Abby Wallach is proof careers can come full circle. That if you are nimble enough in your mindset you can follow one path, have success, then pivot and return to other passions that have been sitting on the back burner for years. And return to them with the knowledge and experience you gained along the way. Abby has always loved beauty, but her PR work in beauty turned into a full-fledged career heading live events for companies like Showtime, which turned into pitching her own TV series (bought by Comcast but ultimately shelved), and creating Beautiful Stranger TV, a pioneer in street style (before street style photogs became household names) and direct marketing. Now, she is back to her original love, beauty, and is the Co-CEO of Scentinvent, a company out to revolutionize how we think about and use scent. The first product is Linger, a fragrance primer that helps your scent last for three to five times longer. Linger launched on HSN and was picked up by the Today Show which is a very solid start. Here, Abby shares what she’s learned along the way, why she doesn’t ‘work’, and the disco diva who rocks her world.
Talk a little bit about your career because you started in beauty, made a 180 into TV for a long time, and have gone back. I started in fashion and beauty PR at a small boutique firm, which was the job I wanted. I launched the fragrance Quelques Fleurs at Bergdorf Goodman. It was one of my very first projects and from there I ended up segueing into entertainment. I worked for the producer of Beatlemania and AC/DC and The Moscow Circus. A job came up at Showtime Networks to be head of live special events. That was my dream job, to be the head of live events, but not in entertainment, in beauty and fashion. But it didn’t work out that way, so I spent the next six years at Showtime producing events all over the country. Then I moved into developing my own TV shows. I worked for the Nederlanders out in Hollywood. I did the Hollywood thing. Loved that, and then moved back into beauty, working with a beauty editor at InStyle to create new kinds of programming and content for the internet. That was in 1999 and fast forward, we launched Beautiful Stranger as the first content commerce product where you would watch videos and click to buy every product and service.
That was very ahead of its time. Very ahead. Everyone from YouTube, Disney, AOL and Huffington Post distributed our content. It was an exciting time for innovation in media. Fast forward I partnered with a reality TV producer and sold the idea as a TV reality show to Comcast Entertainment, but it never made it on air.
With Beautiful Stranger TV, we interviewed celebrity experts: Frederic Fekkai, Bobbie Brown, Olivia Chantecaille, who shared their insider secrets and personal stories. It was very inspiring. I always knew at one point I would want to have my own brand or prodcuct line.
When I re-connected with Caroline, who is my partner in our fragrance business, we saw a need and an opportunity to innovate in the category.
Tell me about Scentinvent the company and the products you have now: Scentinvent started because my partner’s late husband had a scent marketing business that she took over. I jumped in to help her bring the idea of scenting spaces to the entertainment industry. One day I said, ‘What if we could reinvent the way people experience fragrance?,’ and she said, ‘That’s so genius. Why don’t we go to my chemist?’
Caroline is an award-winning beauty executive and has a brilliant skincare background with Lancome, Prada and Clarins, so we went to her chemist and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could create a fragrance primer?,’ because the one thing I knew from my days at Beautiful Stranger interviewing people around the world about fragrance, is that fragrance just doesn’t last.
So we set out three and a half years ago to develop the first fragrance primer of its kind. No alcohol, no oil. It creates an invisible shield on your skin and it actually holds the scent to the skin. It’s silicon polymer based and we launched it on HSN in November. The product is patent-pending, clinically tested and fragrance fan approved.
How was that? Amazing. This was at the moment Facebook Live was just starting. I spent so many years in media and thought ‘wouldn’t it be fantastic to capture our journey and share it in real-time?’, so that is what we did. From the minute we hit the manufacturing line, to the live show at HSN, we we were live behind-the-scenes sharing our story. It was thrilling to have our community of friends and colleagues cheering us on from the minute we launched.
What made you choose HSN as opposed to normal retail brick-and-mortar to start? We felt that it was a great way to tell the story, for people to meet the founders, and to really blast off to an audience of 96 million people. Plus, they have a very strong dot com business. HSN has been an incredibly supportive partner and we are excited about the future of DRTV and the merger of HSN and QVC.
What lessons did you take from all your previous work and apply to what you’re doing now? It’s such a good question because you only know that as you’re actually doing it. One moment that was very interesting when I went out to Hollywood to share Linger at one the Golden Globe gifting suites. We weren’t allowed to film anything in real time, so I immediately took my pen and paper and started reporting on the celebrities’ authentic feedback about Linger. I then used that information to create digital content.
I learned that skill set from many years of doing Beautiful Stranger. My co-creator then, Melissa Fedor, taught me the invaluable skills of reporting and editing. Today, with digital media, it’s a good skill set to have.
What came easiest for you when you launched this new venture and what was the hardest thing that surprised you? Nothing comes easy. But I will say that people in the industry have been incredibly receptive to us and have really rallied around our mission, vision and passion to help bring innovation to the industry from a consumer point of view and from an industry point of view.
The hardest part is actually taking an idea and bringing it to market–you have to be all in! Many ideas are out there but it’s very hard to launch anything, whether it’s a website or a product or a brand. It takes 24/7. So I would say to actually bring it to fruition in the bottle with the perfect sprayer, the perfect box, the perfect label, every piece of copy.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed? I am tenacious. I’ve been told that since I played baseball with boys when I was 10. Tenacity, perseverance, and a deep belief that you can do something that will change the world and affect other people in some way, whether it’s a TV show or a book or a product. Knowing that you’re on to something and following that path, and then knowing when to pivot and take a different path.
What motivates you? Sunshine, my children, people, every day, life itself. Just being aware. And having a positive, happy outlook.
Your advice to somebody starting out in your field? Or one of your fields…Find mentors who will guide and inspire you. Learn as much as you can and be open to all opportunities and experiences. You never know where something will lead you.
I mentor a lot of young people. I have since my Beautiful Stranger days. It is very important to me to share my knowledge because I wouldn’t be who I am and where I am if I didn’t have all of these brilliant minds who shared their worlds with me, from Kermit Love [designer and builder of the Muppets] to Matt Blank, the chairman of Showtime, who always pushed me to keep going, Steve Leber who did Beatlemania, and Bob Nederlander who owns all the theaters, to my partner Caroline. I’ve had champions since I started.
What I would say to anyone to has an idea? Just do it. If you don’t do it, you’ll always wonder if you should have. What is the worst thing that can happen? It doesn’t work. Don’t spend tons of money. All of the tools are out there. If you have an idea, write it down, do the research. No one is going to do it for you. If you want to make something happen, take the time to figure it out.
How hard would you say you work? Oh I don’t work. This is how I live. Being an entrepreneur is a lifestyle that you live and breathe. It is always part of you. I have a lot of great women friends and I could not do what I do and have children and a full life without their support, but for many years people really didn’t get me. They’d say, ‘Now you’re doing what? When did you decide to become an entrepreneur?,” and I’d say, ‘I didn’t. This is who I am.’
Being an entrepreneur means having a very different mindset and I would say to any young person who feels that they’re different, because I did feel different, be true to who you are because today we’re living in a world where you can be an entrepreneur. You can build a start up and give it a try. There are all kinds of people. You just have to know who you are.
Best career advice you ever received? Never stop climbing and never look down. Kermit used to say to me, ‘Abby, you’re going to get to that tip and just keep going.’ Treat people on the way up as you would on the way down, because people are people and it doesn’t matter who they are. We all serve a purpose and a role in this lifetime. And believe in yourself. Believe in you heart, believe in your gut, believe in your soul. My gut is always my guide.
Three words that describe you: Dynamic, passionate, loyal.
Three words that describe Scentinvent: Groundbreaking, innovative, experiential.
What’s next for Scentinvent? We are developing our brand and pipeline of products as well as our business to business play which is sharing our new technologies and innovations with the industry. Our mission is to offer the consumer and industry new ways of using, loving, and buying fragrance. It is not to take away from what exists just to enhance it and think about it in a fresh way.
Life goals: I want to inspire people, so if I can leave a legacy of inspiration to not only my children but to others, that would be very gratifying for me. One of the things I did recently was speak at the University of Pennsylvania. My son is a student, my husband is an alumni, and many of the graduates have been my partners, advisors, or investors over my career. I love speaking to students and the younger generation.
I also love to help support other women in their ventures and businesses when I can. Now, I do that from a strategic and emotional point of view. I work with Fashion Week Brooklyn and Remodista which focuses on building businesses as a community, but I would love to be able to help women financially. That is a goal of mine.
Daily goals: To go to yoga, or try. It has balanced me and given my life so much more. Be well and healthy. Be more present and not on eight devices and five phones. That’s a hard one.
Daily rituals: I only have one child at home, so one of my favorite parts is getting him up in the morning. He’s my sunshine. And to see my husband when he comes home from work, when he’s happy and he has a good day.
And to make sure I’m in touch with my mom, my friends. My grandmother just passed away, she was 99 and we would speak daily. She was a huge part of my life and a guiding force. She was a businesswoman, she went to Wharton night school, and had 17 clothing stores out west. I flew to Florida to be with her the last hour or her life. I walked into her room and like a true fashionista said, ‘You look beautiful. Where did you get that jacket?’ I’ve had this incredibly inspiring group of women behind me my whole life.
Favorite inspirational/motivational read: One of my all time favorite books, and this relates back to the Beautiful Stranger, is The Tipping Point, because I am a firm believer in people connecting to people, grassroots marketing, and really connecting with whoever it is to spread a message, whatever the message is.
How do you unplug? Who unplugs? A glass of scotch, McClellan 18. And biking, yoga, girl time and shopping.
Hidden talents/hobbies: I like to sing. I am a huge Diana Ross and diehard 70s Studio 54 fan. I listen to Sirius all day long. It makes me happy. Whether it’s soul or disco, it speaks to me. I also love to plan parties and events, to make other people feel special and bring people together. My great grandmother and her husband were well-known kosher caterers in New York, who catered all the Plaza and the Pierre events back in the day. My father ran the business so I was lucky to work with him as a teenager. I learned a lot. They also bought a sleep-away camp that was originally the Singer Sewing Machine estate. A lot of family members met there and were married and it was a very big part of my life. I am very proud of that legacy as I know these businesses provided much happiness for many families over the years. I think that’s part of the reason why I wanted to be a big live event planner.
Do you collect anything? I collect great people and I keep them close. Once you’re in my life, you’re in it. That’s just how it goes with me. I do love jewelry and the stories it can tell.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret? My 50th birthday party. I decided to go back to my love of disco and Studio 54. I turned Tijuana Picnic into a 70s vibe for dinner and then headed to Acme’s underground disco for a wild after party.
Favorite small indulgence: Massages.
Album currently on repeat: Amy Winehouse….Diana Ross….Earth, Wind & Fire….Mary J. Blige.
Scent that brings back memories: I love gardenia and my husband, who is a true romantic, buys me a gardenia every year. My grandfather bought my grandmother, the one I told you about, a gardenia for mother’s day 30 years ago. Until she passed away recently it would bloom every mother’s day. My husband, not even knowing that, did the same thing for me.
Lucky charm: I find lucky pennies almost every day. Do you see pennies everywhere? Just look down, they’re around.
Favorite hour of the day: When I can finally pull myself away from some sort of technology and get into bed. That’s my favorite thing to do, and it’s usually past twelve and I’ve usually tried to shut it down, and I’ve been pulled back by 800 things, and once I’m finally in my pajamas and I get into my bed. It’s not easy to get me there, but that’s my favorite hour of the day.
Follow Linger: Instagram.
Follow Beautiful Stranger TV: Instagram.