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Shades of Meaning : At Last, Cosmetics Are Cutting Across the Color Lines

October 26, 1986|PADDY CALISTRO | Paddy Calistro is co-author of "Redesign Your Body , " a Dutton book.

A quiet revolution is brewing in the cosmetics industry. And, like many revolutions, it is beginning within a small but influential faction. If successful, it could mark the first time in the industry's history that department stores will market all cosmetics lines to women of all races.

For decades, makeup has been advertised and sold along racial lines. An unspoken fact of life has been that, traditionally, white women buy cosmetics advertised by white models, and that blacks buy from firms featuring black models.

Enter Juin Rachele Cosmetics, a Houston-based line introduced this year by Juin Rachele Cooper and her husband, Patrick. "We're not selling by race. It is an outdated notion," says Juin Rachele Cooper, a native Jamaican. "We're not just after blacks or any one ethnic type."

This marketing approach parallels a current trend in beauty: good looks that transcend race and ethnicity. When Cher, Shari Belafonte-Harper, Victoria Principal, Isabella Rossellini and Sade are referred to as the new classic beauties, it's obvious that there's no one way to be beautiful. It's an emerging acceptance of beauty that goes beyond blond. And when Harper's Bazaar has named Whitney Houston, Barbara Carrera and Lisa Bonet as three of the country's 10 most beautiful women, it's clear that standards of beauty apply across--not within--racial lines.

Historically, most makeup sold in department stores has been geared to whites, although major firms do provide a few shades suitable for Asian and dark complexions.

Until the '60s, foundations, powders and rouges designed for blacks were only available in limited selections at neighborhood drugstores, where there seldom were trained consultants.

Firms such as New Jersey-based Flori Roberts, Chicago's Fashion Fair and Los Angeles' Barbara Walden emerged in the 1960s and '70s with collections for black women and eventually established department-store makeup counters, complete with consultants. However, the racial division in marketing became even stronger in stores with "black" and "white" counters; "black" and "white" consultants.

But then women started crossing the color lines. Whites began sampling the intense shades offered by Fashion Fair, Walden and Roberts; blacks experimented with colors sold by the most prestigious beauty houses, which could offer the "status" of pricey products if not a perfect match for their skin. Despite the consumer crossover, ad campaigns didn't change.

But this year, a change that Cooper calls a "color revolution" is taking place. Her firm's first national ad features six international beauties, six different complexions. "We're after a cosmopolitan woman, whatever race she is," Cooper says.

The line is being marketed to Orientals, Latinos, Middle Easterners, women of Mediterranean heritage, Native Americans and so on.

Executives at "ethnic" beauty companies also are rethinking racially oriented marketing. Ray Shelton, national beauty-training director for Fashion Fair, says: "We want to get away from the image of being an all-black company. We're hitting the Hispanic market, the Oriental market, and we're introducing more colors for lighter skin tones."

Walden says that when she uses only blacks in her ads and shows, "I get letters saying, 'When are you going to start talking about your white customers?' We now gear our line to all nationalities."

If the same idea is in the minds of the big makeup marketers, none have gone public with them so far. Their actions probably will depend on the success of smaller firms. If they do succeed, marketing may change industrywide. Cooper is confident that her multiracial approach will have resounding impact: "In five or 10 years, people will wonder how cosmetics were ever sold along racial lines."

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