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Artemis Patrick on Her Journey to Become Sephora North America’s First Female CEO

“It’s a change, but it also feels like home,” said Sephora North America president Artemis Patrick of her April 1 appointment as the first woman chief executive officer to lead the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton-owned retailer, in an exclusive interview with WWD.

Dressed in a long flowing navy dress paired with her signature cowboy boots, Patrick, an 18-year Sephora veteran often referred to in industry circles as the brand whisperer, was in New York City with a packed schedule that included accepting the Catalyst Award on Sephora’s behalf, attending the Women’s Leadership Network capstone event for the Estée Lauder Cos. and visiting three potential sites for new Sephora stores.

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The pace is the norm for Patrick, who is based in San Francisco where Sephora North America is headquartered. In the run-up to her CEO appointment, she has shadowed current CEO Jean-André Rougeot for three months, and for the last three months, Rougeot, who is retiring, shadowed Patrick.

Jean-André Rougeot
Jean-André Rougeot

“The level of surprise is not super extreme,” she said of the learning curve as she transitions from global chief merchandising officer to president, North America, and soon the dual title of CEO. “It’s more around the learning of and leaning into the functions that I’m frankly less familiar with. For example, the supply chain. A couple of weeks ago I went to Vegas to visit our distribution center and I’m going to Utah. These distribution centers are churning out hundreds of thousands of orders and they’re all our own people.”

Rougeot leaves Sephora as the largest prestige beauty player in the U.S., with sales of $10 billion. That puts the retailer in a stronger position than before the coronavirus pandemic, and Patrick has no desire to slow the momentum. Her strategy is to remain focused on a handful of priorities and not worry about what the competition is doing.

In terms of categories, Patrick, who will report to Guillaume Motte, president and CEO of Sephora’s global business, still sees much opportunity in prestige facial and body skin care, as well as hair.

While Sol de Janeiro is leading body care, Patrick said there are a lot of great brands popping up, including the relaunch of Josie Maran.

On facial skin care and the phenomenon of younger shoppers at Sephora and concerns that they are buying products too harsh for their young skin, Patrick believes the retailer’s beauty advisers are key.

“They’re not on commission. We spend a tremendous amount of time and resources and energy on educating our beauty advisers,” she said. “They do their very best to make sure that the new consumer knows this is right for your skin without being condescending. But the reality is they know what they know and they know what they want, so there’s only so much they can do.”

While some competitors including Ulta Beauty are carving out dedicated wellness areas in stores, Patrick does not see that as a route for Sephora.

“I don’t think that’s how the consumer shops. It’s a journey. If I’m standing at the hair space and I’m thinking about hair growth and I see a beautiful brand like Act+Acre, that’s where I would expect to see it — next to my shampoos and conditioner,” she said, adding that Sephora is the exclusive brick-and-mortar player for hair health brand Nutrafol.

“Wellness is a very broad term that sometimes means supplements and in some cases means yoga or sleep, for example, so we actually believe we have a lot of wellness categories in the existing portfolio,” she continued.

But while wellness walls won’t be appearing anytime soon, Sephora’s fleet will be getting a makeover during an extensive refurbishment project.

“This is a massive investment. It will take at least five years,” Patrick said. “In some cases it’s essentially building a new store, but we strongly believe that whether you’re in Manhattan or Omaha, Neb., you should have the same experience.”

During a wider media briefing, Patrick also spoke about the significance of the beauty retailer’s partnership with Kohl’s, which began in August 2021. They are in 910 stores, with plans to enter the whole fleet.

A smaller Sephora shop is operating inside Kohl's in Sussex, Wisconsin.
A smaller Sephora shop inside Kohl’s in Sussex, Wisc.

On Tuesday during its earnings call with analysts, Kohl’s CEO Tom Kingsbury called 2023 a “breakout year” for its partnership with Sephora, delivering more than $1.4 billion in sales, up more than 90 percent year-over-year.

“It’s doing incredibly well,” Patrick said. “We’re on a path to reach $2 billion next year with Sephora inside Kohl’s. We’re adding 140 new doors so by mid next year we’ll be in the whole fleet, which means that we can double up on the marketing.

“The reality is Kohl’s is better at some things than we are. They have more men, they have more families so that’s a big opportunity for us. Frankly, they’re better at holiday and key gifting times. We had a phenomenal Valentine’s Day.”

According to industry sources, globally Sephora sped past the 12 billion euro sales mark in 2022, and is on pace to achieve its goal of 20 billion euros over the coming years.

With all this going on and a big career change about to happen, Patrick said she lives in a constant state of gratitude, partly due to her upbringing.

Born in Iran, Patrick moved to Los Angeles when she was eight with her parents during the Iranian Revolution as her father was one of the Shah’s pilots.

In what was a very difficult transition for her family who barely spoke any English, her mother returned to Iran to visit family and was unable to return to the U.S. due to the Iranian hostage crisis. With her father unequipped to take care of her, Patrick moved into a group home and then in with foster parents age 10, who raised her and are still in her life. She eventually reconnected with her mother.

“I’m in awe of how I ended up here. I’m very grateful for foster parents that encouraged me to go to college, go to grad school, and follow my dreams,” she said.

“I’m very thankful for where I’ve landed. It’s also why I really do believe in paying it forward. I believe in inclusivity and not just as a term but as a way of living.”

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