The best part of being a freelance writer is the diversity of the assignments. 90% of my assignments are celebrity driven features. But every once in a while, I do something a bit different and it’s fun to explore a different avenue.
I mentioned last week that I was invited by the good folks at Suave to experience their new line of body washes and lotions for UPSCALE magazine, one of the titles I write for. Normally, this would be covered by the Beauty Editor at UPSCALE. But since the magazine is based in Atlanta, I often rep the magazine at New York-based events.
I have to admit. I’m such a hermit that it’s a huge deal when I actually leave Jersey–for anything. If it’s not work-related, I’m not going into Manhattan. But then, when I do have to go into the City, I’m always geeked out and excited like I’ve never been there. It’s good to get out of my office, put on some real clothes, (okay, a pair of skinny jeans and my ubiquitous stilettos, does that count?) and go talk to real live humans.
I”m especially thrilled to attend product launches. Because I know it means two things:
My life as a journalist is not very exciting. At least not anymore. My days of chasing Ma$e down Broadway in four-inch heels to get a quote about leaving Bad Boy are over. I’m not in the mix like I once was. And I’m totally okay with that. A day of testing out beauty products for dry skin? Yep, sounds like heaven to me.
And here’s the thing about these kinds of events. They’re planned with one thing in mind: make the journalist happy. A happy journalist writes happy words about your products. (Unless the product is crappy. Then you’re out of luck.)
When I first started out in this business, I was uncomfortable at events planned to woo me.
In ’99, I traveled to Miami for a story for The Source. And a publicist named Theola Borden invited me to a rooftop spa treatment, complete with mimosas, at the Delano Hotel in South Beach. I couldn’t even enjoy my pedicure because I kept thinking to myself, “Wait. Is this really free? All she wants me to do is make conversation with this rapper?”
I don’t even remember who the artist was. But I remember learning quickly that it’s how the game works. You butter up the people who write about your product and you make them happy. Even the whackest music sounds decent when your feet are being scrubbed and you’re sipping your third Mimosa.
Suave knows this. And they started off with the perfect thing: sending a car service to my house to take me into Manhattan.
I brought my laptop and planned to get a bit of work done on the ride into Manhattan.
I was knocked out before we got to the Lincoln Tunnel. I had a long, heavenly, blissful nap. Ha!
The driver had to wake me up when we got to Headroom Digital Audio Recording Studio, where the product launch was taking place. I met a young lady named Reema, who works for the advertising agency hired by Suave. She was waiting for me at the front door of the building.
“Aliya? Nice to meet you!”
I shook her hand and we exchanged pleasantries.
Reema looked both ways, leaned over and whispered under her breath:
“Aliya. I love your blog,”she said. “Especially the post about The Biggie Belt!”
A dear reader at the event! Awesome! Shout-out to Reema! Turns out she also graduated from Rutgers like me. Go RU! And then she told me she just graduated in May. Which made me feel very very old. Booo Reema. I kid, I kid. But not really.
Now, these Suave folks know how to throw a product launch. I walked into the studio and saw rose petals strewn about, waiters making rounds with appetizers, chocolates of all kind in bowls and canisters. And of course, on every available surface, lots of samples of their new products.
I should state here: I’m not really into body creams and stuff. If it gets me clean and it doesn’t smell too strong, it’s fine by me. So I wasn’t sure if they would be able to win me over with their pitches.
But then they introduced this guy:
His name is Alex. And he works in Research and Development for Unilever, the parent company for Suave. It’s his job to make sure the body washes get you clean. And the lotions keep you moisturized.
I love it when people with highly technical jobs are clearly geeked out about what they do. And this guy was breaking down humectants in a way that made me actually care about what goes into my creams and lotions.
He even had samples of the raw versions of the basic ingredients we find in our body care products and explained how they work.
The aloe vera was in a powdered form. And it was 40 times as strong as what comes out of the plant. There was a hunk of cocoa butter that was as hard as a rock but smooth, with the familiar smell. I’m ashamed to say I wasn’t even sure where cocoa butter came from. I thought it came from the same plant that produced chocolate. But if so, why doesn’t cocoa butter smell more like chocolate? Alex explained that cocoa butter used for beauty products are formulated in a way that keeps the smell from being too overpowering.
We also head from Dr. Elena Jones, a dermatologist in private practice in New York City who gave some tips on how to help your skin survive the winter. You already know the deal: exfoliate and moisturize. Every day!
Sidebar: Gotta give props to to Dr. Jones for letting me pull her ear about my own private skin issues. I’m gonna spare my dear readers the gory details. But it was SO good to speak with an African-American dermatologist who knew exactly what I was talking about. I’m not going to dwell on the fact that she told me the issue I’m having is sometimes a symptom of early menopause. (!!!!!!) If you’re in Manhattan and you have any kind of skin issue, I’m co-signing Dr. Jones. For real. She’s official. Office is on Fifth Avenue. Look her up.
Anyway, as Alex and Dr. Jones were talking, I checked out the other beauty editors and writers at the event.
And I noticed something very interesting. We were all Black.
There was Julia Chance, whose byline I’ve read for years and years on all kinds of articles about beauty, health and fashion. And there was Erica Boston, from Sister 2 Sister, whom I met at Faith’s book signing in Harlem. It was what you might call an urban product launch. Interesting.
I didn’t know that the launch was being targeted toward Black women. This intrigued me. After the presentations, I cornered Monica Frost, the account executive for the ad agency in charge of the product launch.
“So are these products being targeted specifically toward Black women?” I asked.
“They will be everywhere,” said Monica. “But we’re really trying to make sure we reach our African-American customers. Because, quite frankly, we learned through market research that they are a big part of our market. Black women moisturize! And they buy Suave products!”
It’s true, folks. You show me a Black household without lotion and I’ll show you…well, I won’t show you anything because it doesn’t exist.
I’m thinking it’s cool that Suave’s recognizing their loyal customers. But I couldn’t help but giggle when Alex told me about how his new products eliminated “ashy” skin.
“I believe that’s the terminology used in the ethnic community,” he said, thoughtfully. “Ashiness.”
I cringed. Just a bit. Though it’s true! We do say ashy! It’s just weird when the biochemist who works in a lab says it.
The best part was the “dryness meter” that Alex had. (He’s holding it in his hand in the picture above.) He touches the wand to your skin and a number pops up. It could be anything from 1-90. A one means you’re basically firewood. Alex said you should be somewhere near 70.
I got my skin tested: 29. Ugh.
Then I drifted over to the displays and started sniffing and sampling the products. Here’s my two second review:
The new wild cherry blossom scent is great: if you’re into fruity scents. Which I am not.
The winner for me, the product I’ll actually buy, was the cocoa butter joint. It comes in a body wash and a lotion. It’s thick and creamy but not too greasy. I love it. What is it with Black folks and cocoa butter? When I smell this stuff, it reminds me of my mom.
There was also a pineapple scented body wash and lotion that sent a tingle up my spine when I sniffed it. I’ll have to try that one out too.
When we were all done testing the products and stuffing our faces with these mini-grilled cheese sandwiches dusted with truffle oil, (SO good), we all piled into a recording studio to hear a young woman named Rhea sing a song about Suave body washes. Very cute. And the upcoming singer/songwriter wrote the ditty herself.
And then, the moment had arrived.
The entire event had been held at a recording studio because the Suave team wanted to extend an invitation to all of the writers to sing a love song to their skin. They had a vocal booth all set up, an engineer at the mixing boards and a lyric book.
If you had the nerve, you could get in the booth, pick a song, sing your heart out and go home with a professional recording on CD.
Now, dear readers, we all know I harbor a not-so-secret desire to perform and sing. (Even though, well, I can’t sing…)
I looked into the booth and saw that gleaming microphone. It was calling me like the crack was calling Pookie in New Jack City. It was a real recording studio! With a real engineer! This wasn’t karaoke. They were going to play an instrumental and then we were on our own to make it happen. No background. No screen with lyrics. Just hardcore. Start singing.
So I did.
And I discovered what I’ve always known.
I guess deep down inside, I’ve always known. But some part of me thought, maybe all these years I just needed to sing in a real studio. maybe I’ll start singing today and everyone will be blown away by my voice…and then the engineer will tell me he wants me to cut a demo…and then I’ll start writing songs and performing at Joe’s Pub on Sunday nights…
I chose Beyonce’s Irreplacable. Which was a mistake. The song requires notes that don’t live in my throat. And you need a level of breath control that I just don’t have.
What really surprised me was how nervous I was. There was no one in there but me, the engineer and a woman named Brianna, (I really hope I remembered her name correctly), who volunteered to tape the performance so I could share it with my dear readers. So was why I so hot and sweaty? And why did I feel like Simon Cowell was about to tell me I was dreadful…
But I did it dear readers, I got up there and belted out my tune, butchering the song but having a great time in the process.
I’m officially done. My dreams of being a singer have been permanently sidelined. I’ll still sing to my babies. And I’ll still sing in the shower. (As I use my Suave body products!) But the posting of the following video should put any further questions to rest. I belong right here, at my keyboard. Sigh.
At least I’ll always have yesterday, the day I got a chance to pretend…
Enjoy the show. And have a great weekend.