I turned 26 this year and spent an hour of my birthday at Paintbox studio, hoping that fancy nails and a luxurious manicure experience may set a sophisticated (some might argue indulgent) tone for this next stage of my life. I walked out in great spirits - a little buzzed off their complimentary champagne (it was my birthday after all!) and thrilled with my electric blue nail art. It was an experience not only to be remembered, but also to be documented, as I learned the founder of Paintbox is in fact a transplant from Memphis, Tennessee. After coincidentally meeting Eleanor Langston during an event, I was pleased to have the opportunity to feature her on the blog. I learned all about the new business owner, from her childhood in Memphis to her family history (yes,Elvis is kinda-sorta part of the Paintbox fam).
Eleanor:I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee and lived there my entire life. When I tell people I grew up in Memphis I think they assume I grew up on a farm or something but it was very metropolitan and full of cultural diversity. It's a cool city because it's the birthplace of blues, jazz and other music genres. It heavily influenced the music scene.
Lexi: Yes, I actually went to an event at the Stax Museum last year and it was pretty cool to learn more about the history of American soul - so much of that took place in Memphis.
Eleanor: You know I'm actually related to Elvis... My grandmother and Elvis's mother, Gladys, were first cousins...
Lexi: Well that's a fun fact...
Eleanor: When I was younger we came to New York about once a year - my parents really loved it. I always idealized the city and felt like it would be the perfect place for me one day. After writing for the yearbook in high school and simultaneously enrolling in a journalism program at Northwestern, I became more and more interested about pursuing magazine editorial. And of course you and I both know that New York is the dream city when it comes to a career in writing.
Lexi: Did you ever apply for any editorial internships in New York?
Eleanor: Definitely. I went to college at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and spent every summer (starting Freshman year) interning in New York living in the NYU dorms. I interned at United Colors of Benetton, DKNY and Elle Magazine. When I graduated I knew I wanted to move to NYC.Lexi: When you were interning in the city, did you know anybody or was it tough to meet people?
Eleanor: Well my, now husband, interned in New York the same summers as me so we spent a lot of time together. We met when we were thirteen and went to high school together. We weren't dating at the time but we were good friends - we evenwent to prom together! It wasn't until we moved to New York City that we fell in love. We would hang out on his roof every night, fantasizing about city life and staring out over the skyline from where he stayed in Brooklyn. It was a very romantic time...I mean at age 19, I fell in love with the man, and city, of my dreams.
Lexi: It's kind of amazing that you were able to experience that with each other. I'm sure it was relieving to see him after a long day interning. Did you have the "Devil Wears Prada" type of experience?
Eleanor: Not really, I mean it was certainly eye opening and fast-paced but it was also really fun. I'd say it was a bit of a wake-up call coming from the South where people are less type A and less assertive. No one is saying "sorry" or "excuse me" in New York...you really have to learn how to stand up for yourself.Lexi: And after your internships you decided to permanently take up residence in NYC?
Eleanor: Yep, and I actually moved here without a job at first. Fortunately I landed a job with PR agency Harrison & Shriftman and was basically the CEO's assistant for a year. That was definitely intense but invaluable in terms of lessons learned and experience gained.
Lexi: Why did you choose PR?
Eleanor: At UNC there wasn't a track for magazine editorial. It was either PR or hard core news - like crime reporting. So I actually had a bit of experience with PR and was interested in the fashion and beauty side of it. Harrison & Shriftman was a really great place to start because I got to see all sorts of the PR industry, from lifestyle to fashion to travel. We represented Grey Goose, Mercedes Benz... a lot of different clients.Lexi: Obviously PR involves a lot of writing but when did you make the switch into magazine editorial, where you could really pursue your passion for writing?
Eleanor: After working at Harrison & Shriftman I realized that beauty was the direction I wanted to go. I loved (and still love) that beauty is about both artistry and science. I ended up applying for a position at Shop, Etc. magazine which was similar to Lucky Magazine, and that marked my first role in editorial. The magazine folded but my boss during that time, her name is Amy Keller, has been a mentor ever since. She's now the Editor-in-chief of Women's Health and is one of my closest friends. Actually her husband, Grady Laird, started Grady's Cold Brew Iced Coffee, which we now serve at Paintbox.
Lexi: So it all comes full circle! Where did you end up after Shop, Etc?
Eleanor: I did some freelancewritingand finally landed a role at Cosmopolitan as the associate beauty editor. After that I moved on to work for Self as the beauty editor and then Fitness Magazine as the beauty director. I was there for two or three years, up until the time I got pregnant and decided I just wanted to freelance. I was happily freelancing even after my son was born until I came up with the idea for Paintbox.Lexi: What was the inspiration for creating a nail salon?
Eleanor: I just saw this huge boom in nail art in 2008 but also noticed how difficult it was for women to navigate because the options were so endless. I mean there are 35,000+ blogs just dedicated to nail art. As a beauty editor I was writing about all of these cool nail looks and attempting to explain to women how nail art could be sophisticated and minimalist but I realized there was actually no physical NYC location to get the nails that I wanted and was seeing on the blogs.
Lexi: So you were looking for something in between your everyday mani/pedi spot and nail art salons that offer very intricate and intense designs?
Eleanor: We really help the customer navigate through the process. In so many places the onus is on the customer to bring in a photo from Pinterest or research what she/he wants before walking through the doors. At Paintbox we have a look book that is edited and curated that customers can look through and choose from before their appointment.
Lexi: How do you come up with the designs?
Eleanor: Julie Kandalec is our creative director and the design experience is very collaborative. It starts with inspiration - a lot from clients actually. Someone will pick a cool color combination or do something slightly different than what's on our menu. We pull from fashion and runway trends. We have a Spring/Summer and a Fall/Winter look book along with a few capsule collections. Even though we have these pre-determined nail art designs, we still encourage clients to choose their own color combinations, etc. What's unique about us is that our manicurists are trained for weeks and weeks to help guide people through the process. We also have the best polishes, both geland traditional polish. We use our favorite brands - brands I've come to know very well through my experience as a beauty editor.Lexi: How have the people you met while you worked in editorial influenced Paintbox and its success?
Eleanor: Networking and connections are everything. At the start of my first summer internship I knew no one but each experience builds on itself and your network grows as you grow. It's key to maintain those relationships. I owe a lot to the contacts and friends I've made along the way - from our social media partners to our polish partners and so on.
Lexi: Has social media played an important role to the success of Paintbox?
Eleanor: It was really important to me to integrate social media into the space. We have this mani cam that makes it very easy for clients to share photos of their manicures. All they have to do is put their finished nails into this cut-out box in the wall and a photo is snapped and sent directly to them via email. We want to make it easy for people to share - not just to spread the word about Paintbox, but to remember the experience they had.Lexi: And what does it feel like being a business owner in NYC?
Eleanor: To have real estate on Crosby street in NYC is a dream come true! My husband and I talk about that all the time. We came here with no connections, moved to New York from Tennessee and worked our way up. To actually see them put the sign up and get our address was really a "pinch me" moment. I was totally in denial until our first press event. It's a little surreal but so exciting.
Lexi: And what's your favorite part about what you do now?
Eleanor: It's hard to pinpoint my favorite part because there are so many but I really enjoy seeing customers walk out our door more confident and showing off their nails. It's New York - one of the world's best and worst cities to live in, and people walk in our doors after long, tough days. I enjoy seeing how the Paintbox experience can turn their day around.Lexi: What are some things you've really learned about yourself through this whole experience?
Eleanor:I don't really like having the attention on myself so to have this big press launch and all eyes on me was out of my comfort zone. The month of the launch in May 2014, I almost felt like I was sleep walking. But as time has gone on and I've see the positive response from clients, I've gotten way more confident.
Lexi: Do you think you'll be here forever?
Eleanor: I really do. It's so much easier than I thought raising a child in the city. I love it here. If you had asked me ten years ago my response would probably be different than in it is now but there are so many cool things about this city. I can put my son in a stroller and visit five different parks or walk around the city for hours. We've made roots here now, business wise, friends wise, I don't see us leaving any time soon - it's part of our story.