Episode 20: Elisa Vitale, Design Director at Base Beauty Creative Agency

Meet the Base Beauty Team! They are the original WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY™ since this has been our agency tag line long before we conceived of the podcast series. Learn about their talents and career journey that lead them to BBCA.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHi. We're here with Elisa Vitale. She's the art director for many years at Base Beauty. Hi, Elisa.
Elisa VitaleHello there, Jodi.
Jodi KatzSo, Elisa told me just before I hit the record button that she's nervous to do this. Tell me why.
Elisa VitaleWell, you know, I'm not really used to speaking about myself so much, so it's new for me.
Jodi KatzWell, this is your idea to have the team have their own podcast, which I thought was genius, and I'm kind of surprised I didn't think of it, because this is Where Brains Meet Beauty, and our agency's motto is, "Where brains meet beauty." And of course, our listeners should hear from our team, because these are the original brains and the original beauties. So, thank you for the idea, even though you don't want to take credit for it. It was totally your idea.
So, let's talk about work stuff, emotional, personal work stuff. Let's talk about working at a virtual business, because this is new for many of our team members. Tell me what it's been like to transition from, I guess, traditional work styles to this.
Elisa VitaleWell, I have to say first of all, it's really the greatest luck of my life, and the greatest opportunity of my life, and the greatest decision of my life to work this way. It certainly has its challenges, but the freedom that it gives me is so tremendous. You know, having a family, and being allowed to be home sick with my kid or sick myself without feeling bad about it is huge. I don't have to commute twice a day, which is huge, especially with New Jersey transit the way it is. And I work from my porch. I've got my window open now, I'm listening to the birds. I'm looking out on my gardens, so that can't be beat in terms of benefits. I would say the thing I struggle the most with is that it's a little bit isolating. So, I don't get that water cooler talk. I don't have spontaneous conversations with people. I talk a lot to my dog, because there's nobody else for me here. It's a really good relationship we've developed, me and my dog. And he sits by me while I work, and I make comments to him. Yeah, so that's really the downside for me is just the lack of social communication in my day.
Jodi KatzSo, let's talk about that, because I feel like we're on the phone, our team with each other all day long in and out. I mean, we don't have the phone in our ear the whole day, but you know, quick calls and quick texts and things. Is it that you long for like talking about the great movie or the great show, the sort of non-work conversations in your day?
Elisa VitaleAbsolutely. I want a little bit of gossip in my life, inconsequential gossip, or yes, talking about whatever we watched on TV. And I guess, of course, we get a little bit of that in our day with each other on the phone, but that face-to-face is completely missing from my day. So, I find myself at school pickup just trying to attach myself to another human being to have a decent non-work related conversation with. It's a challenge for me.
Jodi KatzThat's really interesting. I think it's worth exploring, because I think one of the values of us working virtually is like we're so efficient. Right? There's not this like chunk of the day that is being spent just shopping online the way it used to be at real jobs.
Elisa VitaleAbsolutely.
Jodi KatzRight? Or like sneaking away to get it a manicure and pedicure, because that's the only time I could have gotten it, and I had to sneak out, you know, whatever. Like the way we used to live in these old jobs, where there was like rules, and people expected you to be in your seats. So, because I think we're so, so efficient, so we make those phone calls really efficient. Is there a way for us to add a little bit of that like non-work humanity into the way we work as a team?
Elisa VitaleWell, I don't think we're devoid of humanity at all. I mean, we can work and we share laughs on our calls, but we are ultimately just really efficient and productive. I love when we do in-person team meetings, that's always great. It allows for a more spontaneous kind of atmosphere. This is not a huge complaint. The pros of the job far outweigh any negatives like this. And I have a very joyful work experience. It's just not the small talk, but just the social connection, face-to-face.
Jodi KatzRight. Right. So, let's switch gears a little bit. Tell us why beauty?
Elisa VitaleWhy beauty? Well, my first job was in music. I was designing CD packaging when we used to have CDs. And then, I was designing music publication. And music was a great fit for me, because one, I loved music, but two, it was always changing and evolving. So, the look of music, not just the sound, but the look of music always changes. It was kind of like endlessly creative, and there weren't many rules. But when, I think I found that music was no longer fitting my lifestyle, being in the music industry. I needed to find a new place to settle. And I didn't know where to go, because I didn't want to work for a place that has one product, or something like that. So, I went to a talent agency, a creative talent agency, and told them my conundrum and told them I want to try out different industries to find where I fit best. And my first job, they placed me in a beauty business.
Jodi KatzThat's so cool. Can you take a step back a second, Elisa?
Elisa VitaleYeah.
Jodi KatzWhat about the music industry, what was the lifestyle situation that prevented you from wanting to move forward in music?
Elisa VitaleWell, it was a lot of late nights out. And I stopped being a night owl some time in my 20s, so I just really wanted to go home and sleep.
Jodi Katz[crosstalk 00:07:31]
Elisa VitaleAnd to stay current and relevant, I didn't feel I was capable of those kinds of hours. But when I wound up in beauty, that first job they placed me as a temp, as a graphic designer, I stayed for ten years until I moved up the ranks. And it was just the perfect fit for me. It was kind of like music. It's color, and it's trends, and it's always changing, and that's really what I need as a designer is not to be static. So, that's why beauty for me, primarily how I landed in it. And apart from that, I love beauty. I love showing women a way to feel good about themselves. So often, it's kind of framed the other way, that sometimes we're making women feel bad about themselves, but I think it's quite the opposite. Right? We're giving them tools to feel good. So, I find it personally satisfying on that level as well.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting that you talk about the feel good versus feeling bad about yourself, because it makes me think of, you know, we did an event with War Paint the Musical, and it tracks the rivalry between Helena Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden over a hundred years ago. But they were both titans of the industry back then. And it seemed like they both came at the industry from the perspective that you just spoke about like helping people feel good. Right? Giving them the tools to feel good, feel confident, feel assured, feel healthy.
But then, Charles Revson, who started Revlon came in, and he really started to paint a picture around beauty of like the man's point of view on what's beautiful. And I think that's when we start to feel not good about ourselves, when it's really from a man's perspective, through a man's eyes. And I think we see this in lingerie. Right? Victoria Secret is not what my vision of what beautiful in a bra looks like or feels like. That's definitely a men's point of view. And you see all these new intimate brands launching now that are like a much softer, much kinder, much more forgiving attitude than the Victoria Secret that we've been seeing for I guess like 20 years by now. Do you feel that? Do you think that like because we're like a group of women, we're coming at it from a very distinctive approach?
Elisa VitaleWell, I don't know if that's true. I mean, we're not coming at it from a male viewpoint, but I don't know that being women per se changes it. I'm not sure I even really how to articulate that, but I will say that much of what I think is negative about beauty is maybe how we portray what the ideal woman looks like, and maybe that's the ideal woman to a man, what they look like.
Jodi KatzRight.
Elisa VitaleAnd many times, it's unattainable. But putting on a nice lipstick or just putting on some mascara can make any woman feel good about herself, and it doesn't have to be through the lens of the man. So, maybe that's the viewpoint I'm talking about.
Jodi KatzRight. So it makes me think about conversations around castings, right. Like we, for quite some time right now, we've been talking with our clients about diversity in casting, like showing many women that she is that brand woman. What are the things that go through your head when you're working on casting to try to help guide the client to being a picture of diversity? And I mean, diversity could be skin tone, it could be hair, it could be body shape and size.
Elisa VitaleYeah. Well, I think about a recent video campaign that we did, and there was diversity of skin tone, and diversity of weight, diversity of age, and it was really just finding what was beautiful about each one of those people, and it might have been their personality. I mean, they were all, of course, good looking, but they weren't necessarily a runway model. They were accessible, and I think guiding our clients towards that only benefits their brand, because the world is filled with real people, not with models. So, yeah, I'm not sure if I answered that question properly.
Jodi KatzAre you speaking about the Conair Good Hair Day campaign.
Elisa VitaleYes! Yes. Yes, exactly.
Jodi KatzSo, for our listeners, they can go to our YouTube page to see that campaign. And it was great, because it's all these beautiful women, beautiful inner glow, beautiful on the outside, and distinctively differently beautiful from each other in so many ways.
Elisa VitaleRight. Some had light in their eyes when they were talking, you know, or some had a little snap in their step, and all of these things identify them as being beautiful.
Jodi KatzYeah, it makes me really want to help guide brands [inaudible 00:13:26], because influencers don't pay for product, customers do, right. Influencers don't really have to have a true love affair with a brand, right. They get paid. But customers do. So the more that we can help our brand get to the place where they're talking in a real way to real people, I think it's going to just have more opportunity for wider conversations and brand love.
Elisa VitaleYeah. I think the industry is changing and hopefully in a good way as to what we see as beauty and how we are redefining beautiful, and I'd love to be part of that more.
Jodi KatzSo, Elisa, my last question for you. If you weren't in the beauty business or the creative business, what do you think you'd be doing?
Elisa VitaleWell, this is going to come as a big surprise to you, Jodi. I really think I would like to be a neuroscientist.
Jodi KatzI didn't see that coming.
Elisa VitaleWhat's so funny about that is I've never displayed any aptitude in science or math, which are both kind of prerequisites for being in neuroscience. But I'm so drawn to the mystery of the brain, and I read a lot about it, and I'm just endlessly fascinated. So, I think in another lifetime that's where you would've found me, in neuroscience.
Jodi KatzAnd is there a chance that we'll find you there in a few years?
Elisa VitaleReally, no, because, again, there's the math, science component, which I'm really lacking. Interest does not get you a position in neuroscience, so ...
Jodi KatzRight. And I guess, are they looking for really great graphic designers and art directors?
Elisa VitaleThat could be my in. You're absolutely right. But for now, I'm pretty content where I am. No intention of switching careers at this point.
Jodi KatzWell, Elisa, thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience with us.
Elisa VitaleThank you for having me.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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