Building a Beautiful Business

Text by Karena Akhavein
Photography by Peter Cervieri

In her former life as an actress, one of Jennifer Yen’s roles was that of a scaly villainess named Vypra. Today, as founder of pūr~lisse cosmetics, she is a decidedly smooth-skinned businesswoman committed to doing good.

When we caught up with the peripatetic Yen, she was vacationing in the Dominican Republic after working in New York and Miami. Good thing pūr~lisse cosmetics are eminently packable. Yen created her TSA approved pūr~lisse Jet Set Starter Kits because “a woman shouldn’t have to sacrifice her beauty routine because she’s traveling.” Currently living in LA, the Taiwan-born, Alabama-raised Yen names Paris as a favorite destination and evokes her dream of discovering Provence next. “I can only imagine the gardens there,” she sighs.
France is not just a dream getaway, it’s also a source for ingredients. “When you think of seaweed, you often think of Asia, but the best quality is from the coast of Normandy,” says Yen, whose products contain sea silk—a blend of potent marine plants—to smooth wrinkles. “Europeans formulate products differently, they have much higher standards than in the U.S.” Hence, French brands Bioderm and Caudalie are some of the few products outside of her own line that Yen would use. “I’m super picky,” she admits. She ensures that all
pūr~lisse products are free from allergens and dangerous chemicals. “And I don’t like synthetic fragrances, buttercream this or chocolate that.”

Asia, another favorite destination, is also part of the pūr~lisse story. “There was always tea brewing in my grandmother’s house, and she washed her face with soy milk,” recalls Yen. Tea was poured on cuts and scrapes, so it came as no surprise when research revealed that white tea is a powerful anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant. The same goes for lotus flower, which has edible seeds and roots, and which Yen’s grandmother also brewed into tea. “Lotus flower is symbolic, positive, abundant and renewable. It symbolizes potential and resurrection. It also is soothing and detoxifying,” explains Yen, who
uses the flower’s image on pūr~lisse packaging. Having traveled to Cambodia to visit lotus and rice farms, Yen hopes to help local farmers by promoting sustainability and fair trade in the region.

Though Yen is incredibly driven and hardworking, her route to the cosmetics industry was tortuous. At college in Boston, she was undecided on a career so she picked business and marketing as a “basic, run of the mill major.” Then, she fell into modeling, which led to acting and a move to Los Angeles. Five years of living in heavy Hollywood makeup made Yen’s skin so inflamed and sensitive that she impetuously embarked on what she now calls her “quest”. A makeup artist who had worked on Yen passed pūr~lisse products on to other makeup artists and celebrity clients, but a celebrity following does not guarantee success. Today, Yen is a firm believer in the power of social media in marketing, and has come to the conclusion that technology is the future of retail, and that data is everything. “I didn’t have [the] comfort of learning on somebody else’s dime,” she says of early mistakes while striking out on her own. “If I had worked for another brand first I might never have started my own company, because I would have known how hard it is.” But she is thankful for the experience: “I’ve learned so much, and when you get to a certain age you need to be defined through your own personal accomplishments. It’s not healthy, otherwise.”