New Yorker and former fashion tech founder April Uchitel recently moved to Los Angeles to head up Violet Grey Her mission was to shine the spotlight on female founders and entrepreneurs, as well as celebrate the best beauty products on the market and the enviable LA lifestyle.
Quintessentially: You’ve parlayed a career in fashion and founded your own fashion tech start-up – so how’s life going in the beauty world?
April Uchitel: I’m actively investing my background, unique experience and network into what we’re trying to do at Violet Grey. The company was founded in 2015 by Cassandra Grey, a former marketing executive from New York, and we have just positioned ourselves for growth. In the beginning, we were very focused on content, our aesthetic and building an identifiable global brand. Now, we are about curating the best make-up and skincare products on the market and educating our consumers. We developed the Violet Code, with which editors, stylists and industry experts can test every product. Nothing makes it onto our shelves unless it's been through this vigorous code process. We check the boxes for having a female founder, a strong beauty and wellness philosophy, and for being a Californian start-up - so everyone is watching.
Has your approach to personal beauty changed?
I was that girl who used anything anybody gave me for free. I was completely disloyal to any brand. We lived in TriBeCa in New York for 19 years and spent a few years living upstate in the country, so I started wearing a bold red lipstick. I was not going to be the mom who dropped the kids to school in pyjamas. I love Giorgio Armani lip magnet liquid lipstick and Augustinus Bader skincare - an amazing UK brand we launched exclusively.
You’d already lived in LA before moving to New York and then back again. Describe the changes in LA over the past two decades...
It’s undergone a resurgence. In the 90's, it was one big industry town. I was in fashion back then, but unless you were in entertainment, no one took you seriously. Now, there are a lot of VC start-ups, many New York brands have a presence here and there’s a big tech community. YouTube, Snapchat and Amazon have their studios here. Everybody's trying to leverage content; there’s a real youth movement and New Yorkers are coming here to reinvent themselves and change industries or turn passion projects into a business. People think that LA is super chilled and that no one really works, but people are hustling here. There's an incredible energy. There are entrepreneurs in health, beauty, nutrition, tech and finance and a lot of VC funds are investing in female founders.
As a female lead in business, is it important to use your profile as a platform?
Whether you have 200, 20,000 or 200,000 followers on Instagram, everyone should use their platform to start important conversations. Working for a business that is female-founded and with all that’s happening around equality, this provides an opportunity to rally people and empower them. I lose respect for brands that are not participating in the conversation or the world around us - brands that are out to just sell stuff.
Which causes are closest to your heart?
We ran a campaign called ‘I am a Voter’. The message was “let’s make voting cool, so please go and vote” and we had an amazing response. You can’t sit back and complain if you don’t participate. We also worked hard to gain support for crisis with the fires in LA. A lot of brands and people in my network were asking how they could help. I told them they could donate.
You’ve been in LA a year and a half. What’s the transition been like?
My husband Diego and I met here in the 90's and then moved to New York. A couple of years ago we decided we wanted a lifestyle that incorporated city living and our country home, as we were done with living between the two. LA ticked the boxes: we have family and friends here, and industry-wise it made sense. If you don’t push yourself out of your comfort zone and embrace change, you miss new experiences and opportunities.
What is the best thing about living in LA?
The indoor, outdoor lifestyle. The kids are always outside in the pool or the yard, and we eat outside pretty much year-round. Diego loves to cook an Argentinian barbeque. Hiking in Fryman Canyon Park is one of my favourite things to do. Runyon Canyon is right here too but it’s a little too much of a paparazzi moment for me. I love Casa Vega, this crazy Mexican place in the valley that looks like Vegas and Pace, an Italian restaurant that is an institution in Laurel Canyon. Having the freedom to jump into the Sprinter van, drive two hours north or south and see something completely different is another highlight. We recently went to Joshua Tree, did a Big Sur and Yosemite trip and Bolinas in Northern California.
Your home is beautiful, and it feels cosy, lived in and like a cross between a New York loft and a Hamptons beach house.
There is a very ‘Brady Bunch’ vibe to the houses around here, a lot of people raised their children here and are now grandparents. This house was newly renovated as we didn’t feel like undergoing a major renovation, and when we walked in, we just loved the energy. It’s like a breath of fresh air, being able to see through the house to the back yard. We loved that it was all on one floor, as the house upstate was upstairs, downstairs, basement, and lots of small rooms. This has a very open feel, like our loft in Manhattan. When people walk in, they say they’ve never seen a house like this in California. We had a fully furnished house upstate as well as our loft in New York, so we did a major purge, picked the stuff we really loved and had collected over the years, so the things we’ve kept have history. My favourite place is the living room. I love to see the pink sky through the open doors as the sun's starting to set - it’s magical. We have a fireplace, which we never use. And, I can count on my fingers the amount of times we have sat at the dining table, as we live outside. It’s hard to leave when you get home.
You have an impressive art, photography and book collection, can you name your stars among them?
If I had to choose, it’s the shot of ‘The City’ photographed by Diego. We spent so many years in New York and have such amazing memories, so I love the fact that we get to look at it every day. I miss my friends there and just stepping out and running into people, having a spontaneous get-together. I could do five meetings in one day, hit two evening events and be home by nine. Here, I try to make everybody come to me, as half an hour in the car each way just kills you. LA's not about spontaneity, because you have to drive - the flaky factor is legit. I recently hosted an evening at my home with 50 ex-New Yorkers, and we had a taco bar and wine. It was wonderful, but that doesn’t happen all the time.
Describe your personal style and where you love to shop?
Melrose Place has undergone a revival - it’s super cool. Our offices are there; Glossier recently moved in, and there are high-end fashion brands like Isabel Marant, Chloé, Rachel Comey, Maria Cornejo and many more popping up. I like a uniform; I am more of a tomboy now. I live in my Comme des Garçons Converse sneakers and never really wear a heel. I like a good stripe, mixed with army, mixed with camel, mixed with a white shirt and a denim. I love Clare Vivier bags, and she’s even made one just for me. It’s very cool walking into a meeting with Estee Lauder, wearing jeans and sneakers. Even when I go out to a function for VIOLET GREY, I’ll wear a denim tuxedo.
Photographer Diego Uchitel is renowned for his elegant arresting signature style and has photographed some of the world's most beautiful and fascinating models, celebrities and film-makers for the likes of Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, W Magazine and The New York Times. He says, “My photography is painterly and cinematic. I started shooting portraits and album covers for rock bands at concerts, and today, I mainly shoot portraits. A few years ago, I published the book Diego Uchitel Polaroids [Damiani] featuring 30 years of polaroids taken on-set, before everything went digital.”
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Photography by Diego Uchitel