Introducing Beauty Connections, our new series of on-the-spot, open conversations with the amazing—and very real—people behind the world’s top beauty brands.
This month we connect with skincare guru Kate Somerville, who talks about female friendships, celebrity hang-ups, a preteen son, and being called ‘bitchy.’
BEAUTY 24/7: You seem like true cheerleader for women.
KATE SOMERVILLE: I’ve actually been thinking a lot about that lately. My mom was an alcoholic who left when I was 9, and what my business has given me, more than anything, is a lot of moms—that kind of feminine love and connection I didn’t have growing up. All of the women I treat, who really share their lives with me… yes, maybe I’m giving them the gift of youth, but they give me just as much. I have to remember where it all started: connecting with and helping other women.
You’re known for touching a lot of famous faces—you probably make all your clients feel like stars.
KATE: I think it goes both ways: I also make celebrities feel like they’re accepted for the people they are on the inside. If you knew some of them—they’re so like us, they just happen to be actors. They have the same kinds of struggles as we do: kids, husbands, weight loss, weight gain, illnesses—everything!
Many of your competitors are men (Drs. Gross, Perricone, Brandt)—is it hard being a woman, even in the beauty business?
KATE: Back when I first started out—I’ll never forget this–and I was going to be acquired by a big company, at our first meeting, they asked what my goal was. I told them I wanted to be in all markets—I want an infomercial, I want to be at Nordstrom, I want to be on QVC. The man sitting next to me—who’s a genius but who comes from the old school—patted me on the knee and said, “Oh, honey, that’s just not going to happen.” Well, I loved that, because when someone says to me, “You can’t,” I say, “Watch me.”
So in other words, hop on or hop out of the way?
KATE: Since the beginning, I’ve had a vision, and I’ve stuck with that vision. It’s interesting what happens as you grow—a lot of people I meet will say, “Oh, you’re so personable and friendly,” but my staff will tell you that I can get really bitchy. I understand now how people can get the reputation of being a diva, because when you have a vision and people try to change your vision, you’re like, no, sorry—I’m not going to move off of this. And at the end of the day, if the product isn’t great, we don’t get paid!
Your business just went global [Kate recently opened her first international clinic in South Korea]; how do you maintain that personal connection with your customers?
KATE: It’s something I’m constantly aware of—I really have to rely on my staff now. Obviously, things are still “born” from me, but we have a panel of women at the clinic who have been with me for eight years. They know the culture, and they know skin—probably even better than I do now!
But more importantly, I also have an 11-year-old son, who is the best part of my life. When he was younger and I was just starting out, my husband was great about being there as a parent, which I am so grateful for. But now, the older my son gets, the more I see how much he needs his mom too—and I need him, because he fills my heart more than anything. I’m trying to balance being with him more, plus staying connected to my clients and the business. It’s definitely a lot to juggle.
Being a busy working mother must help you understand your clients’ lives on a very personal level.
KATE: That’s why my products need to WORK—quickly! I’ve always been all about that: no nonsense, cut to the chase. That’s why my packaging is the way it is. If it’s not easy—something you can throw in a bag and go—then forget it. Plus, with the clinic, we get to try everything out on the clients, talk to them about the experience. If they don’t get it, if it’s not working for them, then we don’t release it. We’re literally right there at the point of impact. We’ve had so many flops, but we just keep tweaking until we get things right.
I also get that women don’t have time for downtime or delayed healing when their skin looks weird. That’s why my products are a mix of the optimum level of active ingredients balanced with botanicals like lavender oil, apricot, almond oil and aloe. Take ExfoliKate®—there’s no other exfoliator like it out there. It will change your skin in two minutes. It’s a cult favorite for sure.
And then there’s RetAsphere™, our first retinol product. For a long time, I resisted doing a retinol product because of the irritation. But RetAsphere™ is very emollient, with pure, stable retinol encapsulated in a lipid shell. Your skin is made of lipids, so when you put the product on, it melts like butter—really getting to the root of the wrinkle.
Can you talk a little about your relationship with Nordstrom?
KATE: Oh, Nordstrom is just amazing. I chose to launch my brand with Nordstrom out of all the companies that approached me. It’s just such a perfect partnership because the Nordstrom customer is my customer—she’s fun, she’s chic, she reads the magazines. Nordstrom makes it all accessible; it’s where I shop, where I go to get my designers, but it’s still young, hip and easy.
Inspired to try Kate Somerville’s wonder products? Shop her full skincare and makeup collection at Nordstrom. And stay tuned for our next post, when we connect with Anastasia “The Brow Expert” Soare.