margarita arriagada

This is a bestseller in Sephora Europe—the number one tanning brand—so we decided to pick it up. It’s a great formula, but we thought it was just amazing that it lasts. And doesn’t smell!” says Sephora Chief Merchant Margarita Arriagada. “It’s a trade secret, but what I can share is that while Vita Liberata was reformulating the range to include organic botanicals, their biochemist discovered a way to extend the tan up to three weeks. It’s so great that there’s still innovation in self-tanner.”


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VITA LIBERATA / Tinted Self Tan Mousse For Body

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Vita Liberata / pHenomenal 2-3 Week Tan Mousse

While many of us grow up obsessed with beauty products, few end up becoming the people who actually make them. Enter Kate Helfrich: a woman who snagged the dream job of scouring the world for beauty inspiration—and turning it into a product. With her bird’s eye view of this process, we’re excited to introduce her as a new guest columnist for The Sephora Glossy. Watch for her exclusive insights into the beauty you love—and the beauty you don’t even know about yet. In the meanwhile, we sat down with Helfrich to talk trend-spotting, bringing new products to life, and more. KELLEY HOFFMAN

Can you describe a day in your life?
I follow the entire lifecycle of a product. From the sexy to the technical. We do everything—thinking of the concept, developing the formula and packaging, testing, and gathering consumer feedback—it’s our job to make sure the product delivers. One day I could be coming up with the next big idea or at the manufacturer’s making sure the shade of the lipstick matches the color swatch I sent six months ago. I might be deciding what kind of claims we want to make. Then I might be testing it to make sure it actually is waterproof and long-wearing! I could also be in a conference room with a bunch of girls and a bowl of candy trying to figure out the name of the product. There are jokes about where nail polish and blush names come from, but this is literally how it happens: We stuff everyone in a conference room and give them candy and pizza, and we come up with names ourselves: Gold Aglow, Intense Onyx, Peach Infusion. Voila!

Going to beauty trade shows is an important part of your job. About how many do you go to in a year?
Probably three or four marquee trade shows a year. The mecca of beauty trade shows, CosmoProf, takes place in Bologna, Italy annually.  There are some hot packaging trade shows around the September Fashion Week in New York. Packaging innovation is, in many cases, becoming just as important as formula innovation. Also, Asia is where so much beauty product innovation comes from, so we’re trying to have someone from the team attend those shows annually as well.

Can you describe what going to a beauty trade show is like?
Yes, it’s beauty crack! Mini steroids. It’s where you go to get inspired. You’re walking in these enormous pavilions with hundreds and hundreds of booths. Everyone from huge manufacturers to mom-and-pop operations are showing you the latest textures, ingredients, colors, packaging, and applicator systems. It’s an incredible experience where everybody gets together to show off their wares. Margarita Arriagada, Chief Merchant at Sephora and the ultimate product guru, aptly named it Beauty Church. When we go there, it’s time to get real.

Can you take us through the process of spotting a trend or new idea and making it into a beauty product?
Good question! It’s a little bit of art, a little bit of science, and a lot of collaboration. My team comes up with amazing ideas, but we also get some awesome ones from the merchants who run SEPHORA COLLECTION and the trainers who are experts on the brand and are really connected to the client. Everybody is plugged into the brand in a different way and has access to different information and different ideas.

It can be as simple as seeing someone on the street wearing eyeliner in a triple line—white, blue, and pink. That’s a moment where I may think, “Whoa, this is incredible, I’ve never seen this before. Eyeliner is HOT right now—we’ve gotta bring this to life in one product!” What comes next is a pretty crazy and lengthy process: I write a concept for what I’m seeing, and specify exactly what the product would do and how I envision it. We decide if it will have a felt tip or brush hair applicator? Do I want the outside of the packaging to be like one of those pens you had as a kid, the one where you could click a certain side of the cap and write in a different color—would that be cool? We decide if the formula needs to be waterproof. We look at the competitive market and decide how to price it. What should the artwork look like? What does the unit carton look like? A million questions! I then have to take all that information and have it approved by the SEPHORA COLLECTION merchants, the brand, and the business owners. Once that is all worked out, I write a very technical product brief that we send out to manufacturers who we know specialize in eyeliners. Then they come back to me and say, “This is what we can do, this is what we can’t do, and this is what it’s going to cost.” And then, the best price wins!

Going back and forth and getting a formula to its perfect state can take up to a year! Then you have to tack on all the time that’s needed to scale it up and make it, test it, pack it, ship it, and get it on the shelf! It takes anywhere from 12-24 months to bring a new product to life—from idea to shelf.

How do you know what’s going to be the next big thing in beauty?
You don’t always know what’s going to be the next big thing, and there are often curve balls (for example, I think lip plumping is coming back!), but you need to be plugged in—to everything. That’s the only way to figure it out. You’ve got to scour the beauty blogs, YouTube, the makeup artist Instagram feeds, the fashion catwalks, the beauty mags. You’ve got to watch what your client is doing and what celebrities are doing. In addition to this, there are hundreds of beauty manufacturers from all over the world who are constantly showing you ingredients, trends, and new materials and textures, some offering wildly different things and some offering slightly different executions of the same thing (for example, every vendor I know is presenting some sort of hybrid lip product right now!) It’s up to you as the developer to interpret those trends into something that’s really going to resonate with your client.

What’s coming up in beauty? What’s going to have a major moment?
Facial architecting and changing your face shape through light and shadow. That’s really hot and that’s not just a trend. It’s a tool women can use to easily get the appearance of a thinner, more shapely face. Brows are also really hot. I don’t think people have realized yet what an impact brow shape and brow color can have on the overall look of your face. Brows are back, baby.


“The Dolce & Gabbana Light Blue Summer scents just feel like a European summer. We had Tom Ford Neroli Portofino in Hot Now recently, too. Maybe I need a vacation to the Italian Riviera!” jokes Sephora Chief Merchant Margarita Arriagada. “The women’s is a fresh and light blend of citrus, geranium, and amber, and I love the blend of the lychee and patchouli in the male version. They both just feel perfect for this time of year.”


“We’ve never had a product like [Bliss Fuzz Off] before, and this thing works,” reports Sephora Chief Merchant Margarita Arriagada. “I had a friend try it, and she loved it. It wasn’t out yet, so I only had a sample. It took the hair off, it’s soothing with vitamin E, has a great scent, and the application is great—you don’t have to touch it with your hands to remove it.”