How One of the Most Important Women in Beauty Made It to the Top

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Karen Buglisi Weiler, Global Brand President of MAC Cosmetics

When it comes to Karen Buglisi Weiler, Global Brand President of MAC Cosmetics, they should probably invent a new term, because “inspirational” doesn’t even begin to cover it. Not only is she a self-made woman who started from humble beginnings at the age of 17 at a Revlon counter, but she’s the kind of industrious, forward-thinking person who never lost sight of her passion. In fact, she managed to rise through the ranks of the beauty industry to the very top while raising three sons as a single mother. In her talk at Fashion Forward Season 6, Weiler explained what drives her forward, saying, “Makeup can change your world. A product can transform you into a better version of yourself by enhancing your own natural beauty. It brings a lot of good into the world. From the first brushstroke, I was hooked.”

People like Weiler tend to inspire legends. Although she is perched atop one of the highest selling beauty brands in the world, she is a warm and open individual who is quick to praise and who laughs with her entire body. It should come as no surprise that the team surrounding her adores her, and everyone she encounters, from the makeup professionals working MAC counters across the world to the consumers she meets, fall in love with her gracious, nurturing presence.

In this interview with Savoir Flair, she discusses what sets MAC apart as a brand, the products she can’t live without, and the advice she would give to a workaholic. Read on to get inspired by one of the most dynamic women in the beauty industry.

Did you have a sense of your future when you were young? Was a career in beauty always your goal?
I loved makeup from a young age. At 17, I started at a department store counter for Revlon, back when Revlon was in department stores. I went there looking for a job, but didn’t realize I would discover my life’s passion. When I worked at the counter I had one person working for me and I thought I was really a big deal [laughs].

And now you’re in charge of hundreds of thousands of employees!
Yes! Back then, though, I taught myself how to do makeup. I’m self-taught in many regards, actually. That job showed me the way, especially when I discovered how much I loved makeup, loved working with consumers. I spent a long time in retail before I started working on the vendor side.

When did you start working at MAC?
In 1998. Seventeen years ago.

Can you take me through your career trajectory and what led you to your position now as Global Brand President for MAC?
When I started with MAC in 1998, my position was Vice President of Artist Training and Development and Sales Operations for North America. I was thrilled to get the job! I didn’t know a lot about MAC at the time. I remember going into MAC at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City and having the MAC experience, which made me really excited to start working for them. Little did I know what it would become, or that 17 years later I’d be talking about it like this. In 2002, I was promoted to Senior Vice President of the Americas (overseeing North and South America), then in 2008 I took over global commerce, and in 2010 I was made Global Brand President. I just celebrated my fifth anniversary on October 1.

How would you describe MAC’s DNA?
We’re certainly all ages, all races, all sexes. So, we’re all inclusive. MAC was built on the idea that if you were not accepted any other place, you would be accepted at MAC.

MAC was built on the idea that if you were not accepted any other place, you would be accepted at MAC.

I think that’s the real heart of the brand. Second, we are a professional makeup artist brand. Makeup artists are MAC’s primary customer. That’s actually how MAC got started. Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo couldn’t find a product that would look good under stage lights, so they created it. Third, we’re a fashion brand, and we also have a charitable side with our Viva Glam line, which raises money and awareness for AIDS. We’re always asking: ‘How do we give back?’

Who conceptualizes your brand collaborations with celebrities? Does the person you select for the campaign help conceive the products?
It really depends. We have collaborators that come to us, sometimes we go to them. It takes a village at MAC. It can come from our communications team, or our creative team, or John Demsey, or the fashion world — our network is global! We do invite our collaborators to be involved in the creation of the product, because we want it to be a blend of their personality and MAC’s.

Do you think there is potential for MAC to do a global campaign with a Middle Eastern influencer?
Of course we’re open to that! In fact, we had a locally inspired collection that did very well. And we’ve done campaigns, like the one we did with Julia Petit in Brazil, that started local and went global, so I think there’s an opportunity to do something like that here.

What do you think distinguishes the Middle Eastern MAC shopper from the rest of the world?
The way the Middle Eastern woman embraces beauty, the way she loves beauty. They take it very seriously, and I love that so much. Day or night, no matter what the occasion – they can be shopping at the mall – they’re going to look flawless with perfect makeup. I never wear makeup at the gym, but when I’m in Dubai I feel like I have to wear my ‘Ruby Woo’ and my ‘7 Lash’ just to be fit to go on the treadmill [laughs]. You know, I’m here at Fashion Forward and I expect to see beautiful women dressed to the nines, but if I go anywhere else in the city I’ll see the same thing too! I love it, though! It inspires me! As head of a makeup brand, I have to tell you, that is very exciting to us. At MAC, we absolutely celebrate the beauty of the Middle Eastern woman.

At MAC, we absolutely celebrate the beauty of the Middle Eastern woman.

What MAC products are in your handbag right now?
I can show you! [She reaches for her handbag, and starts pulling out products] First, there’s my MAC foundation brush. I also use a ‘Light Golden Refined’ neutral bronzer — I know it’s bad, but I love a tan face; I’m that girl. Oh, ‘Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation’ is the best makeup ever. Ever! We just launched it a few months ago. You only need a little bit, it gives great coverage, it has a flawless finish, and, best of all, it’s waterproof. It lasts all day, and if you’re looking for something to withstand the heat in the Middle East, this is it! Next I have the MAC ‘Veluxe Pearlfusion Shadow’ palette, which makes a great bronze smoky eye. I also have a nude lipstick and, just in case my lashes pop off, I have extra ‘Duo’ glue. Oh, and there’s a ‘Smolder’ pencil in here someplace too. I always, always have my ‘Smolder’ with me.

I was going to ask what products you would recommend to combat the heat in the Middle East, but I think you answered my question.
[laughs] Yes, the ‘Pro Longwear’ foundation is amazing, but I’d also recommend our ‘Pro Longwear’ paint pots. I discovered them recently, and they’re so amazing. You put it on as a base, and anything you put it over it really pops. Best of all, your eye makeup will not budge. You’re definitely going to discover some new favorites with the ‘Pro Longwear’ line.

Have you seen anything at FFWD so far that has inspired you?

I discovered Nathalie Trad yesterday. I can’t tell you how much I love her clutches. I have a new obsession!

Do you get downtime? Where is your favorite place to go for a little “me” time?
I do get downtime, and I love to go to Florida whenever I get the chance. I’m not a winter person, so when it’s cold I get out of town as much as possible. It’s easy too, just to take a weekend flight down there and be back in the office by Monday. Taking time for yourself is a choice. I’m not one who is checking my email all weekend, because if I’m doing that all weekend then my team is doing it all weekend. I want work-life balance for everyone that works for me.

You have to just put that phone down. That is my recommendation to everyone: put it down.

You have to just put that phone down. That is my recommendation to everyone: put it down.

Pick one day and make it a no text day, or no e-mail day. Take a break from it, and go live life! You’ll feel recharged, you’ll feel refreshed. If I can do it, anyone can do it.

Time for a few quick-fire questions. Favorite social media platform?
Instagram.

Favorite beauty trend?
Smoky eye.

Beauty product you can’t live without?
‘Pro Longwear Nourishing Waterproof Foundation’.

Secret to perfect hair?
Getting someone else to do it for you.

 

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