The meteoric rise of the cosmetics company Poppy King founded when she was just 18 met an equally dramatic demise when she was 30. Now Poppy’s back in the lipstick business with her new range called Lipstick Queen, and this time, it’s all on her own terms.
Poppy King can’t resist the allure of a good lipstick. It’s a passion she has indulged since she first played dress-ups at the age of seven.
By the time she was 18 Melbourne-born Poppy had become so frustrated that she couldn’t find the shade or texture of lipstick she wanted in the stores that she began making some herself. In 1992 she launched her first matte lipstick brand, naming her lipsticks after the Seven Deadly Sins and selling them through hip boutiques. Demand for Poppy’s lipsticks exploded. Turnover of her company, Poppy Industries ran into the millions from the get-go and the brand quickly became a household name. In 1993 Barney New York launched her line in their flagship Madison Ave store. Poppy was heralded as an overnight sensation in the business world and in 1995 was named the Young Australian of the Year and also as one of the ‘Global Leaders for the New Millennium’ by Time Magazine.
It seemed the young entrepreneur could do no wrong. But eventually the bubble started to burst. Poppy took on business partners with whom she had creative differences. Then she realised that she had become more of an employee than a manager in the very company that she had founded. After struggling along for a few years the company eventually wound up in 2002. “It was very painful but a worthwhile learning experience. I learned to make sure that when you take on business partners that there is a real synergy in terms of the vision for the business you’re in. While people may want to buy into your company for a certain amount of money, money alone is not the indicator of success. The experience they bring is just as important.” Instead of assuming that expertise is easily transferable, Poppy says she will now only work alongside business partners and employees who have experience in the cosmetics industry.
The very public breakdown of her business was “devastating” for Poppy and she says she was glad of the opportunity to move from Australia to New York to take up a position as Vice President of Creative Marketing for Prescriptives with Estee Lauder. “I was able to reinvent myself and start again in terms of building a reputation and credibility within the industry out there.”
Poppy says she learned a lot while working for the global cosmetics giant. “They were an amazing company to work for but after a while I learned that I am not primarily suited to big structures and traditional corporate life. But I did learn a lot about structure and how much expertise is needed behind the scenes.”
In 2005 she left Estee Lauder to write a book, Lessons of a Lipstick Queen – Finding and Developing the Great Idea that can Change your Life which details her extraordinary journey while providing readers with a number of valuable lessons in how to become an entrepreneur – from recognising a good idea, to finding finance, marketing the brand, approaching media and avoiding pitfalls. Poppy says the book was the catalyst for getting back into lipstick as a career. “It was during the process of writing that I realised that I hadn’t lost my passion for lipstick and that I still believed that great colours and textures were missing from the market. I never intended to get back into the lipstick business and am as surprised this time as I was when I first started out. It does feel a bit like déjà vu but it also feels totally new again.”
Poppy was in New Zealand in October to promote her new brand, Lipstick Queen, which has a fun and glamorous range of lipsticks that fall into either the sheer Saints or opaque Sinners category. She has also developed a unique matte gloss product called Oxymoron. “Oxymoron goes on like a lip-gloss yet has a rich and matte finish. It is used on the lips and cheeks to give a lit up rather than made up look.”
Lipstick Queen was launched in the UK and USA last year but has only just been released in Australasia. It has already garnered a cult following and has had enormous press, despite the fact the marketing has been handled organically without a publicist and the products have only exclusive distribution at this point. “The press has been unbelievable. I guess it shows that people do want to read about others who have an authentic story to tell.”
Poppy believes lipstick should make a statement while helping women feel strong and confident. Her own preference is to wear red lipstick but says she likes all the colours in her range. “It’s more about the interpretation of colour. I like to make colours that are flattering with an edge. That are chic enough to be seen walking down the streets of Paris rather than in a shopping mall.”
The process of mixing and making a lipstick is similar to baking a cake, she says. “My expertise is in directing and designing the look and feel of the product. I know exactly what texture, colour and taste I want, then work with fantastic chemists who formulate the product for me.”
Chic, strong and feminine are words to describe Poppy’s own style. Her look is reminiscent of the glamorous actresses from the 1930s and 40s – think Jean Harlow, Greta Garbo or Lauren Bacall. “Even when I have tried to look more modern it doesn’t really suit me, but I try not to look like I’m in costume. I still want to look fresh.”
These days Poppy divides her time between New York (where she has been based the last six years) and London, where her boyfriend lives. “I spend a lot of time navigating between my relationship and the business. I am pretty busy but it is for happy reasons.”
When it comes to the future of her business, Poppy says it is all about taking slow, small, consistent steps rather than making one giant leap. “There has to be equal amounts of passion and planning. Common sense and consistency are just as important as business smarts. It may not be glamorous but it is one of the secrets of running a successful business.”
Poppy said about the story:
“Hi there!!! This looks great. So sorry for the delay in responding …. I have been traveling beween NYC andLA! It was such a pleasure to meet you and see you next time!
Poppy King, Lipstick Queen, New York