When NYX Professional Makeup founder Toni Ko sold her company to L’Oréal in 2014, the bank wire hit her account on July 30th. The price: an estimated $400 million to $500 million, according to Fulvio Cazzol, analyst for Berenberg Capital Markets. But it wasn’t like winning the lottery, said Ms. Ko, 46.
“I earned that money. I spent my life on that company,” said Ms. Ko, who, like L’Oréal, declined to disclose the terms of the sale. Once the deal was done, she fell into a six-month long depression, she said.
When she emerged, she started to build the symmetrical and unreservedly feminine 18,000-square-foot compound in which she lives today. She bought two lots—both previously owned by the same family and on the market at the same time—within Fremont Place, a gated community of 73 early 20th century homes in the mid-city area of Los Angeles. A.P. Giannini, founder of Bank of America, once owned the property, according to Patricia Lombard, a board member of the Fremont Place Homeowners Association. The lots cost $3.75 million each, Ms. Ko said.
The Home That Makeup Built
Toni Ko’s estate was part of her plan to retire. It didn’t work out that way.
would have paid any price,” admitted Ms. Ko. The location was strategic, she said, putting her within a roughly 20-minute drive to downtown, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. While she built, she lived in a nearly 5,000-square-foot penthouse in Santa Monica, which she sold this year for $12.5 million, she said. The condo accommodated her initial early retirement plan—“to sit on a beach and drink margaritas for the rest of my life,” she said. It didn’t take much beach sitting (“about two days,” she said) for her to realize she needed a new life plan, she said.
Her initial concept was to knock down the two existing homes and build a roughly 8,000-square foot modern house. The homeowner’s association nixed that idea, however, and obligated Ms. Ko to keep a Spanish-style home on the property and to retain the original facade of the main house.
The solution, orchestrated by BAR Design and Construction, was to wedge off the facade of the primary home, build a new house in its place, and reapply the face when construction was finished. The Spanish-style house was moved by crane to the back of the property. The result: a six-bedroom, seven-bathroom main house and a two-bedroom, three-bathroom guesthouse, plus a pool, several outdoor lounging and dining areas, vegetable garden, chicken coop, and abundant fruiting olive trees and rosemary. Construction cost about $10 million, Ms. Ko said.
Her first priority was symmetry. Standing at the front door, she sliced her arm in a downward direction, pointing through the dining room, outdoor lounge, pool and to the back wall of the garden. Peering up at the ceiling, Ms. Ko said she could swear the chandelier isn’t smack dab in the middle. Builder Asher Alfasi said it is bolted at dead center.
Next came color: “For so long, I lived in black and white environments, like Coco Chanel,” she said. In this home, Ms. Ko opted for bright green dining chairs, pastel pink sofas, and a rose-quartz fireplace mantel. Much of her art is by female artists and showcases bright flowers, red lipstick and chic icons, including Audrey Hepburn and Brigitte Bardot.
Ms. Ko herself cut a glamorous figure, sporting 4-inch heels, a wasp-waist and flared tulle skirt. Upstairs, she unlocked a door leading to a cavernous closet, home to about 60 Chanel handbags, seven Birkin bags, and about 30 pairs of Louboutin heels, plus scores of sky-high pumps encrusted with rhinestones and spikes. Makeup and fashion have always been big themes in her life: Her parents, who moved to Los Angeles from South Korea when Ms. Ko was 13, owned a beauty store and later, a cosmetics distribution company. She worked for her parents, who were successful business people and lived an “upper-middle-class” lifestyle, Ms. Ko said, until she was 25. Earlier dreams of a career as a writer were derailed by moving to the U.S. and struggling through years of English-as-a-second-language classes, she said. A relationship throughout her 20s with a wealthy boyfriend who bought her nice things taught her a key lesson: “Money really influences relationships and who has the power. With him, my roar was a meow,” she said.
With $250,000 in seed money from her mother, Ms. Ko launched her own line of eyeliners and lipliners in 1999. An early grasp of digital marketing helped propel the company to rapid growth. In the yearlong period prior to sale, NYX was on track to generate $120 million in revenue, Ms. Ko said.
A noncompete agreement with L’Oréal locked her out of the beauty business for five years, so she started a sunglasses company, initially called Perverse Sunglasses, then rebranded two years ago as Thomas James. She’s completing the sale of the company in January, she said. She also created Butter Ventures, which invests in female-owned companies, and built a portfolio of 500,000 square feet of commercial real estate in Southern California, she said.
At the end of July, her noncompete expired and she launched Bespoke Beauty Brands, a makeup company in which each collection is built around an internet influencer, celebrity or designer. The company’s first collection, Kimchi_Chic Beauty, is based around drag performer Kim Chi; since launching in August, the brand has “surpassed a quarter million in sales,” Ms. Ko said. Another line of products, which will be marketed to men, includes a powder for drying one’s nether regions. The line will be named “Mai Johnson.”
She never plans to build another house. “It was supposed to be 8,000 square feet. Where did the extra 10,000 come from?” she said, admitting that she typically uses about 2,000 of them.
She laughed, waving a hand at a pile of lightly used golf clubs, boxing gloves and other equipment for the hobbies she thought she’d use in retirement. Like her initial plan of sitting on a beach for the rest of her life, they have gone by the wayside. She’s gone back to work.
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