showing off a newly built home office with white walls and a monochrome animal print rug. The sparse aesthetic contrasted with the lush textiles of the living room, where a fire was roaring.
In a manner of speaking, so too is Robinson, who over the course of two decades has worked behind the scenes for Revlon (where she spearheaded the famed and oft-knocked-off Ultima II Naked collection), L’Oréal for Ralph Lauren fragrances (where she oversaw the debut of the best-selling Romance) and Tom Ford Beauty, of which she was president.
Now, in a new book, “Toss the Gloss: Beauty Tips, Tricks & Truths for Women 50+,” published this month and celebrated at a party hosted by Lauren at his flagship store on Madison Avenue, she is nipping slightly at the hands that fed her: revealing some standard but little-discussed industry practices like unnecessarily repackaging creams for different body parts and manufacturing both low- and high-end brands in the same factory.
She knows the business as well from an editorial perspective. “She worked at Vogue in the ’80s and produced all those iconic Irving Penn images that are still such a standard today,” said Alexandra Kotur, a family friend who baby-sat for Robinson’s children and went on to work at Vogue herself. With time at the Condé Nast magazine Mademoiselle, which is now defunct, as well, Robinson could have presumably written a juicy memoir or tell-all (“The Devil Wears Cover Girl”?), but she said she felt compelled instead to share the beauty wisdom she has accumulated with an oft-neglected demographic.
“I get flooded with women saying, ‘I’m so confused,’ ” she said. “ ‘I don’t know where to go or what to do, and I know my skin has changed.’ ” Robinson thinks not enough attention is being paid, for example, to the effects of hormonal shifts in older women. “We solve adolescent issues pretty well, but we don’t solve postmenopausal issues,” she said. Her book intends to “unconfuse” those women whom the industry has already dismissed, she said. Robinson writes that “most men running the major beauty corporations where you undoubtedly have spent a lot of money (even if you’re not a cosmetics junkie like me) think you’ve lost it at 50.”
Certainly, there is a market for her theories. The last baby boomers turn 50 this year, and they’re feeling youthful and are focused on health in a way the previous generation never was, said Bobbi Brown, the makeup artist, who at 56 does boot-camp exercise classes and yoga three to four days a week. “My dream on my 60th birthday is to do a standing back bend,” she said.
In 2007, when Brown turned 50, she put out her own book for the mature woman, “Living Beauty”; it is still in print. Like Robinson, she aims to dispel certain common industry myths. For example, “there is no cream that is ‘anti-aging’ — I’m older now than when you called me a few minutes ago,” Brown said. “There is no cream that fixes wrinkles. I’m sorry, but there’s not.” Instead, she proposes makeup application methods to make women look “fresher,” like using liner and matte shadow to add eye definition and mask crepey lids.
“Stop microscoping all your lines and really embrace them,” Brown suggested. “It means you’ve lived this great life.”
Actress Diane Keaton, widely lauded for her natural appearance at recent awards shows, is a famous embodiment of this well-lived look, and (what do you know?) she also has a book coming out this month that explores beauty themes – “Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty.” “No matter what you do, you will still be a 67-year-old woman on the downhill slide,” Keaton writes (now 68) in a work that is more wry discourse than advice manual. She also reflects on aging in youth-obsessed Hollywood, dishing on her former boyfriends Woody Allen and Warren Beatty. Of Allen, she said: “Woody used to dream of hair loss. Not now. He’s done very well retaining what hair he has.” And of Beatty: “Warren used to pontificate on the subject for hours, insisting that hairdressers were worth their weight in gold. According to him, hair was, in fact, 60 percent of good looks.”
Men are not quite the consumers of cosmetics that women are. While entrepreneurs in that field like Brown have taken pains to address her contemporaries, Robinson and others maintain that there is ample room for improvement. Keaton is a spokeswoman for L’Oréal, and though more cosmetics companies are using older women in their advertising campaigns (like Marc Jacobs with Jessica Lange, 64, and NARS with Charlotte Rampling, 68).
Genevieve Monsma, the beauty director of More, a magazine for women 30 and older, believes that advertisers “have not communicated to the 50-plus set in a way that’s relevant,” instead reducing aging to a problem that needs fixing.
“The woman you’re talking to is accomplished,” said Monsma, 42. “She probably has tried a lot of products in her life. She’s more skeptical of marketing jargon, as she should be.” And, she added, “the woman today is not at all embarrassed to say she is 52; in fact, she’d wear it as a badge of pride.”
Robinson disagreed; asked her age, she replied only “definitely over 50,” declaring, “Women over 50 should not be defined by a number.”
But she was happy to discuss her forthcoming projects, which include her own cosmetics line, addressing concerns like dry skin and vertical lip lines. She is planning to call it “Mrs. Robinson.”