From the December 1999 issue of Startups

Liberal doses of Leeza Gibbons and John Tesh telling you who the hottest addition to Hollywood is over the course of too many MTV-filled years have caused you to grow up unable to deny your inner yearning to be famous. But, oh yeah, you can't act or sing, so your chances of doing an E! Entertainment Television promo are getting slimmer by the minute.

Enter your saving grace, the "behind-the-scenes approach": Rather than audition your way to celebrity status, you burn your name into pop culture history by starting a glamorous business. Whether it's a bar Leo has to frequent nightly or a beauty product the hottest London model flies to America to buy, you can reap a lot more than 15 minutes of fame. And if you're lucky, you won't have to wait tables until your time comes.

To offer you a truly objective account of some of these so-called "glamorous" businesses, we took the A.J. Benza approach and searched for the dark side. Turns out even the dark side is enjoyable. Sure, you might not wallow in riches or fame, but rubbing elbows with those who do makes these ventures absolutely fabulous.

Consider a few snapshots from some glam entrepreneurs' daily lives: Amy Sacco, majority owner of Lot 61, a restaurant/bar/lounge in New York City's West Chelsea art district, posing with Victoria's Secret model and lingerie entrepreneur Frederique Van Der Wal for a photo. Jerrod Blandino, CEO of ultra-glam cosmetics line TOO FACED, has a hard time counting the number of stars he's met via his and partner Jeremy Johnson's Irvine, California, start-up. And Jason Lavitt, co-promoter of Makeup, a much talked-about Hollywood club, gets stopped on the street by viewers of E!'s Hollywood Nights special featuring the formerly once-a-month event. (Makeup now travels to Vegas each month, having kicked off the party with its Halloween '99 show.) Sound like your kind of life? Read on.

Dancing Queens

Pat Briggs, 35-year-old co-promoter of Makeup, speaks for Lavitt, 26, and veteran promoter (and third partner) Joseph Brooks when he says, "We don't do it for the money." To clarify, these guys don't sit around a table after the first Saturday of each month (when Makeup rears its beautiful head) counting cash. In reality, the 9-month-old glitter-fest was lucky to break even its first few dates.

Lavitt, a former underage club-crasher, import-record buyer and Capitol Records sales assistant, says putting on one night of Makeup takes weeks of preparation. As for the cost, Brooks discloses only that "It's a huge amount of money." And although the partners don't get all the profits (the club's home, the El Rey Theater in Hollywood, keeps bar sales and subtracts a lofty rent fee from cover charge totals), they're financially responsible for everything from flying in performers from New York and renting rehearsal space to placing ads and creating spectacular invitations.

Regardless, satisfaction prevails: "After a show, I go to sleep thinking I brought a little light to people's lives, and that's enough reward for me," says Briggs, who also fronts glam-rock band Psychotica. "It's not the obvious road to [take], but it's funny--putting on a simple drag show can actually make you feel you're doing something worthwhile."

Referring to Makeup as a "show" is no stretch. The theatrics that constitute an evening at Makeup--where club-goers dress for Halloween year-round--are why the club has reached audiences far beyond the traditional dance-hall-with-a-DJ concept. People waiting hours in line to be admitted by the door girl based on the extravagance of their ensembles range from teachers and "oppressed kids from small towns" to "people counting pennies to come in." Even Lavitt's parents occasionally make the scene. "The bottom line is, people want to be entertained," says Briggs. "I think we've proved [that] putting on a variety show always wins."

Feeding Frenzy

Variety is also key for Amy Sacco, 31. Although she was set on having her 5,000-square-foot expanse house several socializing options, Lot 61's location in "the epicenter of contemporary art" but far from the foot traffic of midtown Manhattan posed a challenge.

"It's harder after [almost two years]," says Sacco of her chic but approachable nighttime hot spot, where you can eat honey-lacquered quail while surrounded by the works of esteemed contemporary artists. "When you're new, everybody wants to be there. Now we have to figure out how to attract [customers], because everyone's been hit with everything else that's new." She often reconfigures her menu (if not for customers, for her boyfriend, who will eat at Lot 61 to get a moment with her) and ensures her staff excels in customer service.

Working 16- to 20-hour days, it's not easy to keep a happy face, but Sacco knows overall attitude will make or break her. "I'm still fighting the late-night tiredness, and the early-night `I just got here--I still need my coffee and cigarette but we have customers' kind of thing."

Sacco can cope, because she's worked in the restaurant business since age 13, but, more importantly, because her current life situation is all she's ever wanted. "I've known I was going to have a restaurant in New York since I was 8 years old," says the New Jersey native. Although her mother, Bette, a seasoned dinner-party hostess in her own right, thought her daughter's goal was "bizarre," she has bragging rights now that Lot 61 has hosted a post-collection party for Giorgio Armani, and its zebra-patterned banquettes and rubber sofas seat the rears of supermodels and film, TV and rock stars. But Sacco says the "coolest part" was being able to throw a 70th birthday bash at Lot 61 for the "very, very hip" lady who supported her every decision--from taking service jobs at New Jersey restaurants through graduating in 1990 from Johnson and Wales restaurant school in Providence, Rhode Island.

It's fairy tale material, actually: Sacco and Yvonne Force, former fellow hostess at New York City restaurant Bouley, used to splurge on a bottle of champagne "somewhere chic like the Royalton" every few months, toasting that whoever made it first would help the other achieve the same. When Force became curator for Lawrence Rockefeller's art collection, she unleashed the news by taking Sacco to the Waldorf-Astoria hotel for a black-tie dinner. Force knew if the aspiring restaurateur didn't meet a partner at a table seating Sarah Ferguson and several millionaires, she never would. That night, Sacco met the two men who provided her with $1.2 million in seed capital.

Aside from fielding investment offers during start-up (the kind with strings attached), Sacco says the only drawbacks to her dream business are that marriage and kids will require serious lifestyle rearranging and, boy, competitors can be piranhas. They'll try everything from poaching your staff and stealing ideas to nabbing high-profile parties. "Glamour isn't everything," she says. "It's a tough, tough business."

Face Value

"TOO FACED was born on the philosophy of `Why waste time? Steal the spotlight. Be as glamorous as you can,' " explains Jerrod Blandino of the $2 million company he helped start in April 1998. The desire for fame always burned in Blandino, 29, whether it was while he acted in sitcoms, attended animation school or worked behind the counter for Estée Lauder. His wish was granted after meeting Jeremy Johnson, 25, then a business manager with Estée Lauder and now president of TOO FACED.

Johnson was aware of Blandino's reputation for custom-blending different brands of makeup for customers. "[Johnson's] the one who sat me down and said, `You're spending all your time mixing this stuff up and ruining our microwaves, so why don't we start a little business, as a hobby?' " Blandino recalls.

With $70,000 in savings and help from Blandino's parents, they did just that. But miraculously, the "hobby" landed a Vogue feature after only a week in business, skyrocketing TOO FACED toward all the right stars. Madonna wore their products in her "Ray of Light" video; Drew Barrymore used them to put on her Oscar face. TV shows like Will & Grace and The View use the products on-set. And nonceleb customers are depleting stock at Nordstrom, Sephora and Henri Bendel.

Before Blandino contracted one of the best labs in the world to make lipsticks like "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha" and eye shadows like "George & Weezie," he attempted cooking the products himself in a kitchen. "Everybody thought we were crazy," he says, "and we were naive enough not to know this was impossible."

Where Do I Sign Up?

Like Sacco, you can work your way to the top--learn the ins and outs of your trade, and accept that success might take a few years. She openly admits that once the three-year-long start-up process ensued, her connections seemed few. But taking time to secure the perfect location and find the right architects, designers and lawyers will reap Sacco upwards of $4.5 million this year. And now she's applying her business acumen to her next restaurant, expected to launch within a year. Impressive, since restaurants have a 95 percent first-year failure rate.

As a club promoter, expect to supplement your income with side projects. Briggs tours and records with Psychotica, and Lavitt and Brooks separately DJ and co-promote other clubs and events. Since their E! debut, where viewers saw David and Courtney Cox Arquette in attendance, however, the boys have trademarked Makeup and plan to take it around the world. No headquarters yet--but do look for Makeup cosmetics, clothing, videos and CDs to be hitting the Net any day.

Want to be the next TOO FACED? Working in a metropolitan city helps ("First of all, a lab in Idaho . . . ?" jokes Blandino). But product quality, vibrant packaging and getting it into the right hands make all the difference in world.

Like the entertainment industry, glamorous businesses sometimes depend on "knowing people," but just as often prosper from sheer dedication. Either way, having fun and exercising creativity make it all worthwhile. Blandino, who declares his biggest fear is "beige," agrees: "I'm not a typical suit. I'll never be boring. If that happens, I'll go to Monaco and drink cocktails with Princess Stephanie."

Contact Source

Lot 61, (212)243-6555.

Makeup, (323)769-5500, www.clubmakeup.com.

TOO FACED, (714)281-6726, www.toofaced.com