I think I have a girl crush on Lise Watier. In town to launch a new line of “Age Control” products, the ageless Quebec make-up doyenne is warm, charismatic, and downright beautiful. She’s also one heck of a businesswoman, having built her cosmetics company into a mini empire since first founding it almost 40 years ago. And it was a sheer love of women that inspired her to start the Lise Watier Institute back in 1968—a kind of school dedicated to empowering women through teaching them everything from poise to make-up. Today, Lise Watier is a shining example of what a woman can do if she has vision and tenacity. She credits reading a biography of American cosmetics magnate Helena Rubinstein with fuelling her entrepreneurial fires; her late mother with instilling her with the passion to always look her best; and her husband of 24 years for keeping her on a perpetual ‘honeymoon’ as she describes it. Lise Watier exudes an infectious inner happiness—a sense of well-being that I found to be wonderfully inspiring. We got together for an intimate morning chat just before her Toronto press event, to talk about the true nature of beauty
Jeanne: Thank you for all that you do for women, in many different ways. Obviously this has been a passion for you for a long time…
Lise: Since I was a young girl, I’ve loved beauty. I’ve always loved beautiful people and I used to do makeup without having any knowledge of how to do makeup when I was fifteen or sixteen, for my girlfriends. I wanted them to look their best. I think looking your best has its advantages.
Jeanne: Did you always feel beautiful when you were a kid growing up?
Lise: Not at all, not at all, not at all. I was skinny, I was so shy…. And one day, when I was about 18 years-old, I had a makeup lesson and I looked at myself and for the first time I saw someone pretty. I had never felt that before. And I think having had that feeling helped me choose I’m doing now.
Jeanne: So just the mere makeup itself helped transform you, helped you see yourself in a different way?
Lise: Sometimes we see ourselves the way we see ourselves, but when we have someone like a makeup artist doing something to our face, that makes us discover something we hadn’t seen before. And it’s magic, because every women is beautiful. Some ignore it, and it’s fun bringing it out.
Jeanne: There was a period when you weren’t really serious about make up as a career. You were actually the host of a TV show….
Lise: That’s how I started. For six years, I had a daily live show… Two hours everyday!
Jeanne: And this was back in the ‘60s….
Lise: ’63 to’68. Live television. I learned so many things on live television. I learned how to be myself, how not to pretend, how to be true to myself. And that helped me open my school to help women feel good about themselves.
Jeanne: And that was at a time when we were really focusing on women’s issues for the first time in a very bold, rebellious way…
Lise: Yes, because there was no place for women then. Most women were still at home. I lived in this era when women wanted to come out and I knew I could help them. So with the school, from ’68 till ’86, on a one-on-one basis, we helped women feel good about themselves.
Jeanne: Besides what you did for women on a social and humanitarian platform, you also masterminded a fantastic business. Obviously, that was another side of yourself that you were in touch with, and it developed throughout the years. But it must have been very tough to be a serious businesswoman in an age when many women hadn’t proved themselves yet.
Lise: You know, when I first started the company, all around me I’d hear people saying, “It won’t last more than six months…” But I had faith. I knew I had something…. I knew if I liked something, women around me would like it too. You know why? Because I knew women. That was my biggest strength. I know how a women feels about beauty. I know how she feels, her emotions, her preoccupations, and her lack of confidence sometimes: Am I looking my best? I knew that as a women, because I’d lived through it. And I think ‘knowing women’ was the best tool I ever had… Living all the emotions, being in love, out of love, getting married, having children, going through divorce… I’ve lived through all the emotions. And beauty is emotion. And once you understand that beauty is emotion, you become very knowledgeable.
Jeanne: Beauty also has to do with self-acceptance, and self-tolerance and tolerating the ravages of time to some degree. Some things we can try and fight as you know, and you’ve got a new product for that… but so much of beauty is about acceptance.
Lise: Acceptance with a sense of positivism. You learn so much in life. Don’t regret that you have a few wrinkles. You know better. We all know better. I have wrinkles… of course, I’m fighting them, and keep launching new products to help… But we have to be happy with who we are. We won’t change. If I see a 60 year-old looking like a 20 year, old I pity her, because she is not accepting who she is. It’s like dressing like a 25 year-old when you’re 55. It’s sad in a way because you have to know that we’re like a good wine: the older we get, the better. But I’m more knowledgeable, I’m more tolerant, I’m more sensitive, and these are things that make a woman beautiful.
Jeanne: And we have to learn to love our lines!
Lise: Yes, that’s why I have a product line named ‘Experience’. They’re not wrinkles, they’re ‘lines of experience’. And the line I have, ‘Experience’, is for 50 year-old women and over. You cannot buy experience. You cannot buy love and you cannot buy experience. So if you take care of your skin and you look your best…. You know, my mother just passed away. She was ninety-one. She looked fabulous, she looked her best all her life. She had lipstick on ‘til the very last day. You have to live with who you are, and feel good about yourself and everyone will feel good around you.
Jeanne: My mother is almost ninety-one, and she wears lipstick everyday too! It really helps to be raised by women who are passionate about life and who they are…
Lise: And my mother looked her best all her life. I was so proud of her. Since I was a child, she was always the most beautiful woman, looking her best. And she would come to my school and everyone would look at her because she had very little—we were from very modest origins—but she looked her best. She would say, “Be respectful of others by looking your best.”
Jeanne: What have you learned over the years about the true nature of beauty? What is it that truly makes a women beautiful, far beyond the make up?
Lise: Beauty is not an object. Beauty is alive. Beauty lives through you. Beauty is the way you look at people, how you smile at them, the words you use. Beauty is what is positive. Generosity is beauty. A person who’s not generous, who doesn’t give to others, she won’t be a beautiful person. And a beautiful person is about loving others, taking care of the others. That’s why we always the people we love to be beautiful. It’s very simple: If you want everyone to see you as beautiful, be nice and be generous and love them, and they will love you.
Jeanne: The cosmetics industry is a very strange beast, because it can empower us, it can make us feel fantastic about ourselves, but sometimes, it preys on our insecurities too. Sometimes we’re looking at these ads, thinking, “Oh I’m never going to be able to look like that! How am I going to be able to do it? Is it true that just with a special cream I’m going to be transformed?” How do you come to terms with the reality versus the fantasy of what this business can bring us?
Lise: I think that unless you accept to be different…. I think a woman’s unique beauty is the most important thing. You are unique, you are a unique person, and around the world they say you are beautiful because of your uniqueness. But women sometimes tend to want to look like someone else. You don’t have to look like anyone else but you. But you must look your best. Do your best, have a smile, look at life in a positive way. Creams are there to help for sure. They will moisturize your skin, they will help delay the wrinkles. Products are there to help you. They’re not there to control you.
Jeanne: You were talking before about dressing age appropriately. That’s a whole other subject for debate. Sometimes I think you have to dress for your spirit and your body first….
Lise: Absolutely! I don’t dress my age, but I don’t dress like I’m 20 either.
Lise: I don’t dress like my age because I don’t feel my age.
Jeanne: Whatever that is…
Lise: I’m 48. For a few years now, I’ve been forty-eight.
Jeanne & Lise: (laugh
Lise: I’ve been there for a few years….
Jeanne: I’ve stopped at 47 myself.
Lise: Yes, that’s a good idea! I encourage you to do that. But what I mean is that you don’t go to extremes.
Jeanne: What about the make-up? At a certain age, women don’t want to look like painted dolls. They want to look classy, refined. They still want make-up to work for them….
Lise: Make-up doesn’t have to be to show. There are secrets in makeup. You can have a full face of makeup—10 products—but you can still look natural. It’s a choice. You decide to have eyeliner or not to have eyeliner. You decide to have your lashes blonde or to dye them black. You decide. You can wear 10 different products including creams, concealers, a little blush, a soft lipstick, natural colours, little products to hide pimples…. You can do great things without showing any colours at all. It’s a choice. Some women need a red lipstick to feel good about themselves. Personally, I can’t wear red lipstick, even though everyone tells me it suits me. I just can’t. It’s too bold for me. So you have to listen to who you are. Some people dress in grey because they don’t dare wear yellow, but you have to be who you are. If I’m yellow inside, I should be yellow outside. Makeup is the same. You can wear ten products without showing that you’re wearing anything, and you can wear two products, green and red, and it will show. It’s not the amount of the products, its how you use them. And you have to be comfortable with that also.
Jeanne: And finally, this whole notion of ‘stopping the clock’…That’s how you’re touting your new “Age Control” products! If you really had the choice right now to stop the clock, would you? Or do you look forward to the future?
Lise: I look forward for the future but I look forward to the future with the best I can do and the best I can be. I want to become a beautiful old lady one day because I will be smiling, because I will be happy, because I will love the young people around me. I won’t criticize, like I hear a lot of people criticizing the youth. I hope I have a future. We never know. Some go at 25, some are gone at 40… It makes me realize how lucky I am to have wrinkles, how lucky I am to have lived an incredible life.