Elizabeth Arden Column
Through the Red Door
In association with
Born in 1881, Elizabeth Arden was a woman way ahead of her time. Fascinated by skincare from a young age, she went on to pioneer the international beauty industry with many firsts including travel-sized products and the cult Eight Hour Cream. An ardent suffragette, legendary innovator and tireless entrepreneur, Elizabeth Arden was an early example of the ability of women to achieve success against the odds.
In a male-dominated era, she created a global empire with her famous Red Door Salons. Her entrepreneurial spirit and commitment to innovation, quality and excellence remain the soul of the company today. In the spirit of Elizabeth Arden, this column sets out to recognise the women in our industry whose personal and professional stories make them deserving of industry recognition.
Lacoste Travel Retail Director APAC Erin Lillis
Introduction: Erin Lillis was just eight years old when she decided she wanted a career in retailing. She made her decision following a visit to the Harrods store in London with her parents and never swayed from her plan. Erin plotted school and college studies to match what she considered then the dream job: as a Harrods’ window dresser.
Her love of a challenge and gutsy determination to not just survive but thrive in the world of retail led to her rising through the ranks at Harrods, ultimately to a management position. She was later headhunted by French lifestyle brand Lacoste which led to her creating a new life in Hong Kong as Travel Retail Director APAC.
Erin carved a niche for herself as a highly motivated, and much-admired executive, a seemingly unstoppable force… until cancer forced her to take on the battle of her life.
She tells her story to The Moodie Davitt Report’s Colleen Morgan.
“Do it all with a smile in your heart” – Erin Lillis now as Lacoste Travel Retail Director APAC and then, about to embark on a career in retailing with Harrods
Tell us about your early years and what inspired you to look at retail as a career option.
I was born in Kent, England, an only child. I was just a little girl when my parents moved to Gloucestershire where I grew up on a farm, surrounded by country pursuits including fishing, hunting and shooting. I developed a love of horses and learnt dressage. I think I was too much of a chicken to jump fences.
I knew what I was going to do when I was eight. My parents had taken me into London and we went to Harrods. I was spell-bound and told them then and there that I wanted to work there as a window dresser when I grew up. They laughed of course. I don’t think they thought I was so serious.
Harrods wowed me from the moment I walked in there with Mum and Dad. I wanted to be part of the magic experience that the teams there made for every customer, from the window shoppers to those spending hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The storytelling and engagement delivered by the window displays was, and still is, so special. Every detail, from the backdrops and props, the make-up and wigs for the mannequins through to the accessories, carefully curated for each look, comes together to enthrall.
I wanted to learn and execute that. So I chose my school and college subjects to get me to that goal. I didn’t let my focus falter at all as I was so determined to be there. At the time I needed to find my placement for ‘work experience’ Harrods had stopped accepting applications. However, I kept writing each week and in the end, I was invited to work the voluntary three week period there – probably so that I’d stop writing to them.
At the end of that experience, they offered me a job as junior window dresser. I graduated on a Friday and started work at Harrods on the Monday.
That really showed me that persistence and perseverance work.
“It is remarkable what a woman can accomplish with just a little ambition”
– Elizabeth Arden
What prompted your move to Asia and Lacoste? What doors has your position with Lacoste and your life in Hong Kong opened for you?
I spent five great years at Harrods and a couple of years at Harvey Nichols. Then Lacoste contacted me through a headhunter to join them as head of Visual Merchandising and Store Planning for the UK and Ireland. Lacoste is such an iconic brand and I was really excited to join the Croc family.
I continue to be wowed by the company and the brand’s constant invention, agility and elegance. For me Lacoste evokes the same magic that Harrods did all those years ago.
Moving to Hong Kong with Lacoste in early 2009 was an amazing opportunity and a huge learning curve. I started to learn all the nuances of the business, across different countries and entered the massively interesting world of travel retail.
I also fell in love with Hong Kong and continue to be floored by this city, and by the Asia Pacific region as a whole. Because of the COVID pandemic, the past few years have been rough but it’s super exciting to feel the life and energy coming back.
Lacoste is a phenomenal family to be a part of and my role allows me to still grow and learn constantly. That is so important to me. I set goals and reach them, using the determination and never-give-up attitude I have always had, along with skills I have learnt over the years.
Lacoste is at an inspiring moment as it reaches its 90th anniversary this year and the brand is still going from strength to strength. To still get that goosebump feeling about the brand, and to play a role in building and nurturing business and people, is just brilliant.
Erin with Patsy, one of her two much-loved feline friends… and as the lady in pink, looking ahead to the next chapter in her life
Is the role of women within travel retail changing?
Women are increasingly and deservingly in key positions globally in travel retail and associated sectors. I actually noticed a big change at the recent TFWA Asia Pacific Exhibition in Singapore as there seemed to be more women than ever, both on the stands and also on the floor. Female executives voiced strong opinions during the conference and in the APTRA sessions.
Women are finding their voices and using their strengths in the channel. I have always been totally supported by my many male colleagues and I know that is the same for many of my associates in the industry, just as we support them.
However, we do need to keep pushing to see more women at all levels of businesses, especially at the top. That’s why women’s voices are vital also in trade associations. [Erin joined the board of the Asia Pacific Travel Retail Association (APTRA) in 2021 and is a member of the TFWA Management Sub-Committees.] To ensure we have a voice, we need to be seen, we need to be heard.
I grew up listening to my Mum and Dad’s favourite vinyls. One of them was Helen Reddy and I am Woman. I loved that song then and still do now and believe the words resonate my thoughts on women in travel retail, or in any business sector for that matter.
I am woman, hear me roar In numbers too big to ignore And I know too much to go back an' pretend 'Cause I've heard it all before And I've been down there on the floor And no one's ever gonna keep me down again
Yes, I am wise But it's wisdom born of pain Yes, I've paid the price But look how much I've gained If I have to, I can do anything I am strong (strong) I am invincible (invincible) I am woman
The next couple of lines are even stronger for me, and somehow put into words not just my attitude to work but also to life. Possibly more important now, especially after my illness, to living that one life we have:
You can bend but never break me 'Cause it only serves to make me More determined to achieve my final goal.
‘Life is a beautiful sport’ – and Erin has proven to be a formidable player
Let’s consider your involvement with WiTR, now WiTR+. Why is that an important part of your life? What do you feel the group can offer to women working in travel retail?
Women in Travel Retail (WiTR+) was established in 2006 by a group of female executives from the travel retail industry keen to provide a forum for the industry’s women. I’m honoured to be part of the steering committee of strong women offering a platform for networking, advice and information.
WiTR+ has emerged as one of the industry’s strongest advocates of charitable giving, supporting a variety of projects from Haiti to Africa, to Cambodia, China and most recently Philippines, with a strong focus on helping children and young adults.
Our 2023 project is Koma Karanth Foundation – building a community in the impoverished municipality of Gloria, Oriental Mindoro (Philippines), providing homes, education, old age community centres, medical support and support for single women as they strive for self-sufficiency. We’ll be holding networking and fundraising events in multiple global locations this year to raise at least €15,000 which will cover the cost of building three homes for the community. This and other networking opportunities are key to forge strong relationships and to be able to support and be supported, creating greater opportunities for women to succeed and make their mark in the industry.
That is so important to me: to succeed, to be supported, to enjoy strong relationships. All part of finding and securing your own path.
Once again the smile says it all: Determined and focused, Erin has never lost sight of her career and life plans
How important is charity or volunteer work to you?
I’ve always done as much as I can to help drive charitable causes to try and make things better for people who need a helping hand. Sadly, there’s no magic wand to make everything ok. But if we all can do a bit then hopefully lives will be better.
It goes back to supporting people again, helping those who are not as fortunate as many of us are. My experiences have had a profound impact on my life and the way I look at others. Never judge, never presume until you have walked in their shoes.
You’ve been through a very serious illness which, bravely, you detailed on social media. What prompted that decision to share even your worst moments with your friends and associates?
I share my ongoing journey through social media (and WhatsApp for friends not on Instagram or Facebook) to encourage – push even – everyone to get checked up.
I was diagnosed with stage three bowel cancer in October 2021. Stage three means that it was fairly advanced, often that a tumor has grown larger and cancer cells can be found in lymph nodes and other organs.
My diagnosis only came about because I was talked into going for a colonoscopy by an amazing friend. If I hadn’t been checked then and had the extremely swift surgeries, aggressive chemotherapy, radiation and ongoing treatment, I know I would not be here today talking to you.
I wouldn’t wish what I’ve been through on anyone. And I couldn’t have come this far without the love and support of my Dad, husband, family, friends (many from the travel retail world) and the truly incredible Lacoste family. They all kept me positive even at the darkest of moments and in the most extreme pain.
If sharing with anyone helps to encourage more people to go for a simple checkup I will continue to shout from every rooftop, real or digital, that I can.
How important are family, friends and close work relationships in your life?
Love and friendship are everything. I feel very lucky to have so many people that care for me and hope that I reciprocate that.
Without getting soppy, we’re all here on earth working and striving to do our best. Most certainly I do my best for myself and others when I am happy and strong relationships make that happen.
And your advice to women, of any age, who are knocking at that door of opportunity?
Persevere, be kind, be loyal, stay healthy and do it all with a smile in your heart.
Elizabeth Arden will supply each of the remarkable women who takes part in our series with a special gift box which will include:
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Capsules Daily Youth Restoring Serum, 60-Piece
Pure. Potent. Precise. Our ceramide serum has triple the power for visibly firmer, smoother, healthy-looking skin.
Elizabeth Arden Hyaluronic Acid Ceramide Capsules Hydra-Plumping Serum, 60-Piece
Powered by Double-Lock Hydration, 98% see visibly plumper skin with a more youthful bounce.* Moisture magnet hyaluronic acid and skin-strengthening ceramides work together to visibly plump, firm and hydrate skin.
*Consumer study, 55 women after 4 weeks.
Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Lift and Firm Day Cream SPF 15, 50ml
Advanced Ceramide Lift and Firm Day Cream SPF 15 is an anti-aging cream with 5x the Ceramide.* Features 3D FIT Technology with Ceramides, Tetrapeptides and Edelweiss Extract** to Firm, Intensely Hydrate and Tighten. 1 week to visibly lifted, firmer and more defined facial contours.*** *Based on reformulation vs. existing Lift and Firm Creams. **From Cell Cultures. ***Based on independent consumer studies of Day & Night Creams; 58 women; 1 week.
Elizabeth Arden Eight Hour® Cream Beauty Must Haves Set
Ready to help you keep you moisturized and protected, these Eight Hour® hydrators are the perfect take-anywhere travel companions.
This Travel Exclusive set includes: Eight Hour® Cream Hand Cream Intensive Hand Treatment, 75 ml (full size). Eight Hour® Cream Skin Protectant, 50ml (full size) Eight Hour® Cream Lip Protectant Stick SPF 15, 3.7g (full size)
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