Writing about women who suddenly become midlife entrepreneurs is a juicy pleasure. There are plenty of young (and really young) female entrepreneurs—and good for them. They figured stuff out so early, so tech, so fast, so feminist, it’s head spinning to us, and, to them, as easy as juggling three dozen apps on their phones. And men have always seemed to be entrepreneurs. But we’re living in the new “Everyone, start your own business!” age. Lots of midlife women who have started dazzlingly successful businesses as second or third stages of their lives have had earlier life stages that not only didn’t predict this fate but that were filled with events of the good, bad, and bumpy kind: the life-lesson-bearing kind, in other words.
‘I have achieved more with this than I would have thought possible when I was so very lost after my marriage collapsed.’
Which brings me to new clothing-line entrepreneur Lyndie Benson.
I’ve known Lyndie Benson since 2009, but more closely for the past three years. A friendlier, more upbeat, and determined person you won’t meet than this Malibu dweller who, until six years ago, had a long, absorbing marriage to superstar musician Kenny G. She was, and is, unusually likeable, and I probably should have realized that there was a back story to her current life that gave her that unpretentious humanity and eschewal of BS.
But I never knew what that back story was. More on that in a minute.
How Beach Life Led to a Business
Last November, Lyndie, now 55, started a sensational new business. She launched Bleusalt, a stunning line of men’s and women’s athleisure wear (slip dresses, camisoles, elastic band pants, shawls, loose jackets, and so forth). Marketed directly to the consumer through social media—mostly Instagram —the line has been gaining praise and growing exponentially since its birth. It has a particularly high profile right now, after her pal, actor Patrick Dempsey (the heart-throb doctor of Grey’s Anatomy—and yes, Lyndie has some famous friends), contributed a “capsule collection” of menswear, captured in this video.
“Patrick said he went online and started buying Bleusalt. He especially loves the hoodies, which he “lives in,” Lyndie says. “And we had a meeting and he told me, ‘I have to design for Bleusalt because that’s all I want to wear.’” So design he did.
Bleusalt has a particularly high profile right now, after her pal, actor Patrick Dempsey designed menswear.
Lyndie launched Bleusalt because she loves cashmere but found the fabric “hot and sticky and precious and unable to withstand the elements of the beach.” This beach survivability is vital as she walks on it daily, surfs at it frequently, photographs it often, and, well, simply adores it. She loved beach-worthy clothes, but “I didn’t just want to wear sweatpants, Uggs, and hoodies; I wanted to chic-ify them.”
A committed environmentalist, Lyndie developed all her Bleusalt items from the fantastically soft bark of beechwood trees grown in Austria. (Beechwood trees are 100 percent sustainable; they multiply with no irrigation or planting necessary.) The pulp is sent to the U.S. and spun into yarn that is, as her website puts it, “entirely vegan and cruelty-free.” The clothes are all made under ethical labor conditions in the USA—“so locally,” notes Lyndie, “that you can see the HOLLYWOOD sign from the factory window.” Despite their look and feel of luxury, the clothes are relatively affordable ($50 to $350). Most important, they are packaged with zero waste: Every item is wrapped in the line’s clothing remnants, and Bleusalt donates a portion of every sale to the environmental foundation Sculpt the Future.
Except for the McDreamy pieces, Lyndie designs the line from the small office she has in her Malibu home; she describes what she envisions to a graphic artist and consults with a creative director. “We launched in November and it just took off,” says Lyndie, adding that Bleusault is starting a line for babies and children, as well as gift, candle, and travel collections for “a whole lifestyle brand.” What began by word of mouth—outreach through Lyndie’s friends, like Cindy Crawford (who had a Bleusalt pant named after her because she liked it so much) and Kris Jenner—just grew and grew. Recently, an InStyle editor even demonstrated how Bleusalt has found the perfect sweet spot between laid-back comfort and urban chic by wearing the clothes to work for a week.
Now, For The Back Story
Lyndie has always been popular among what might be viewed as the elite population of Malibu. Raves her friend of 20 years, Cindy Crawford: “When we first moved to Malibu, I looked to Lyndie for advice about everything. I loved the life she had created for herself and her family. Lyndie has incredible taste about everything from how to serve tea to organizing and decorating and photography. Not only is she talented, she is generous and loves sharing her resources and wisdom. She is an artist at heart and I am so proud of how she has added the new dimension of ‘designer’ to her resume. Bleusalt personifies what Lyndie lives daily—understated luxury.”
Though her life’s going dreamy-great now, before you resent her, consider what went into creating it.
“I felt I wasn’t my whole self until now,” Lyndie, says as we chat on the phone. I ask her about her childhood in the San Fernando Valley, and she shares a very different world than the Malibu luxury she’s currently inhabiting. “My father (who’s no longer alive) was a heroin addict for practically my whole life, and my mother had me when she was 17 years old. My father was a wonderful, loving man—he was a magician with a performing group—but he was not very functional. My mother worked as a paralegal and did the best she could. But the house was in disarray, and it was as if nobody was minding the store. Nobody told me to do my homework—I had to figure that out myself. So I just put my head down and survived and realized that if anything was going to happen, I had to make it happen. I had to do it myself.”
Lyndie moved out of her family home while in 11th grade, finished high school, and studied acting, all the while working full-time for a literary agent. When she was 21, she met Kenny Gorelick, then 28, a saxophonist with long, curly hair, who performed under the name Kenny G. At first, Lyndie wouldn’t give him her number because he was married at the time. After his divorce, the two started dating and then married in 1992.
‘I just put my head down and survived and realized that if anything was going to happen, I had to make it happen.’
In the 1990s he became the best-selling instrumental musician of the era, his global sales totaling more than 75 million records, including the huge hit “Songbird,” written about Lyndie, which landed at number four on the charts. “His career just took off, and I had to make a choice. I gave up my own dreams of being an actress to throw myself into Kenny’s career. It was very unusual for a saxophone player to become a superstar,” she notes. “We had two sons, and I loved being a mother.” (Max is 25 and graduated from Columbia University; Noah is 21 and is at the USC School of Music.)
“We had a magical 20 years of music and romance and marriage. When somebody becomes a superstar it’s an all-encompassing situation—everything becomes about them. It’s intoxicating for the person. And the wife. You listen to the song, you name the song, you think about what the listeners’ reaction is going to be, you dress the person, you help with the cover of the album—you make that other person be the best human they can be. I don’t want to take credit for Kenny’s success, but my whole life was him. I did all those things happily.”
Hitting the Restart Button
Everything changed in 2012 when their marriage unraveled. “It was devastating. All of a sudden everything was over. I had this idea that I was building toward something and then—it all stopped. It was a seismic shift. ‘Bye bye. You’re done.’ I was fired,” Lyndie says, with her usual honesty. “I lost my self-esteem and got very contemplative and self-reflective. And I went through every kind of self-help situation, to every therapist, every meditation class there was. I read every book by every guru. My friends helped me, even coming to stay with me.”
‘I somehow had forgotten what my value was and what I was capable of —that can happen to a woman in a long marriage.’
“Kenny’s life stayed the same, but mine changed. I had to create my identity all over again. I somehow had forgotten what my value was and what I was capable of —that can happen to a woman in a long marriage. But eventually I realized that I had been a survivor early—as a child, as a teenager. That I was always, at heart, an optimist. That I had done for myself when my parents couldn’t. That I could use those survival skills again. Those skills were a gift. I could put my head down and have a comeback.”
The idea of starting Bleusalt came after she worked as a photographer for several years. Lyndie remembers the moment: “I got a sweatshirt as a gift and it was extremely soft and it just inspired me to want to make the clothes that I needed for my lifestyle—chic and elegant but comfortable and casual—to match the Malibu spirit. I have achieved more with this than I would have thought possible when I was so very lost after my marriage collapsed. I’m in a better position as a whole person. I really believe everybody is here for their highest possible destiny, and if they seek that—spiritually, financially, physically, creatively—they will find it.” And Lyndie, with her booming Bluesalt line, is proof positive of that.
Sheila Weller is the author of seven books, most recently the bestseller Girls Like Us: Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon—and the Journey of a Generation. She is a writer for Vanity Fair, a longtime senior contributing editor at Glamour, and has written for just about every women’s magazine in existence.