Inspiration

How Filipino Beauty Brand VMV Became a Global Sensation

We spend a day with Laura Verallo de Bertotto, CEO and creative director of VMV Hypoallergenics.
IMAGE JINGGO MONTENEJO
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We spend a day with Laura Verallo de Bertotto, CEO and creative director of VMV Hypoallergenics.

What time did you wake up today?
6 a.m.

What’s the first thing you usually do when you wake up?
Say thank you. Wish my kids a great day. Then go to boot camp.

What did you have for breakfast?
Just two double espressos and iced tea that we make with turmeric from our organic farm in Leyte. The farm is where my mom (Vermen Verallo-Rowell) gets a lot of ideas for new ingredients. We do clinical studies on them and the good ones make it into VMV products.

I don’t usually have breakfast but when I do, it’ll be a berry and Greek yogurt smoothie we make at home or perhaps organic peanut butter on multi-grain bread.

Regular fitness routine?
Boot camp thrice a week. Yoga once a week. Stationary bike twice a week. Other days I go walking or get on the treadmill. I have to exercise seven days a week because any rest day would be a precipitous slope to possible inactivity.

Morning rituals?
Breakfast with the kids. I work a lot so meals with them are pretty sacred. It’s always over classical music at breakfast. When they’re off to school, I have quiet time. I sit and stare at leaves and what-not. Another reason why the classical music at breakfast is a must. It just works with the birds and the trees and sets my head on right for the day.

I shower then do my regimen with VMV products. Cleansing scrub, toner, then anti- acne cream, anti-aging cream, anti-melasma cream, acne gel, virgin coconut oil with retinoic acid that’s a customized prescription at the clinic, sunscreen. Yes, I realize that’s nine products. Then virgin coconut oil all over the body. Bronzing powder, blush, brow shaping. If I have time, eyeliner and lipstick. If I have more time, I’ll blow-dry. Otherwise, I convince myself I’m fetching in my pinned-up wet hair.

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Favorite VMV products?
All of the above! Also, the Big, Brave Boo-Boo Balm because I love that it’s “ouchless” and works for everything...burns, bruises of all kinds, dry lips, sunburn, whatever. Armada sunscreen because I’ve seen enough to know how ugly sun damage can be and how deadly skin cancer is.

You’re the CEO of the skin care company your mother founded. Your husband Juan Pablo is the CFO, and your younger sister, CC, works in New York as the Director for North America. How does that work? Do you ever drive each other nuts?
When my husband Juampi joined the company, I told him that it was all great and wonderful, but then I also told him the three things I’d told my sister when she joined:
1. You have to work harder than anyone else. You need to take on more than anyone else so that no one can ever say you don’t deserve the job.
2. Second, you’re an employee, not my husband or sister. You may have a boss who’s not a member of the family. You will get evaluated and critiqued. If we’re annoyed at each other personally, that gets checked at the door. Voices are never raised at VMV and we never bring personal drama to the office. You need to be able to take that. Your ego needs to be able to take that.
3. Finally, for now, I’m the CEO which means in a tie, I get to make the final decision and you need to be fine with that and champion the final decision for the good of the company.

You've turned a Philippine-made brand into a global sensation. How’d you do it?
It’s really mostly my mom’s doing. She just never could be shaken from what she wanted these products to be. Zero allergens and hard-core clinical studies. These standards are crazy expensive and were unpopular. But she wouldn’t waver and because of that, we really are a good few decades ahead of anyone else in these two areas. All 76 to 80 allergens out of a formulation? Yup, we do that. Brands get psyched when they have one study published in medical journals around the world...we have over 75. So those are the basic building blocks. There isn’t another brand in the world with this DNA.

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Left: With Madison in Argentina. Right: Being comforted by Gavin and Madison on a particularly bad day.

Which products do the global community like most?
Armada. It’s bloody expensive and costs an arm and a leg to make and test, but it sells because it’s just so good. Id Monolaurin Gel...it’s pretty amazing for sweat acne on the face and body. Virgin coconut oil...can’t keep it in stock. It’s big among celebs, too. Our Blush and Skintangible BBBB Cream are top favorites. And our Re-Everything Eye Serum, folks love it. Efficacy and safety trump most things. And, Boo-Boo Balm is probably the biggest cult hit.

What’s it like being the toast of international media such as Harper’s BAZAAR, Vogue, W, Elle, Martha Stewart Living, In Style, Vanity Fair, GQ, NBC, CBS, Bloomberg, among many others?
A U.S. wholesaler told us that considering how small our distribution still is in that country, we get incredible press. The thing is, the brand, our products, what we do is just really that unique. And the stuff works! We’ve had beauty editors become huge converts because they were crazy sensitive or crazy dry or had eczema or really chronic acne or couldn’t use a sunscreen without breaking out. They get the most samples of beauty products from all over sent to them on a daily basis, so they’ve tried everything and know everything. So if we make something that helps a concern they’ve had or that impresses them, they share it. And the feeling of validation it gives us is wonderful. From such a picky, knowledgeable crowd? We’re over the moon!

Do you see your daughter Madison following in your footsteps?
I want her to kick butt in and be happy about whatever she focuses on. My parents never expected me to join VMV; they never forced me into the business. I love that Madison’s into VMV but we’re at baby steps. My first goals are for her to love reading, love eating well, love playing outdoors, and think it weird to have a day without some physical activity. So far, check, check, check. She’s awesome, in my opinion.

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Is she a makeup fiend?
Fan, absolutely! What I love is that it’s not always about being “pretty.” It’s about color play and creativity. Even my four-year-old son Gavin gets into it because they’ll make themselves up as a rock band or superheroes. And I love, love, love that I don’t need to worry about it. Lots of dye-free shades, all fragrance-paraben-preservative-phthalate- free.

What activities do you do together?
We read quite a bit together. We do dance together! We learned choreography the other night: a modified electric slide. We sing together each night. And it’s important for me that she sees me working and that she learns that I love her whether or not I'm with her all the time.

We hear you’re a big list maker! What list did you make today?
I list what I’ve eaten and what I’ve done to exercise, and when I’ve exercised. It’s been 143 days in 2014 and I’ve worked out 146 times (I’ll work out twice a day some days to make “baon” for when I get sick). I got sick for over a month so I’m also trying to double up to make that up. My single most important daily list is my gratitude journal.

Gratitude journal?
I have a history of depression and got tired of studying my history, problems, motivations, issues, and depression itself. I wanted to study happiness. At the end of two years, I settled on five “musts” that I have to do each day. The Gratitude Journal is one of them. Basically, the last thing you do at night is to write down at least three things you’re grateful for. Don’t expound or analyze or whatever, just list. On the crappiest day when I’m convinced I'll have nothing, I’ll force myself to list even the basics. The stuff we take for granted each day but are, in themselves, miracles. It’s really worked for me.

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Left: On a trip with Juampi and his father arranged by Bluewater Sumilon. Right: At Goose Rocks beach in Kennebunkport, Maine.

What periodicals, magazines do you read regularly?
The New Yorker because one must. It’s good for your brain.

I do read all the top fashion and beauty mags for work, of course.

Fashion staple?
Boots. I live in boots. I’ll probably die in boots. And anything leopard. And big, bad, cuffs. Ah, and a Tide pen.

What’s the newest piece of clothing you’ve bought?
Cool black pants.

Favorite designer label?
Calvin Klein, since I was in college. There are just some labels that work for you (size, shape, cut) and this one is mine.

Jewelry?
I like them big and chunky. I’m not at all big into gems or expensive jewelry. I like things that look powerful, like maybe in a pinch I could take something off and use it as a weapon.

Watch?
I wear one that was my late father’s. Never look at it for the time.

What do you like most about your appearance?
Until college, I had to learn to like how I looked. Until then, I thought how I looked was something to get over. I used to like my legs. Now, I’m liking my skin! I had such bad acne as a child that I’d lie about who my mom was. Now in my 40s, I love that it’s not perfect, but pretty good, considering.

What do you like most about yourself?
I’m a learner and am brave enough to stand up against intolerance.


CHEERS!
Some of Laura's favorite gins include Berkshire Ethereal, Bulldog, Boodles, St. George's, and Hendrick's

Lunch today: business or pleasure?
Business, with my husband at work. Always a packed lunch from home that takes me five minutes to eat while standing up. Usually a very thin sandwich.

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Favorite restaurant?
Last Chukker, Milky Way, Floating Island. I love comfort food and happy memories.

We hear gin is your drink of choice?
In a so-dry-it’s-dusty martini: vermouth swirled in glass, in-and-out, tossed away; gin shaken long. I like it bruised, don’t sue me, it’s too hot for stirred martinis here, served with the perfect garnish (calamansi for a Berkshire’s Ethereal, cucumber for Hendrick’s, mint or lemon or a toothpick with a cocktail onion, olive, and jamon serrano. I also adore Negronis, and this can take a more personality-laden gin.

What else are you up to today?
I live by a wicked-rigid schedule (keeps my head on right, staves off depression, I end up more productive, too). Dinner with the kids, reading, bedtime, stationary bike a bit with work, some brain-numbing TV, and sleep.

How do you entertain on your own?
Hardly ever. If we do it’s crazy casual. Argentine barbecue at home next to the pool with wet/muddy kids. We had an awesome barbecue picnic in the garden the other day. Ended with s'mores.

Do you cook yourself?
Hell, no.

Go-to dishes?
When my husband does his barbecue, I snarf it all. I used to not like meat. His dad did a tira de asado for me on my first visit to their farm and I was hooked. “Choripan” with chimichurri and his steaks. Filipino breakfast on weekends is the big splurge.


TOP OF HER GAME
Valentino top (P57,480) Adora, Greenbelt 5, 217.4030 (price upon request); Natalya Lagdameo bracelet, 0919.348.0512; her own skirt.

What do you do as soon as you get home?
Change into jammies. I’m so elegant like that. I’m chic on a stick.

What was the prettiest thing you saw today?
At breakfast, I get a never-fail treat of leaves in wind rustling. That just draws my eyeballs out and makes my brain stop. It’s heaven for a few seconds.

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Greatest extravagance?
Anything Apple. Gins. A well-stocked bar (not a lot of people feel they “need” Angostura bitters or chartreuse). Basically, my mom’s Cebuana, dad was a WASP from Kennebunkport, and my husband’s an Argentine farm boy. The idea of spending makes me bristle.

Dream date?
Any of my BFFs. These are the ones with whom half a day of talking just isn’t enough.

What do you wear on a hot date?
Hello! Can’t remember the last time I had a “hot date!” Anything leopard I guess. And crazy high heels.

Qualities you like most in a man?
Intellect. Humor. Empathy. And a nice back!

Loves of your life?
My husband, my kids, me.

What's for dinner tonight?
We’ll be home with the kids. I never know what’s on the menu. I set up the funds, the team, some ground rules (no vegetable oil, no white rice or white sugar or pasta or bread) and let myself be surprised.

What time are you going to sleep?
10 p.m.

What do you hope to dream about?
I hope not to dream. I tend to have nightmares. To me, the gift is total goneness in sleep. No thought, a complete suspension of consciousness. That release is, to me, peace, prayer, and a true gift.

This story was originally published in the August 2014 issue of Town&Country.

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