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Fashion / Beauty

Dallas’ Perfect Beauty Couple

Model Turned Tycoon & Her Mountain Climbing Husband Tackle Bioscience

BY Rebecca Sherman // 08.17.15
photography Claudia Grassl

At first glance, it might be easy to dismiss Jamie O’Banion as just another pretty face. According to her stats with the Kim Dawson Agency, where she has worked as a model for 10 years since age 23, she is perfection on paper: blonde, blue eyes, 5’8” and size 2 to 4. But, in a culture where women often find more currency in their sex appeal than their smarts, the former Miss Teen Texas and runner-up for Miss Teen America has charted her own course. And it looks more like Fortune 500 than Baywatch.

At 25, she co-founded Organicare, a USDA-certified organic skincare line, with her physician father, Dr. Terry James, in 2008. “We launched at Henri Bendel New York, Nordstrom and Dillard’s alongside other organic lines like Stella McCartney,” O’Banion says. “Organics at that time were very new. Then the economy fell apart, and one by one the whole category fell apart.” Others dropped their organics, she says, “but we were the last man standing, and we were thriving.”

In 2011, the Home Shopping Network reached out — not for their organics (they already had several products in the category, she says), but for new technology. “We were at the end of trials on a new retinol ingredient, which we’d patented with the idea of selling,” O’Banion says. “Instead, we decided to launch it direct ourselves” under a new company name, Beauty Bioscience. O’Banion debuted the RetinoSyn-45 serum live on HSN. “I was unsure how the market would react to our product, so I brought only 3,000 units with me,” she says. “We sold completely out in 24 hours.”

HSN’s chief marketing officer, Anne Martin-Vachon, understands why. “Jamie had all three of the critical ingredients to be successful at HSN: a great product, a great story, and she’s a great storyteller,” she says. Since O’Banion’s HSN debut, Beauty Bioscience has become one of the fastest-growing skincare companies in the country, pulling in millions of dollars in sales each time it airs on HSN, where it’s had regular monthly slots for four years.

Jamie and Melbourne O’Banion at home in Highland Park. Novis dress, at TenOverSix. Melbourne wears a bespoke suit from Hadleigh’s.
Jamie and Melbourne O’Banion at home in Highland Park. Novis dress, at TenOverSix. Melbourne wears a bespoke suit from Hadleigh’s.

In July, the powerful L.A. marketing firm Guthy Renker purchased a stake in Beauty Bioscience. Renker, which also represents both Proactive and Cindy Crawford Meaningful Beauty, is known for its thoughtfully produced infomercials and marketing strategies that catapult emerging brands into moneymaking empires. Eric S. Deutsch, senior vice president of new business and product development for Renker, says, “We look for products that are doing well on the networks, and Jamie had been on our radar early on. She doesn’t just have a thinly veiled understanding of her product. This is someone who is very knowledgeable and spent a lot of time in the lab doing the testing.”

By the end of 2015, Dallas-based Beauty Bioscience will roll out in the United Kingdom on QVC UK and Shopping Channel in Canada (TSC), with select products to be carried at Selfridge’s and Harrods in London. The line now has 15 products, including skin-firming body and eye creams, but RetinoSyn-45 remains the company’s bestseller. The turbo wrinkle reducer, which is applied for 45 days, twice a year, goes for about $200 on HSN. “Beauty is a very important category at HSN,” says Martin-Vachon. “We offer choices in three categories: good, better, best. Beauty Bioscience is clearly in the ‘best’ category. It’s one of the higher-priced skincare brands we sell.” As O’Banion says, “We’ve helped open up the luxury market for HSN.”

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Women go nuts when she peddles her line on air. They call into the show, sometimes in tears, to say how her products have tightened their skin, erased wrinkles and changed their lives. They snatch up two and three units at a time. “We’ve sold out every show every month since we started,” O’Banion says. Her tremendous likeability, stunning looks and an effective product are what sell, Deutsch says. “When I first saw Jamie on HSN, I thought about that famous scene in When Harry Met Sally when the woman is watching Meg Ryan in the deli and says, ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’ When viewers see Jamie on TV, what they are really saying to themselves is, ‘I’ll have what she’s having.’”

O’Banion grew up in Preston Hollow in a devout Mormon family of six children. Her oldest brother, Garrett, has suffered from cerebral palsy since birth and is still being cared for at home by her mother, Dorris James. “We never thought he’d live past 22, but he just celebrated 40 with a huge party,” O’Banion says. “When you have a sibling who has a physical or mental disability, it changes your heart and changes your priorities. I root for the underdog. A part of me always believes anything is possible.”

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The O’Banion siblings enjoy some fresh air at the family’s Dallas home.

She credits Hockaday, where she was a straight-A student, for “instilling a lot of personal ambition to go out and contribute to the world.” Her passion for science — chemistry was her favorite subject — emerged at age 12, when her father, a cardiac anesthesiologist, purchased a top local research laboratory that develops products for the medical market and its practitioners, such as plastic surgeons and dermatologists. In 2003, the lab began researching new raw materials privately for some of the top luxury cosmetics brands in the country — and still does, she says. When her father began investing in research facilities in Europe, she often traveled with him. “From a very young age, I just fell in love with beauty and this idea you could use a certain tool or product and change how you looked,” she says.

At Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, she met and married Melbourne O’Banion III, who now manages a holding company with a portfolio that includes Beauty Bioscience. The marketing and PR degree she earned there, combined with years sitting “side by side with my father in the lab,” proved to be a dynamic combination. “I grew up in a world where there was a lot of scientific jargon flying around,” she says. “I can decipher the science behind our products and help customers understand it.” She joins the ranks of other models who have launched their own beauty companies — Tyra Banks, Gisele — but with a key difference.

“I spend hours in the lab fine-tuning and tweaking products,” O’Banion says. “To me, chemistry is exciting — the magic of being able to see something react to produce something completely out of the box: Two plus two equals five, or equals circle,” she says. “There is always that mentality of pushing the limit, to get you into uncharted territory.”

RetinoSyn-45 was that uncharted territory. Its genesis was in retinoic acid, or Retin-A. Developed in 1969, Retin-A’s original application was for acne; as a side effect, it reduced wrinkles. In 40 years, nothing else has proven as effective, but it requires a prescription and has harsh side effects, O’Banion says. “The brilliance of RetinoSyn-45 is a proprietary molecule we developed that acts like retinoic acid in the skin but does not have the traditional side effects associated with retinoic acid, such as dry, flaky and red skin. So it’s truly a breakthrough for the industry.” Picking up where Retin-A leaves off, Beauty Bioscience’s proprietary compound claims “an unprecedented 49.5 percent reduction in wrinkles. In the industry, a 10-20 percent reduction is considered huge. In clinical trials, this was confirmed by third-party computer analysis of the subjects’ skin, not just what people saw.”

O’Banion lives in a two story house in Highland Park, a half block from the Dallas Country Club golf course, with Melbourne and their three children: Benton, 9; Aubrey, 5; and Gracie, 2. Its rooms, which interior designer Janet Rosell Rice of Janet Rice Interiors helped her with, are glamorous in an old-Hollywood way — black-and-white tile floors in the entry, vintage white leather sofas, a white baby grand piano (which Jamie O’Banion plays). On an afternoon in March, a photo shoot is under way, and the house is buzzing with activity. O’Banion, dressed in a navy stripe silk dress by Tome, is having her lipstick retouched and hair fluffed by a makeup artist, while a stylist fusses with the dress’s belt. When a photographer’s assistant moves a heavy piece of equipment out of the way, O’Banion instinctively bends down to help. Earlier, I’d seen her kick off her high heels and haul a chair upstairs in case it was needed for a shot. She has a knack for being both the star and part of the team, a trait that has won her over with television viewers. Says Deutsch, “On HSN, you need that connection with the audience at home that says ‘We’re sisters, we’re friends’, or no one will buy what you’re selling.”

Jamie wears Preen dress, at Shop Canary.
Jamie wears Preen dress, at Shop Canary.

To the 110 million viewers on HSN, O’Banion is almost like family. “When I was first pregnant with Gracie, not even my mother knew yet,” she says. “People were calling in, asking, ‘Is Jamie pregnant?’” Customer feedback is so important to O’Banion that it’s become part of the research and development. She reads their comments and requests on beauty forums, and viewers will often tweet requests for new products during the show. “I talked for an hour and a half to a woman who called my office,” says O’Banion. Customer demand for a firming body cream led the company to research one using ingredients found in its lifting eye cream. It joined the line in February. “If you listen to your customers,” she says, “your business can’t help but grow.”

On air at HSN’s Fort Lauderdale headquarters, O’Banion is poised, coiffed and bubbly. She’s also sleep-deprived. “When I’m live on HSN, I’ll launch at midnight on a Tuesday night, and I’m on the show every two hours until 11 pm the next night,” she says. “I won’t get back to the hotel until 2 am Thursday.” There will have been days of preparation beforehand, making sure product arrives to the studio, and she’ll often stay after the show to help inspect orders before they ship out. She has been doing this crazy schedule for years, and when the company launches in the UK, she’ll be traveling even more. The money, the attention, the time spent away from family — how does she keep it in perspective?

“Changing diapers. It’s so humbling to be a parent,” she says. “I’ve never known what it’s like to run my own business without kids.” She has help — a housekeeper, and a personal assistant who arrives in the mornings so that O’Banion can spend time with the kids before work. By most standards, the O’Banions are a high-achieving family. Earlier this year, Melbourne climbed Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro — part of a yearly commitment to challenge himself with something new, he says. All three children have French and Chinese language tutors who come to the house regularly. Nine-year-old Benton has read the entire Harry Potter series, and brings home several new books each week from the library.

Privilege and affluence are balanced with daily chores — they make their beds and their lunches — and Monday nights are family nights “with lessons and Bible stories,” O’Banion says. “We have quiet time every day, without TV, and we don’t do iPads during the week.” They sing a family cheer every day, reminding them that O’Banions are honest and kind, and they do service projects at the church. “I’m a devout Christian, and no matter how tired I am at night, I read scriptures,” says O’Banion, who also mentors a group of teen girls at the church on Wednesday nights. “Having been through a lot with my brother as a special-needs child, the important things in life are very clear to me. When my priorities are in order, that’s a good life.”

[This article first appeared in the May 2015 Dallas edition of PaperCity Magazine.]

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