At age 12, Gabriela Hernandez and her family left behind their native Buenos Aires for the melting pot of The Bronx, and while the young Latina struggled to teach herself English, she would later get ready for her close-up as one of the leading entrepreneurs in beauty.
Hernandez, co-founder of vintage-inspired cosmetics line, Besame, now resides in California where she sells her products to women ready to channel their inner pinups – and Hollywood has already caught on.
From the 2011 Oscar-winning film, The Artist, which takes audiences back to the “Roaring ‘20s,” to the booze-fueled offices of ‘60s Madison Avenue in the hit television series, “Mad Men,” everyone is flocking to Hernandez’s collection of fiery red lipsticks, crimson rouges, and cashmere powders to transform themselves into starlets. Hernandez insists her success is due to her multicultural upbringing.
“When I first came to the US, it was tough to survive,” says Hernandez. “I didn’t know anybody and I couldn’t understand anyone. I had to rely on myself to get by. I think that’s why I’m the way that I am today. Myself and the company, we’re both very self-reliant. We produce everything, from the containers to the products themselves. Everything is made in-house.”
The soft-spoken businesswoman, who’s rarely seen without her signature rosy pout or throwback couture, didn’t always have her eyes set on creating an empire.
Previously, Hernandez co-founded the Alma Group, a Los Angeles-based agency. It was then, while working on designs for a client, that Hernandez thought of an idea for a side project.
“I collected a lot of my grandmother’s antique makeup and there was something magical to them that made me feel special,” she says. “They have a lasting quality to them. I wanted to redo them for today and still give that same feeling.” In September 2004, Hernandez sold the Alma Group and launched a new brand dedicated to the past.
Besame, named after the 1940 Spanish song, stands out from the pack, all thanks to its breathtaking, yet familiar packaging. Lipsticks in rich, velvety hues, such as “Cherry” and “Champagne” are displayed in authentic golden bullet cases. Petite compacts with miniature mirrors and blooming chrysanthemums pay tribute to old Hollywood and Hernandez’s culture. “Giving Besame a Latin feel wasn’t a conscious choice,” she reveals. “But it’s certainly who I am. That’s what comes out. It’s really just my idea of what’s romantic, alluring, and womanly.”
While Hernandez initially faced the usual struggles of launching a business, she’s always yearned to help women unveil their confidence – a task she faced herself when starting a new life in the United States as a child. Hernandez believes Latinas from classic cinema, including Rita Hayworth and Maria Montez, can still teach women today how to look and feel glamorous.
“These women carried themselves so differently without being overly sexual,” says Hernandez. “Women today don’t take advantage of their assets and we all have them. You don’t need to pack on 100 pounds of makeup to have confidence. That comes from within. Red lips will give you confidence, but you need to be the one who carries it.”
Boutiques today offer plenty of options to look runway-ready, but Hernandez believes shoppers can transform themselves into leading ladies with a few products to show off their finest features – a trait many famous sirens mastered for the cameras.
Hernandez, a wife, mother, and professor at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, continues to let her grandmother inspire her. Recently, she teamed up with “Project Runway” designer Kenley Collins to create a gift set featuring a chiffon scarf and a matching scarlet lipstick. Hernandez is also writing a how-to makeup guide, finalizing another designer collaboration set, and developing reproduction bags for 2013, all fitting for the highly anticipated debut of The Great Gatsby.
For now, Hernandez is content with meeting fans at a new shop she opened in Glendale, Calif.
“It’s a private environment, so it makes a fun experience for someone to come in and explore,” she says. “Women will try on 10 different lipsticks and see which ones they like best. I’m happy to join anyone who’s ready to play and discover a part of themselves.”
You can reach Stephanie Nolasco via Twitter: @SNolasco