Hagley-based business woman Michelle Feeney has spent her 30 year career heading up some of the world’s leading beauty brands. Now the former Solihull school girl has used her impressive insider experience to go it alone. She talks to LISA PIDDINGTON about her new venture Floral Street as it launches exclusively at Harvey Nichols.
When it comes to insider knowledge of the beauty industry, few can claim to have more experience than Michelle Feeney. A visionary business leader, she worked with Tommy Hilfiger and his team on launching his first ever fragrance; transformed a then fledgling Crème de la Mer into an overnight success; helped grow MAC into the global brand it is today; and headed up fake tan company St Tropez, turning it from a small UK business into a worldwide phenomenon.
It’s hardly surprising then that the driven mum-of-two has gained an enviable reputation on both sides of the Atlantic for her uncompromising determination and her natural talent for developing cult brands. But at the heart of her success is her core belief in the importance of corporate social responsibility.
While working at MAC, Michelle took a leading role in promoting the MAC AIDS Fund, realising her conviction that a strong position in the commercial world brings with it the power to make significant improvements in the broader social context.
It’s an extremely impressive CV for the former Solihull Technical College student, who has still managed to find time to establish a family business – Hagley eatery Fig & Favour with her brother Ian – while launching her own perfume brand.
Tell us about your new fragrance line?
Floral Street is a modern collection of fragrances powered by flowers. It’s about breaking with tradition; it’s about bunches, not bouquets; ingredients, not notes. The range launches with eight individual scents created with Jérôme Epinette, one of the finest perfumers in the industry, and our totally recyclable and compostable packaging is a first in the premium fragrance industry.
What was your inspiration for Floral Street?
My original idea came as I was working in London’s Covent Garden. I looked up from my desk and noticed there was a street sign for ‘Floral Street’ and thought that would be a great name for a fragrance brand. I then took a break from the beauty industry – yes, I decided to have a gap year at 51 – and during that time I saw how my kids were seeing and experiencing the world and enjoying the amazing diversity that Britain has. Growing up in the Midlands we were always ‘mashed-up’ with people from other countries and cultures. Seeing how, 30 years later, this has seeped through to make a new British culture is so inspiring. Food, fashion and beauty are all much richer and individual today. Young adults are now confident and are connoisseurs of wine, food, exercise, makeup and hair, but there is a gap when it comes to fragrance. I decided to bring fine fragrance to a younger audience in a more interesting way and at a more accessible price point.
Of your eight new fragrances, which is your favourite?
I genuinely love them all and choose by my mood. If I am feeling sophisticated I tend to wear Chypre Sublime; and if I want to feel a bit ‘rock n roll’ I’ll wear Black Lotus. I designed the fragrances with one of the best ‘noses’ in the world and I wanted each one to be unique, not designed for me but for all women at any point in their day, week or life.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest brands in the beauty business, what was your most valuable lesson?
I have learned many lessons from each brand I have worked on but I think my 13 years in New York in global positions taught me to really understand how cultural differences play a vital role in how a consumer perceives a product. At MAC the mantra was “All Ages. All Sexes. All Races” showing how the brand embraced difference way before anyone else.
With more than 30 years experience, what’s been your career highlight?
Launching Floral Street. Throughout my career I have worked on other peoples’ brands making them famous – Crème de la Mer, MAC, St Tropez – but this is something I have created from scratch. From the bottles, the packaging and the visuals I have engaged 35 different British companies, from independents to larger businesses, and that has been very exciting.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Leonard Lauder said: “Just when you have had enough of hearing about something, someone is hearing about it for the first time”.
What must-have beauty products do you buy time and time again?
MAC mascara, Aromatherapy Associates bath oils and Oribe shampoo … and of course Chypre Sublime.
For many, the beauty industry may seem rather flippant. Why do you think it is vital business?
The beauty industry has provided an environment where women can work on their own terms and still get to the top. You can be a part-time home therapist or makeup artist, a scientist working on product development or an engineer designing packaging. It is a multi-billion pound global business that is important to an individual because it brings joy and can improve self-confidence. And ultimately it’s fun!
What’s next for Floral Street?
We open our stand-alone store in Covent Garden this month with our ‘Floristas’ and scent-school. I hope Floral Street will begin on its path to become a significant British global brand.
The Floral Street Collection is available from Harvey Nichols Birmingham and includes eight fragrances – Wonderland Peony, Neon Rose, London Poppy, Wild Vanilla Orchid, Iris Goddess, Chypre Sublime, Black Lotus and Ylang-Ylang Espresso. They each cost £55 (50ml).