Just 23 years old, this Ulster County entrepreneur operates her own cosmetics firm
Photograph by Tom Moore
At an age when many young women are still deciding what they want do with their lives, Paris Manning is president of Velvet 59, a cosmetics company featuring cruelty-free makeup made with sustainable, 100 percent vegan, paraben-free ingredients.
The 23-year-old was born in Brighton, England. “My whole family is in the makeup business,” she says. Her parents owned retail stores that supplied cosmetics to British makeup artists. “One of my big sisters is a makeup artist, and the other does hair. So from the time I was about two years old, they used me as their little model,” she laughs. “They’ve been my inspiration and mentors.”
Her family moved to the US when Manning was 11. “My parents had been visiting friends in the Hudson Valley since before I was born, and always thought it was beautiful. They decided they didn’t want to live in the city, so they bought an old dairy farm in Saugerties.”
Manning was home-schooled in the US. After graduation, she spent two summers studying and working as a makeup artist at Emerson College’s Bobbi Brown Program in Makeup Artistry, created by Emerson alumna Brown, a world-renowned makeup artist and cosmetics entrepreneur. “I loved it,” Manning says, “but when I came back home to Saugerties, I wanted to branch out and do something different.”
That’s how the idea for Velvet 59 was born. The family farm — she lives there with her mom Sarah and dad Paul — is now home to horses, chickens, cats, and dogs instead of dairy cows. And critters have played a key part in her budding business, Manning says. “I love animals. I was taught from a very young age that animals are a gift to be taken care of; they’re not to be abused in any way. So it only seemed right to bring out a cruelty-free cosmetics line.”
She creates her makeup by hand, mixing colors using an artist’s palette, before meeting with a chemist. “We talk about formulations and colors, and what I can add that’s unique. I stand there for hours, saying, ‘Let’s add more blue,’ or ‘It needs more yellow tone.’ ” Manning also incorporates unusual ingredients such as sacha inchi oil, which is extracted from the seeds of a tree native to the Amazon rainforest. “It can be harvested all year, is sustainable, and helps provide income for the local people,” she says.
The Velvet 59 name is inspired by old-time Hollywood movies. “I grew up watching those films,” Manning says. “They had amazing lighting and makeup and glamour.” The year 1959, she says, marks the beginning of an era when fashion began to transform. “More women were working outside the home, doing things they hadn’t done before — but they were still really feminine. So Velvet 59 represents a new take on femininity that incorporates a bygone era.”
Manning started out offering five types of lip gloss online — then got a dream-come-true boost when the product was featured in O, The Oprah Magazine. “Needless to say, I was very excited,” says Manning. “I knew I was onto something good.”
This past summer, she released six collections, each focused on a different color palette. Her products include lipstick and gloss, foundation, contour, eye shadow, and mascara, priced from about $16 and up. Besides being available online, her cosmetics are sold in a new Soho shop named simply # (for “hashtag”), opened by beauty accessories retailer Ricky’s NYC.
Making such a splash has taken work — and courage, she says. “I’ve learned that people don’t always take you seriously at a young age. I’ve gone into business meetings with my mum or dad, and some people will only converse with my parents. I’ve learned to muster up the courage and sometimes now go to meetings by myself.”
Manning, who does much of her own branding and marketing, offers some words of youthful wisdom for other entrepreneurs: “If you know you have a good product, don’t let anyone stop you from pursuing it. My parents always told me, if you go the extra mile, it’s never crowded. If you keep pushing forward with what you believe in, you’re bound to get a break.”