“Mom is a Taurus,” says Martina Arfwidson, co-founder of Face Stockholm, about her mother Gun Nowak. “If it weren’t for that fact, I’m not sure we’d be here today.”
According to an old astrology book, Taurus - the bull of the Zodiac - is a symbol of “tenacity, strength, virility, and power”. And Taurean Gun Nowak’s tenacity, along with her love and understanding of color, is certainly part and parcel of Face Stockholm’s enormous success. Known in the make-up industry simply as FACE, the story of Face Stockholm began 26 years ago, when Nowak felt there weren’t enough colors around to play with. In the 1970’s and 80’s she had a string of hip fashion boutiques in Stockholm but was getting bored and ready for something new. Although it’s hard to imagine now, those were the days when makeup colors were limited to electric blue mascara and pink lip gloss, and makeup artists were folks who worked in theaters and on film sets. That’s how bleak the outlook was when Nowak opened her first Face Stockholm shop in 1980.
“I’ve always loved colors,” she says. “But when I was given some make-up samples, I said ‘I’m not interested, thank you’ and gave them to my daughter, Martina. She, on the other hand, thought it was great fun. And that’s really how it started. Our first clients were make-up artists from the theater. But it was a bit slow at first. I remember one day when I had only 37 Swedish crowns in the cash register.”
Word got around, however, and soon everyone craved the full color spectrum that only Face Stockholm delivered. When Nowak realized she needed help with her growing business, it seemed only natural that she’d turn to her daughter, Martina.
“We’re so similar in our set of values, our intuitions, in how we think,” Nowak says. “And no one is more fun to be around than Martina. I always say ‘Martina is the head, and I am the feet.’”
Some 200 lip shades later, Face Stockholm now has 40 locations worldwide, and you can buy the products through mail order as well as online. The stores are staffed with makeup artists who are professional yet unpretentious, and Face Stockholm’s clientele age range is fairly wide. Meanwhile the Nowak-Arfwidson duo has braved several adventures along the way. Says Nowak:
“We were about to open our shop at Columbus Circle here in New York, but the workers weren’t allowed to finish the night before because of the strict union regulations. I was about to give up, it seemed so hopeless, when Martina just said ‘Oh, let’s just buy a drill!’ which we did, and we finished everything ourselves.”
This kind of do-it-yourself mentality is the foundation for most businesses, of course, but what sets Nowak and Arfwidson apart is that they seem to have retained a kind of innocence and joy. A joy in what they’re doing coupled with a love for colors. Face Stockholm is also one of few family-owned businesses still around. “We both see the humor in things, and we have a lot of fun!” says Nowak, and that’s probably another reason they’re so successful.
“What I do is play,” Nowak says. “My husband says I’m a big child, playing.”
“Isn’t that what an artist does?” asks Arfwidson. “Plays? And I believe my mother is an artist. I can still catch her sitting with her arm full of lipstick swatches, trying to figure out if we don’t need another more blue-based red.”
In keeping with its Nordic roots, Face Stockholm is eco-conscious, uses minimal and recycled packaging and never tests on animals.
Written by Eva Stenskär
Photographed in New York for Nordic Reach by Henrik Olund
For more information: www.facestockholm.com
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