Beauty Boss: Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey’s Journey to Violet Grey

Updated 10/04/17

In our new series, Beauty Boss, we’re highlighting individuals who are owning the beauty space and turning it upside down in new, innovative ways. You’ll be able to get an exclusive look at their very personal journeys to success, as well as hear their advice to anyone wanting to follow in their footsteps.

If you’re ever lucky enough to be at the same beauty event as Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey, you’ll notice her star power instantly. She effectively glides across the room, connecting people with grace and ease like the consummate hostess—someone who can confidently introduce person A to B, then recede to the sideline as they fall in love or work or both.

We had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the very private Violet Grey founder in person, at the brick-and-mortar beauty boutique of the same name on Melrose Place, where she seemed completely in her element. If Violet Grey weren’t a stunning three-room parlor that’s part curated shop (lush products from Tom Ford, Bobbi Brown, and Dior line the walls), part application outpost (in an Old Hollywood glam–style room with a big table and mirrors, makeup artists come for exclusive launches and application demos), you would think Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey lived at Violet Grey.

Like some kind of fairy princess with a pixie cut (Tinker Bell meets Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s—with all their magnetic, alluring qualities and none of the childlike innocence) who goes to bed nestled among glass-encased shelves of lipstick and wakes up to run a business like a boss.

But more than commerce, the creative component of Violet Grey (known as The Violet Files) has proven itself to be an exciting player in the editorial realm, with imaginative, boundary-breaking spreads featuring actresses like January Jones, Emily Blunt, Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the imagery and beauty of which stick with you for days. In short, Violet Grey is beauty art, with Grey at the artistic helm. Naturally, we couldn’t wait to pick the fascinating founder’s brain, and she did not disappoint.

Keep scrolling for career tips, life lessons, and beauty insight from one of the most interesting players in the game today.

Cassandra grey career tips
Cassandra Huysentruyt Grey

What this something that you always dreamed of doing, starting a beauty company?

CG: “Well, I always knew that I was going to start a company. For my early 30s, it was kind of on my list, as a check box. And I knew it was going to be luxury because I’m really influenced by how art can influence behavior. And luxury always tends to be layered with history. Layers of art, integrity, and storytelling. For me, that makes it more exciting and drives me more to achieve the business aspect. I’m more driven by the art! My whole life, I was a consultant for marketing and branding, and I worked mostly with hospitality clients, like hotels, restaurants, and things.

Then it was fashion clients, more luxury brands. But never anything in beauty—and I was really interested in beauty mainly because it’s really a self-esteem business. It’s reoccurring purchases with these rituals you make with women. There are so many great things to work with in beauty. There’s almost a utilitarian aspect, a fashion aspect; it’s seasonal. It really transforms women and can make you feel like a completely different person. It’s almost like theater! It’s fun!

“So I wrote the business plan. I actually had a collection of business plans, and Violet Grey was one of them. I wrote it when I was in New York, and I probably wouldn’t have started Violet Grey unless I had moved to L.A. Violet is inspired by the lost glamour of Hollywood, even just Los Angeles in terms of the architecture. I was so inspired to build a brand around this. This was about six years ago, and all the pieces came together. I also discovered the makeup artists, which I knew about, but I didn’t quite understand the inside of the industry.

Like how artists work with stars in the campaign business. And their impact on the beauty business—to me they are kind of like the new chefs. Being exposed to Hollywood and all of that branding perspective and this community, it started to really feel like there is something here. I was so excited.” 

The interior of Violet Grey boutique on Melrose Place

How did you first learn about beauty? Did you grow up around women who had rituals?

CG: “I grew up in a very unconventional childhood, mostly in San Francisco. My mother was a teacher, wore minimal makeup, a very natural beauty. But my mother was a sort of a gypsy, so I was homeschooled. I lived on a farm, in a Quaker community. I think because of that, I wasn’t exposed to beauty early on. I think the first time I was exposed to it was my grandmother, who was very fashion suits, lipstick, hair always done, and I really loved that. Probably when I was a preteen, early teenager.”

What has the path to where you are now been like for you?    

CG: “Bumpy.”       

What have you learned along the way? What has been the biggest wild card/learning curve for you? 

CG: “I’ve learned that the only thing you can count on is that anything worth building takes vision, money, and people—a company’s strengths are a direct reflection of the strengths of its team.”

What has the path to where you are now been like for you?    

CG: “Bumpy.”       

What have you learned along the way? What has been the biggest wild card/learning curve for you? 

CG: “I’ve learned that the only thing you can count on is that anything worth building takes vision, money, and people—a company’s strengths are a direct reflection of the strengths of its team.”

What strong female women have influenced you in your career? 

CG: “Agnes Martin for her precision in editing. Anna Wintour for her commitment to excellence and for her generosity. Georgia O’Keeffe for her depictions of women, and Lauren Hutton for her vulnerability.”

The interior makeup room of Violet Grey boutique on Melrose Place

What's the best career advice you've ever learned? 

CG: “Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you.”

If you could rewind five years, 10 years, and 15 years, what would you tell yourself at each of those ages?

CG: “Let’s see. Five years, invest in coconut water. Ten years, stop smoking; it's dreadful for your skin. Fifteen years, freeze your eggs.”

What's the toughest part about running your business? And what’s your favorite part?

If you could rewind five years, 10 years, and 15 years, what would you tell yourself at each of those ages?

CG: “Let’s see. Five years, invest in coconut water. Ten years, stop smoking; it's dreadful for your skin. Fifteen years, freeze your eggs.”

What's the toughest part about running your business? And what’s your favorite part?

CG: “The toughest part is managing people. And my favorite part is managing people.”

Where did you see yourself and/or Violet Grey, in five years?

CG: “I think with Violet Grey, we still have so much to deliver in terms of the vision that we have for it. In five years, I would hope that we, our team, continues to grow. It’s all about team and being able to collaborate. Being around people who inspire and challenge you. Success to me is a team that works really well together. Plus, we have our team and then we have our extended team, which are the artists, the creative contributors, and the brand partners. It’s a pretty big operation to make it all happen.

Those relationships feel like success to me when they are working and they are mutually beneficial, where everybody is helping to grow the culture. I always want Violet Grey to be a culture and a point of view more than anything else. I feel like it takes about 10 years to really establish a luxury brand and culture and that sort of identity. In the digital spirit, we will probably get there a lot quicker. Maybe we will be a global point of view at that point! That would be great!”

What are you most proud of today?

Grey with January Jones and Eva Chen at a Lucky Fabb event

Do you think you’re going to keep your hair like this?

CG: “I don’t know! I always start to grow it out. This time, I’ve been growing it out and then cutting it to grow it out. And I’m pregnant, so it’s been growing really fast. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me! It’s been about five years since I’ve had this hair. Right now, I want to grow it out.” 

Given your position in the industry, you’ve come across some of the most amazing beauty products out there—what are three that have blown you away, and why?  

CG: “Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing bar—Dr. Laszlo was nothing short of revolutionary. He insisted that patients, including the princess of his native Hungary, cleanse their faces with his soap and water instead of then-popular cold creams. His client list speaks for itself: Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis all entrusted their skin to him.

“Velour Lashes. Violet Grey has a curated selection of these cruelty-free mink lashes. They last for an astonishingly long time, up to 25 applications, and are perfect for those of us who covet lush lashes and minimal hassle in equal measure.  

“La Prairie Swiss Ice Crystal Dry oil. I’ve found few oils to be as sheer and fast-absorbing as this one—come summer, there’s no better solution for post-sunbathing hydration.”

Given your position in the industry, you’ve come across some of the most amazing beauty products out there—what are three that have blown you away, and why?  

CG: “Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing bar—Dr. Laszlo was nothing short of revolutionary. He insisted that patients, including the princess of his native Hungary, cleanse their faces with his soap and water instead of then-popular cold creams. His client list speaks for itself: Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis all entrusted their skin to him.

Erno Laszlo Sea Mud Deep Cleansing Bar $45
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Velour Velour Lashes $30
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La Prairie Swiss Ice Crystal Dry oil $30
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Sisley Floral Spray Mist $100
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