“Conservative. Conservative. Conservative” says brow guru Sharon Lee, when we ask her the secret to good brows. “Invest in a 10 x mirror – yes, you’ll see things you never knew you had, but believe me it’s worth the horror show. Take two hairs, then step back and look in a normal mirror. Take your time. Attempt in broad daylight only.”
With her beautiful Sydney Atelier finally (finally!) reopening after the Covid-19 restrictions, many of us will be venturing out into that broad daylight to get our iso-brows tended to, after some seriously inept home grooming attempts. And if there’s one person who can rescue our brows from three months of neglect, it’s Sharon Lee. The ‘eyebrow scientist’ has been at the forefront of brow artistry for over twenty years – long before Instagram made brows the most trending facial feature. And her approach transcends trends. “What we are seeing and doing is incredibly natural-looking brows, that aren’t trend-driven, but moreover flattering to the individual”, she tells us. When she says individual, she means it – she starts her consultations with what she calls a ‘full face read’. “My face read is just how I’ve always worked”, she explains. “What I’m really looking for is how they use their face…We factor in hairline, hair colour, texture, skin type, topical capillary (how red), oil flow, depth and breadth of eyes, face shape, imbalance overall as well as your own habits for makeup, brow maintenance…it all matters greatly in order to ensure we are creating what’s right for you personally but also what is sustainable. There is no point to us creating something super high maintenance that will look fabulous for a fortnight.”
That attention to detail has Sharon is such high demand that she regularly tours internationally, counts celebrities among her clientele, and has even honed her very own technique, triple-layer method strokes. She tells us how she’s created an empire out of eyebrows, the highs, and lows of running her own brand, and how her motherhood journey changed her outlook on life and business…
You're credited with pioneering the brow movement in Australia over 20 years ago. What was the brow industry like back then?
There just wasn’t one. It was a wax on/wax off standard offering that found me really frustrated. Overseas the fact brows were a ‘thing’ had caught on but they were doing stencils, which I fundamentally disagreed with as, for me, the message was there were eight stencils and so eight brows for everyone globally and the results were heavily dependent on home application, the angle and spacing you held them at and application technique.
When you started out, brow trends were very different. Were you doing thin brows like the rest of us at the time?
I just don’t drive in the thin brow lane. I leaned more toward the Brooke Shields soft fluffy tufted look than the super-thin rounded brow that sat way too high on the face.
What's the secret to good brows?
Conservative. Conservative. Conservative. Taking too much is never a good thing. Everyone (and I mean everyone) regrets overdoing it whether they did it themselves or allowed someone else too. Don’t follow trends, do tweezer regularly (ie. every 3-4 days) and ensure you factor colour as a key component to the overall look. You can have the most amazing shape but if the colour combination isn’t right – it’s all wrong.
Where do we go wrong with our brows?
I think it’s changed. In the past, our mistakes were following the mantra “never tweeze from above” – which, for me, is the number one jumping-off point for each client. I’m very much anti-trim yet we still see so many clients trimming themselves or having had them trimmed. Trimmed hair looks like trimmed hair and it makes for a more masculine brow line but also one that is far more high maintenance. I feel at-home bleaching is erroneous too. Grey hair tends to not take and the darker hair gingers. There is a process that works beautifully but has to be done in the right manner for a seamless result.
Did you always want to launch your own business? And as an entrepreneur, what traits do you think you need to succeed?
I’ve only ever been employed a few times and each time taught me what NOT to do. To this day I really value those lessons and don’t regret my time with those companies. It’s all been a learning process with some seriously steep learning curves. Of course, at the time I didn’t see it that way however hindsight is a truly wonderful thing and gifts us perspective and self-reflection. At age 10, I topped the state selling Avon door to door on my pushbike with my dog in a basked front and centre – a sign of things to come no doubt. Beyond that, I’ve been self-employed from age 20. I’ve always been able to relate to people from all walks of life. That may stem from having gone to 17 schools (yes, 17). My father’s field was as a powder monkey (explosives expert) and so we travelled a lot from contract to contract. At the time it seemed difficult but also was my ‘norm’. I think it made me adaptable but also provided me real ease in being able to relate swiftly with people. I’m definitely tenacious and impatient and frustratingly meticulous with detail (to a fault) but I guess it also lends to what I do for a living.
In the early days, can you recall one defining career moment?
I know, for me, when VOGUE Australia invited me to be part of the “A-List of Beauty” shoot I felt it was a pivotal moment for me. At the time I still felt very small-time, even though I was servicing A-Listers amongst teens and politicians. The shoot with VOGUE tipped the scale and provided real recognition.
What has been your biggest career challenge since you launched your own business?
Staffing. Hands. Down. Staffing. I will say I’m fortunate enough to have my inner circle also each self-employed and of course so are many of our clients, so it’s always reassuring to hear they too share this concern. I think in Australia the issue is compounded. We’ve a lot of transient people who are here for a year or hoping for sponsorship. In our particular field, the age bracket tends to be younger and they, of course, move cities, go off and get married, have babies and so on. In the US, people remain in their roles for 5-15 years standard. Here the mindset is different, as is the work ethic. I’m lucky in that I’ve girls that have been with me for years and who I also consider my friends. We travel together nationally and internationally. I plan weekends away to simply stop and breathe as a group. I cook for us all. We genuinely like each other in and outside of work.
How did you manage motherhood when you're the face and the name behind your business? Did you take maternity leave?
It was a shock to the system. I felt everyone who had children around me had lied! Sleep deprivation was next level and at the time I had eight counters in department stores nationally as well as a team of 11 in Sydney. I’m an only child and my parents live interstate. My then-husband was dealing with a terminally ill mother. It was tricky to say the least. For me, being the brand and it being a service offering meant you had to be ever-present and to step away for a block of time was near impossible. I took eight weeks off but I still helicoptered as needed. I’ve since learned to release the reigns a little more and would probably have pulled back more and for longer if I knew then what I know now.
Did you find your priorities shifted once your son was born? How did that affect your business plan (if you had one!)?
I think when a little person comes into play you are forced to pivot. Whether you want to or not, there comes a time you sit back and look at your new set of circumstances, what is needed of you and only you, your relationships, your outlook, and your priorities – they all shift slightly. You can delegate some things but won’t want to offload others. You choose to be present for the things that matter and you’re no longer the centre of your world.
You work with a lot of celebrities. Who has been the most memorable and why? How do you approach working with celebrities?
For me, celebs are people along with the teens we service, the Mums, the Dads, the sports stars, our commercial neighbours. I’m brow focused. I rarely get star struck and if I told you who flabbergasted me you’d lose all respect. Hint: he’s in his 80’s… I’d like to think I’m overly normal as are the team I work amongst. We just aren’t pretentious nor gushing over who we see. Of course, we are fortunate to travel well but work incredibly hard to do so. There’s balance.
Who do you think is the celebrity with the best brows?
I love so many – currently: Margot Robbie, Lily Collins, Rihanna….
You travel a lot – talk us through a typical trip…
We travel SO much. We actually have an overlapping calendar so we know who is where on the planet or in the sky. Most often we travel as a duo or trio but there are times we meet on the other side of the globe and hit the ground running. We always ensure we’ve some downtime and most importantly we have our dining plans locked down before we leave Oz. We’re all foodies so it’s lovely to share meals with people I love who appreciate the experience.
With a booming business, travel, celebrity clientele and a teenager - how do you do it? What's your time management strategy?
I have got a 13-year-old boy in shared custody with my ex-husband. He is fortunate enough to split time between my home in the eastern suburbs and his father’s home in the Southern Highlands. He has a city life and a country life. My calendar is plotted very early for the year ahead out of necessity. There is, of course, the unknown such as school events, family visits, added tours and the odd (rare) break away. I start my days around 4:30am with two espresso coffees. I don’t have coffee at all after that. Given we do so much with the US early morning starts are par for the course. This means by the time I get to the Atelier I’ve often already put in five hours then have seven instore and another two in the office on returning home. It works for me. I religiously make Sundays for me and often opt do stay in. Hotel life is lovely but there’s no place like home.
What do you think is next in brow trends?
I think we’ve come full circle. The whole heavily filled brow – be it temporary or semi-permanent just doesn’t look natural. What’s on Instagram doesn’t translate to the light of day. What we are seeing and doing is incredibly natural-looking brows that aren’t trend-driven but moreover flattering to the individual. Color-wise slightly softer. Nothing heavily bleached, just a shade back from natural and making the eye the focal point not the brow. No trimming.
Talk us through a brow tame…
So, a tame is a super soft chemical wash that allows us to control the direction of hair. This is fabulous for clients with hair that juts out or hair that grows down. Curly, coarse or cowlicks – it fixes the lot in a very gentle manner. Lasts 4-6 weeks.
Talk us through your full face read – how quickly can you read someone’s face? And why is this reading so key to Strokes?
My face read is just how I’ve always worked. In order to know what’s needed I key question a client with open-ended questions so they can’t simply answer yes or no. What I’m really looking for is HOW they use their face. For me, it’s much more about the individual which is why our semi-permanent services are broken down as some clients need very little and others need a lot. It’s not one size fits all. We factor in hairline, hair colour, texture, skin type, topical capillary (how red), oil flow, depth and breadth of eyes, face shape, imbalance overall as well as your own habits for makeup, brow maintenance …..it all matters greatly in order to ensure we are creating what’s right for you personally but also what is sustainable. There is no point in us creating something super high maintenance that will look fabulous for a fortnight. Our clients know we are truly invested in them and that we’re in the business of over-servicing. It’s what our brand is built on.
Triple layer method strokes is your own method which you created – tell us about it and why it’s unique…
We have never been quick to jump on any new technique that hits the marketplace. We maintain a very conservative approach and one that ensures a stable and predictable end-result that looks as natural as possible. That’s not to say we’re not across what’s out there. We are – very much so. We see so much of the pink-toned blocky brows that frustrate us and take their toll on the person who has paid good money for them only to be further insecure about them. Our technique is a blended method that melds micro-blading, etching, and machine along with implementing multiple pigments and varying blades, all of which are carried out over several sessions. This cannot be rushed. All of these guarantee a soft hyperreal brow that is in no way monochromatic.
What should women expect when they’re getting Strokes?
Expect to feel they are darker and different but of course, we WANT them different. The darkness will fade drastically over the next 5 days. It’s almost always the case that you’ll feel minor shock at first and often wonder what on Earth you’ve done. Just as you become used to your new look they begin to disappear before your eyes then you can’t wait for the follow-up sessions. We are invested in the end result and know there is a fugly stage to go through but it’s a crucial part of the process. Any gaps are vital to us knowing where to compensate in dispensing colour next round. It’s all about the end result.
Talk us through the pain factor?
Pain factor is next to nothing. We use hospital-grade topical anesthetic for brows, lips and nano ombré eyeliner. It also helps that we offer a complimentary array of champagne and wines. The Atelier is an open forum. If we had clients wreathing around in pain we wouldn’t have a business. Everyone is interacting, happy and chatty.
Why are Brow Tames becoming increasingly popular and what result can you expect from this treatment?
There are varying degrees of this. Lamination is rather harsh and can make the hair course and even snap it. We use a soft solution that enables us to fully control to what point we want to take the hair. Expect far less maintenance and a thicker looking brow. Also expect to have to maintain this every 4-6wks.
What about Ombré Eyeliner– talk us through this treatment and how you approach it at Sharon Lee?
Nano Ombré Eyeliner is nothing short of miraculous. I would recommend for 99.9% of the female population over 20yrs old. It’s subtle but has an impact. Instant pretty and lasts up to 3 years. Done digitally it’s very quick and rather than being painful it’s ‘vibration’ that just feels odd.
“ I’m simply not a fan of extensions. I don’t love anything high maintenance or damaging or unnatural looking. Extensions are all three. Often formaldehyde-based glues are used. They require frequent infills that take time and are pricey ”
And finally a lash lift – what are your thoughts on eyelash extensions? And why do you prefer lash lifts?
I’m simply not a fan of extensions. I don’t love anything high maintenance or damaging or unnatural looking. Extensions are all three. Often formaldehyde-based glues are used. They require frequent infills that take time and are pricey. I’ve yet to see any that don’t look blatantly obvious and if you sleep face down (like a starfish) like I do, they very quickly look ridiculous. They’re the equivalent of a comb-over… you’re not fooling anyone. Lash Lifts are a Godsend in this regard. They are actually healthy, last around 8 weeks, don’t require in-between maintenance and they are YOUR LASHES.
What's the ultimate brow crime? Are there any bad habits we should cut out?
Please go see a professional at least once. Do your research before you book. Have a clear idea of what you like have take pics of the brows you want. If you’re tackling at home tread carefully. Invest in a 10X mirror – yes you’ll see things you never knew you had but believe me it’s worth the horror show. Take 2 hairs then step back and look in a normal mirror. Take your time. Attempt in broad daylight only.
Tell us about your beautiful new space on Sydney's Queen Street…
I’m so very proud of our new Atelier. Having started just streets away in the living room of my tiny terrace home it’s surreal to now have such a substantial and iconic space front and centre on Queen St. I was living just 3 doors down when we bought Cody home from the hospital 13yrs ago which makes it all the more meaningful. Who’d have thought? I’ve done my fair share of shop fit-outs and they’re always a mixture of stress dealing with overbearing tradesmen, managing budgets, legals, agents and timelines. The fun part is the decor. This space is by far my absolute all-time favourite. We have a family of neighbours under the one roof, floor to ceiling lighting and the floor plate is really open plan and over one level with views out over Queen St and Moncur. The trees are ever-changing and looking down over everyone taking brunch and sipping their coffees and negronis at Luxe is almost Parisian. It’s a handsome space with feminine touches and rustic nuances. It’s where the light lives.
How would you describe the aesthetic of your home/describe your interior style…
I adore Architectural Digest and I don’t leave home without a perfectly made bed. It’s a sickness I’m sure. Our place is the one everyone congregates to. I bought it 5 years ago. It’s a true modernist home with tonnes of natural light and polished concrete floors throughout. It’s certainly different. It backs on to a natural rock wall and our pool sits at the base like a bit of a grotto. There are only five houses in our street which is fabulous and makes it incredibly private. My style is rather eclectic. I think because of the Atelier decor people expect my home to be really feminine but it’s quite the opposite. I have oversized aged leather chairs paired with pale grey silk sofa and a brass and glass Hollywood regency coffee table. I’ve mid-century chairs in the kitchen and my Great grandmother’s dining table in the dining room. The wallpaper in the hall and master bedroom almost looks Thai and I had the sheer white curtains throughout fitted with thick black linen base trim because I couldn’t stand them looking remotely grubby from mopping. It could have all gone very wrong but it actually works. Outside I have a 200-year old solid ironwood setting that takes 4 men to lift. It looks like an afterthought but in truth I bought it when I was 24 and love it more now than I did then. The brass rails up the entrance stairs are wrapped in soft taupe leather to add more texture to the concrete entrance. I’ve a multi drop of Italian lights at the entry that chime in the wind and I put in a huge pivot door just because I like a big entryway. Technically none of it should work together. Every little thing has its own story as to how it came to be part of our home. Home is a solace for me.
What's your parenting philosophy?
I’m sure Cody would say I’m bad cop. I’m the one with real routine. Structure derived from necessity. He would also say I’m the funniest person he knows. I absolutely love to cook. Because of the extensive travel I relish home. Cody has had the good fortune of vast travel and I’m pleased he’s developed a real respect for good food and various cultures. Cody’s mates gather at every opportunity and live between the pool and media room while I’m in the kitchen looking over them. It’s a very easy home that’s perfect for a fleet of teen Scots boys who just can’t seem to eat enough and I enjoy hosting them all.
What are your time management tips – how do you get everything done?
I cannot live without a to-do list and sadly I still love a lined pad. If you haven’t discovered the perforated waterproof tradie pad yet check it out. It’s like writing on water. I know exactly what needs to be covered off that day and the order in which they need to get done. I delegate where possible and am fortunate to have a really capable team. I like to categorise tasks then tackle them accordingly.
What are you loving right now - books, podcasts, restaurants, anything!
I can’t live without Bistro Moncur cheese souffle – decadent, indulgent and comforting all in one. I’m a big fan of luxury loungewear that is socially acceptable but also luxurious and comfortable all in one. I can wear at home, jump on a plane or head into the Atelier for a day in the office. Lunya does amazing silks and cashmere. I’m loving succulents and micro ferns with mood moss at home and work. I always feel guilty about buying flowers that just don’t last. Linen sprays are a staple in my home and I even have them travel size for a quick pillow spritz. My fave is Morlage & Yorke wild rose and sandalwood. Loccitane cuticle oil is the bomb. It actually strengthens the nail bed and nourishes the skin. I don’t know what wizardry is in it but I promise its hands down (pardon the pun) the absolute best cuticle oil on the planet. The packaging is practical too. Still on Loccitane if you have the chance to visit the Champs-Élysées Loccitane store treat yourself to the world’s BEST pastry chef Pierre Hermé array of anything and everything you could imagine. It’s like stepping into Alice in Wonderland and it’s all made from scratch in front of you.