Gabriela Hernandez is a retro makeup maven with her brand Besame – that’s Spanish for kiss me! She sells rich-hued lipsticks in bullet-like cases because that’s how lipsticks were originally sold. She also has lip balms, foundations and eye-makeup, all in perfectly petite, chrysanthemum-embossed cases.
Mad Men is back on television. Does the series spark much interest in Besame?
Yes. When Mad Men started they called me to use some of my lipsticks for the pilot. The makeup artist on the show came and got a bunch of products. It was cool.
We do a lot of film, like The Good Shepherd with Angelina Jolie, and television when they need vintage-related products, either a prop or an historical color.
How did you start Besame?
I’m a designer and photographer by trade. I wanted to do something that was personal, something I would enjoy. I had a lot of antiques from my grandmother I thought were very feminine that you can’t find anymore and I felt like that whole aesthetic was lost in the [cosmetics] industry. I wanted to bring it back. I started with one product, the bullet lipstick and put it online and it developed a following.
Tell us about your grandmother.
I was born in Argentina, in Buenos Aires and came to the US when I was 12. My grandmother and my aunts had a way of putting themselves together. It wasn’t like they were trying too hard, they just had a natural elegance and that’s what I wanted to bring back with the line.
Did your grandmother put lipstick on before leaving the house?
Always. She didn’t use a lot of cosmetics. Lipstick, foundation and blush were the staple items she would always put on.
What’s your best-selling item?
Our lipsticks – we have 12 colors and we have five reds – they are the bestsellers. They are the ones we reproduced from the originals. I have originals from the 1920s to 1940s and those reds come from those.
You’re a collector of vintage makeup; what’s your most recent purchase?
I have an old men’s makeup pack from Max Factor, probably from 1930, that was a set for theatrical use. It’s very cool because you get to see different formulas, shadows and colors that they did at the time.
Besame is made locally, is that right?
Yes, all the products are made in California. I work on my formulas personally and I have to have the lab close so I can monitor them. I have to know what I’m making with people who I trust. Ours is more of an artisan line. It’s still handmade and we make it in smaller batches. It has to have a certain amount of quality associated with it and the only way I can do that is to keep it local.
What would you say if a company like Estée Lauder (home to 28 boutique brands) approached you?
I don’t know to tell you the truth what I would say. It depends what they wanted; what their intentions were with the brand. I’m happy doing it almost as an artistic endeavor for me. Every season we custom mold, design, we make the formula and I do all the graphics. It’s actually more like a form of expression for me like making little art pieces.