Q&A with Ray Zelli, director of operations, Sormé Cosmetics Group
What advice would you give to your younger, just-starting out self?
Join the military. I should’ve gone into the armed forces for a few years when I had the opportunity, in my 20s. I missed out on the discipline it brings, the camaraderie and knowing that you belong to a nation of people. But I have no regrets.
What makes Sormé and Refineé so unique?
With Sormé it’s two things. First, it’s a professional brand with a high color density and the flexibility—with most products—to be used wet or dry. Second, it blends vitamins, minerals and other non-harmful, effective ingredients into stable formulas that won’t separate. The only professional makeup products in the early ’90s were harmful—they were like theatrical types of makeup used on celebrities, who would immediately wash it off as soon as they’d finished on set. So our goal was to be a treatment-based cosmetic brand. With our Perfect Touch Concealer, you heal as you conceal.
Refineé was created out of a demand from estheticians and salon owners for an affordable maintenance brand to sell clients. They’d invested in very expensive brands for services, but when it came to selling retail clients would say, ‘No thanks, I’ve got some already.’ The repercussions were that the customer would go home after the facial did a great job, then break out from using other products and blame the salon or esthetician. It’s imperative that clients buy a great maintenance product. So we came up with this line: it’s used a lot in back bar, on less-expensive facials that are just as good [as pricier ones]. It has 13 SKUs, the majority of which can be used on all skin types. It’s a simple, reasonably priced, superconcentrated line that has done very well.
Tell us about the company’s plans heading into 2017.
Sormé is moving to a new phase. It will have revamped, lighter and more accented outer packaging. We’re bringing on a lot more products on a yearly basis and we’re concentrating heavily on education department, particularly when it comes to free online education. We’re going to add a new educational section to our office here in Valencia, where vloggers and bloggers can come and learn about the products. We want to do more education with Refineé too, and we’ll be adding products to be used for more intensive treatments, such as glycolic peels, plus new travel kits.
What’s the biggest mistake you see skincare clients making?
Falling for fads and trends. It’s so easy to get suckered into the latest thing that a celebrity has come out with. I really am scared by what I hear at trade shows! People are so trusting of what they read or view online about skin care and makeup, a lot of which is written by self-proclaimed ‘professionals’ who have absolutely no background in the industry. People think, ‘It must be true—it got a million hits.’
How do you relax?
Chilling at home and watching a movie with my wife, Alexandra, and our Siberian husky hybrid, Handsome Jack, and Maine Coon cats, Toulouse and Monkey. We do so much on a daily basis—Alexandra also works long hours as the editor of a beauty magazine—so if we can just do nothing that’s ideal.
Tell us something most people don’t know about you.
I love grocery shopping! It’s like a meditative state for me. I walk down the aisles, and look at every bag of frozen ingredients to see what I could make with them. I go nuts in there! I cook everything—I’m a barbecue man but I make a lot of Persian dishes. My chicken béarnaise is one of my wife’s favorites. It’s good quality but not necessarily good for you!
Who would you most like to meet?
Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They’re the best thing that ever happened to this country, bar none.
What’s your personal mantra?
Live your life in such a way that you never have any regrets on your death bed. I got it from my dad, who truly lived his life that way.
Which social causes do you support?
The World Wildlife Fund. My daughter, Danielle, who lives and works in London, is a huge
advocate for them as well. We also donate to Feeding America, which is transparent about where its money goes. We always try to help them since the Syrian crisis. I would love to be more hands-on involved, though.
What’s your earliest memory?
When I was involved in a major car accident at the age of three and needed 15 stitches in my head. My mom and I were in a taxi on our way to get a birthday cake for my dad. I remember every little detail.
What’s your favorite part of the work day and why?
Mornings, probably. I love coming in to the office—it’s like opening a present every day. I deal a lot with international clients who’ve responded overnight due to the time difference, so it’s nice to have the whole day to respond. I start planning my day, and Morad and I go through what we have to get done.
What song sums you up?
“Don’t Stop Me Now” by Queen.
What are your favorite TV shows?
“Game of Thrones” and “The Blacklist”.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would meditate or exercise more. I need some way of venting the things I deal with on a daily basis. I started exercising because my wife said she was sick of looking at me! I joined a gym a few years ago and have been supporting it by paying membership!
What’s your home town?
I was born in Tehran, Iran. L.A. became my home back in the mid-’80s. I got myself a job in an antiques shop in Beverly Hills. I saw a Persian gentleman having tea and backgammon out front. He knew my dad. I said, ‘I can clean, I can bring you tea.’ He said, “Mr. Zelli’s son is going to bring me tea?’ Within a month he’d given me the whole shop, keys and all. It taught me that you can always show people what you’re made of later—the important thing is to get your foot in the door.
If you weren’t in this business, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be an inventor. I love coming up with ways of making life a bit easier!