Martina Arfwidson never imagined she’d be joining her mother Gun Nowak in her budding makeup business. But when she tired of a singing career that consisted mostly of performing in the New York City streets, the proposition grew appealing. “It made sense to open a business with mom rather than continuing to wait on every table in New York, like I was,” says Arfwidson.
So mother stayed in their native Sweden, and daughter set up shop on the Upper West Side in 1990. “It was a rough start,” says Arfwidson. “I had never run a business before, and learned by making every possible mistake.”
FACE Stockholm itself was born in the 1980s. Nowak had previously owned three popular fashion boutiques, but discovered a gap in the highly competitive cosmetics market, which lacked bold colors for expressive women. So she concentrated her efforts on developing foundation, blush, eyeshadow, lipstick, and gloss in vibrant hues that catered to modern females. The strategy paid off: Today, FACE Stockholm is sold in more than 140 locations throughout Europe and North America. Their roll call of customers reads like the pages of a gossip rag — from Jennifer Aniston (who buys blush and concealer) to, um, Owen Wilson (who buys lotion) by way of Madonna (blush), Annie Lennox (lipstick), and Britney Spears (lip gloss).
Yet despite this, the mother-daughter team has worked hard at maintaining the feel of a family business, rather than venturing over to the dark side and going corporate. “We’re still very much married to our values as a family company,” Arfwidson says. “We honor our employees and work as a team, which is a very Swedish way of working. It’s a collaboration more than a traditional hierarchy. That’s something I’m very proud of.”
Though they have a chic shop on Columbus Circle, the company maintains its headquarters in Hudson and has a store there, as well as one in Rhinebeck. Part of the reason for this is simply that Arfwidson, who is married and has two children, likes living in the Hudson Valley and enjoys the people. “We’ve always been into being where we liked to be and working with people we love,” she says.
Other than its radical color palette, the other factor in FACE Stockholm’s success is its convention-shattering store protocol, says Arfwidson. “We were more customer service-driven,” she says. “The sale of makeup is a very intimate business. You get very close to people, almost like a doctor or a dentist.” So FACE ditched the traditional over-the-counter interaction and started selling makeup from tables, removing the barrier and bringing the customer closer.
Virtually the entire industry has since adopted this method. It takes some doing to get the cheerful Arfwidson to admit it, but FACE was the first.