Clinique Brand President Michelle Freyre: ‘I speak to the Latinx community in authentic ways’

Michelle Freyre works diligently behind the scenes and can easily be responsible for the next generation’s success in business. Global Brand President for Clinique and Origins (it was during her reign that Clinique’s Black Honey lipstick became a worldwide success—again), she is also an inductee into the Association of Latino Professionals For America (ALPFA) and was named a trailblazer on the 2022 Most Powerful Latinas (MPL) list. Freyre recently joined ELLE for a virtual panel, Making Our Beauty Mark: A Latinx Beauty Event, where Latinx industry trailblazers offered their insights and advice to attendees. Below, she sounds off on her career path and how she plans to care for the Latinx community.


How does it feel to have so many accolades attached to you?

I always think it’s important to know people’s back stories. It always defines who we are. I was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My father is Cuban, my mother is from the Dominican Republic, so I say I’m all Caribbean. Both my parents escaped dictatorships in Latin America, and that shaped them and therefore shaped me. One of the main things that was really important in my house growing up was education. People can take your money away, but they can’t take what’s in your brain. That intellectual curiosity has been with me forever. After I landed in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to join Neutrogena. It was kind of an indie label at the time, in a way. Landing in beauty for me was like, “Wow! This is really not going to be a job.” I grew up in beauty as a Latina. It’s a big part of the culture. It’s a big part of who I am.

When did you arrive at Clinique?

I admired it from a distance. I joined Clinique almost at the height of the pandemic in June 2020. I tell people I joined when there was no vaccine. I was leading this global team who had never met me. So it was definitely interesting. But it has been an incredible journey. We have done a lot of transformation to modernize and develop the brand. I work with the most talented, passionate and dedicated group of people around the world. It is truly a blessing and we are just getting started. And then last month my remit expanded to include another great brand in the corporate portfolio with a rich history, which is Origins.

Who were your mentors throughout your career?

First and foremost, my parents were my first mentors. They are extremely authentic people, strong-willed and very determined. They have been through many hardships and they are the first to model what it means to be authentic. They have followed what they believe in and shown resilience. I have been very lucky to have good mentors and sponsors. My first two mentors were men. Now I have a female mentor who has been amazing – it came late in my career. Jane Hudis is the CEO of many of our brands. She understands what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, a leader. I haven’t had that before. And look, there are still not enough women in power. So the chances of getting a woman in power to mentor you [are few and far between].

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?

The president of Neutrogena once said, “You can’t approach your career vertically.” You really have to think about zig-zagging it all. So although I started my journey in marketing, I ended up moving into sales, which was not part of my original career plan, with his encouragement. But sometimes that’s for the best. There are so many nuances in our culture. I have experienced so many stereotypes about Latinx people and how they should look or act. I experienced this in corporate America, where I didn’t feel like I could wear a dress, or the red lipstick, or the red nails that I’m wearing now, because now I’m living as my authentic self. I didn’t think I could do any of that at the beginning of my career. It wasn’t until I truly decided that I wanted to live as my authentic self that I realized my full potential.

How do you use your position to be a champion for others?

I feel a great responsibility. Obviously, I have a soft spot for Hispanic women like myself. I co-sponsored the mentoring program in our Hispanic employee resource group because it’s really important to me that the Hispanic talent and I have official mentors that increase their visibility in the company. Clinique is a beloved brand of Latinos – always has been. I signed our first Latina brand ambassador, Melissa Barrera. We introduced our first Spanish-language ads, which may sound crazy, but it’s true. And in addition to having a Latinx ambassador and speaking the language, I’ve also focused on celebrating Latino cultural moments to connect more emotionally with the brand. So, for example, our Mother’s Day campaign was focused exclusively on Latinos. We also celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month by sharing powerful stories from the Latina community about being the first in their families. Most recently, for Día de los Muertos, we introduced a limited edition of our Take the Day Off balm with such colorful and culturally significant illustrations from a Mexican illustrator, Melissa Zuniga.

Clinique Day of the Dead Limited Edition Take the Day Off™ Cleansing Balm

Day of the Dead Limited Edition Take the Day Off™ Cleansing Balm

Clinique Day of the Dead Limited Edition Take the Day Off™ Cleansing Balm

The Latinx community is so diverse. How is it possible to speak authentically to all of us?

I speak to the Latinx community in authentic ways and celebrate how different we are. We come in different forms, [with] different hair, different skin tones, and that’s the beauty of who we are as a community. It is so important to celebrate it and educate the world about it. Our culture is amazing.

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