Be warned if you visit the spacious new make-up mecca Valerie on Beverly Drive that the eponymous and bubbly owner just might change your look. “When I talk to people, I’m doing their face,” confirms Valerie Sarnelle.
Not that anyone would mind. This is, after all, one of the original stand-alone product stores for make-up junkies in the entire city, long before Sephora was born. Sarnelle’s loyal following over the past four decades includes an array of famous faces.
There is the story about a visit by regular client Celine Dion, who “bought one of every single color and every single powder and then she built a closet in her Las Vegas dressing room just for my make-up,” Sarnelle tells the Courier. “She loves make-up and does a lot of it herself. She is really good at it. We were on the phone the other day talking about lip gloss,” Sarnelle adds.
Chatting with an iconic singer about a shiny lip may be an ordinary occurrence for Sarnelle. But what truly sets her apart, besides personalized service and her unmatched expertise, are her one-on- one custom make-up blends.
Her tried and true best seller is the waterproof two-toned Secret Weapon Foundation palate. “I made my first one because Pamela Anderson was using it and they wanted something where she could walk into the water (on “Bay Watch”) and it wouldn’t melt. “It’s creamy and it seals so it’s a good base for coverage,” she says.
Even with the loyal client base, one wonders why Sarnelle reopened across the corner from Sephora. The glamorous, petite blonde is not worried. “Competition is good. People go into Sephora but they don’t do custom blend foundation and we do. When you walk into Sephora, you’re going to get a different girl every time who doesn’t have my experience and years behind it. Through the years I’ve done just about everyone,” she notes.
Sarnelle’s clients range in age from 21 to 80, and she finds that no one looks their age these days. “I find myself saying, ‘You’re 60? Wow!’ Bette Midler is another longtime client. “She will come in and say ‘get me my kit’ and go through the drawers and make her own stuff.” Terri Hatcher, Heather Locklear, and Felicity Huffman are also fans.
Success for Sarnelle didn’t happen overnight. “I was always in Beverly Hills. When I started, in the 1970s, I worked on Brighton Way at Chester’s Place. It was a tiny little salon, and everybody went there from the Charlie’s Angels to Glenn Frey. Chester did Rona Barrett and that is how he got all the celebrities,” says Sarnelle.
What followed was her first solo venture at 350 North Canon across from Giuseppe Franco in 1984 where she remained for 10 years. She moved to Canon and Little Santa Monica in 1984. “My business doubled when I moved to that store,” she notes.
While the corner location was an amazing store-front with large windows facing the street, it also had its troubles. “It changed. There used to be the post office with all this great parking and Jimmy
Choo across the street. It was glamorous,” she recalls.
But then three cars went through the glass window (at different times.) The last straw was when a car careened into the fire hydrant and flooded the store. It was time to find a new home. (Now the entire Art Deco corner building is under development by real estate entrepreneur Kurt Rappaport.)
“To rebuild your business after you were flooded is hard.” After a year of restructuring and redevelopment, Valerie found her new home next to Ladurée on Beverly Drive and couldn’t be happier in the new space. The all-white elegant salon atmosphere now features an upstairs where lash perms, waxing, and facials are available. The company now has a skincare line created by Dermalogica Labs.
“This is a huge business. A lot of women don’t wear that much make-up but they do use skin-care. That’s how you build your business in a different area,” she says.
Sarnelle is also stepping up her game by adding spray tanning to the mix. “Jimmy Coco is going to teach us. It’s always best to learn from the best,” she notes.
As far as current trends, “Right now, it’s the pink and purple eye but my clients don’t like crazy colors they want the neutrals. I don’t do garish make-up. They want individual lashes, lots of glow on the face and we have highlighter-contour sticks that sell really well.”
And, for what to avoid, Valerie is not a fan of the eyelash extension craze. “They are ruining your lashes. Do a strip or individuals.” She also recommends focusing on eyebrows and eye contouring.
A far greater sin in her book is to “watch YouTube videos with crazy people, then run out and buy everything. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have but how many clients you have. You should go to a [professional] person,” says Sarnelle.
“This is something I love and want to continue doing. I’m here to stay and I’m not going anywhere.”