Scripps Commencement Speaker Nonie Creme: Q&A

Scripps College commencement speaker Nonie Creme SC '94, the co-founder of beauty product company Butter London, will be sharing her experiences with the graduating class on May 17. Using her own success story as a beauty entrepreneur—beginning in London following graduation from Scripps—Creme hopes to illuminate the importance of passion and exploration to the class of 2014. TSL spoke with Creme in a phone interview to share more about her 5C experience and evolution as an artist.

TSL: What was your Scripps experience like? What did you study and how did you spend your time? 

Nonie Creme: Scripps was a wonderful experience for me. I came from an East Coast boarding school and was already extremely independent, but also kind of lost. I had a tough teenager-hood, and the relaxed atmosphere on campus helped me to blossom and focus on coursework that truly interested me. I studied under Alan Blizzard, Painting, and spent half my life in my studio on campus. Back in those days, every art major got studio space of their own to work in. 

TSL: What did you enjoy most about your Scripps/Claremont experience—how was it unique, and how did your experience here affect how you moved forward from your undergrad career? How did Scripps shape you as an individual and inspire you as an artist?

NC: The five-college system was so unique. I was able to "attend" schools that I would not have otherwise gotten into, and each school had such a specialized focus at that time that it was like an à la carte menu of education. I spent time socially with students from all the schools, and met people who had lots of different opinions and lifestyles. I was able to try on lots of different “hats” so to speak, and start to understand who I was becoming as an adult. 

TSL: What was your path upon graduating from Scripps, and what were your feelings upon graduating? How did you approach the workforce/world upon leaving Scripps, and what did you do in the art world?

NC: You have to wait to hear the answer on this one! It's the core of my commencement speech. I can tell you that I was terrified; I had no idea what I wanted to do, and no idea how, what, where to start. I threw my hands up and decided I should go do whatever I thought was fun at the time. So, I followed my Brit boyfriend to London to be rock stars…

TSL: How did you evolve as an artist from your time at Scripps to beginning your own company? What inspired you to begin your own business, and how did the company evolve from a startup into a multimillion-dollar franchise?

NC: Once again, that would give away the speech. Being an artist is inherent in people, it's part of your DNA; it's hardwired. BUT not at all artists are technically skilled. I wasn't. I thought like an artist, but I was kind of useless in my craft in the physical sense. I thought I was a failure. But that's the beauty of education... It creeps in there and teaches you while you aren't looking! I actually use my education every day of my life now. I didn't know anything about business when we started Butter London. We were a few women at a kitchen table with zero experience between us—apart from that, I had an art degree, and she [Sasha Muir] had a business degree. So we decided to just figure it out as we went. Never be afraid of what you don't know. If you are hungry enough, you will always find a way forward. We created the first Butter London nail lacquer rank for 5K. We ordered 60 bottles of each shade and thought it would bankrupt us—it almost did! But with every step and every mistake and every panic attack, we inched forward. Now we order 100,000 bottles of each shade without blinking. Everything surprised us, and I'd be lying if I told you we were an overnight success. We worked our guts out, we were broke, and were flying blind, but we drank enough white wine to put a vineyard out of business and laughed ourselves silly every single day... Love what you do, and you will never be a failure.

TSL: Between what places do you split your time, and what projects are you currently working on? 

NC: I split my time between Seattle, where my heart is, New York, where my business is, and London, where my inspiration is. I’m currently in product development for my new range, Nonie Creme - Colour Prevails. It’s my first name brand, and I’m putting it at mass market. I want prestige beauty products to be available to everyone, not only people who can afford to shop at Sephora. The range is focused on art, self expression, and PAINT! (Thanks to Scripps) Products are all mixable and blend-able to allow customers to be their own product and colour designer, and heavily encourages play and experimentation. The tag lines are “Meet your inner artist”, and “No Regrets”. That just about says it all. 

TSL: What is your opinion of the fashion industry as art? How do you think it is important as a form of art and expression? 

NC: Fashion and art are born from the same mind set. Fashion people have developed a bad reputation for their behavior as business people and people in general (all of it’s true by the way - most are a nightmare!) BUT, the talent is undeniable. Fashion design is mixed media art. The level of technical skill required to drape fabric that not only fits the body, but also has style and structure is akin to engineering. It’s awe inspiring to watch a great designer work, and I’m incredibly lucky to have been exposed to that process. People may turn their nose up at “fashion”, but every one of us uses our clothing and personal style to tell the world stories about who we are and what our views are. One my think that by dressing in an “anti-fashion” way, they avoid participating, but I often find those people to be the most tellingly dressed of us all! The art of fashion is a type of art that very person everywhere can touch and use and create with, whether they consider them selves artists or not. 

TSL: What are you planning to talk about in your commencement speech, and what do you hope for students to take away? 

NC: I hope you can all make it! It is the unedited version of my story from filthy London squat to beauty entrepreneur, and all the many ways that we can be successful without losing the joy along the way. I was one of those people who wasn’t “supposed” to succeed, if you based that metric on things like grades or jobs. I’m here to tell you that success can be guaranteed to every single person… I’ll tell you how on the 17th!

This interview version includes several portions of the phone interview with Nonie Creme that were not published in print.