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Gold, Diamonds and Ruby Lips : Are American Women Ready for Luxe Lipstick Formulas and Cases That Are as Elegant--and Pricey--as Fine Jewelry?

January 10, 1988|PADDY CALISTRO

FOR MANY WOMEN,lipstick has a purpose beyond adding color to the face. It's an inexpensive spirit lifter. When the Avon lady rings the doorbell, a woman can buy a lipstick for $2.50. At discount drugstores, 99-cent varieties are available. In department stores, the most expensive rarely tops $15.

Now, however, there are a few lipsticks that, like fine fragrances, must be viewed as major purchases. If these turn out to be successful, they may set a trend toward increased prices at the cosmetics counter.

These expensive lipsticks appeal to a relatively new customer--one who perceives her cosmetics as status symbols as well as beauty products. But her definition of status goes beyond a designer label. She's a woman who can justify spending $8,000 for a lipstick case, even though she can buy a new Hyundai for less. She takes a certain pleasure in knowing that her lipstick color was formulated by an artist or by the "nose" behind a fine perfume. She enjoys pulling out her status lipstick in a restaurant, no matter what Emily Post says.

If her lips are twitching to be kissed with luxury, Elleance lip color can be purchased for $100 a tube at Tallarico, a jewelry store in, of course, Beverly Hills. For that price her lips will be coated with a moisturizing concoction combining 52 ingredients ranging from basic petrolatum and castor oil to exotic extracts and oils of passion seed, kukui nut and macadamia nut. "Most lipsticks are mass-produced, so the manufacturers can't afford the rare ingredients we've used," explains Elleance creator Karen McCready. She adds that if the formula doesn't meet her customer's needs, "we'll adjust the formula or make a custom color."

But like most lipsticks, this one costs far less to produce than its package does. The $100 lip rouge is designed to be carried in 18-karat-gold cases with price tags that range from $8,000 to $36,000. The $36,000 case is encrusted with more than 300 diamonds with a total weight of about seven karats.

Paloma Picasso's new lipstick isn't encased in jewels. Nor does her signature show until the gold-toned brass cap is removed. This lipstick's cachet is its shade, a color created by the daughter of one of the world's most famous artists. Unlike any other manufacturer, Picasso--who is known for her fragrance line--makes only one shade, the red she always wears.

Dubbed Mon Rouge ("my red"), the lipstick was only available in the United States at Christmastime as part of a $40 holiday fragrance package. Now its distributor, Cosmair, is trying to find a way to market a one-product cosmetic line, and as yet no price has been set for U.S. sales. Initially sold only in Paris, Mon Rouge now retails at Harrods in London for 15, or about $27.

Gale Hayman sells her lipsticks through the mail as part of her new Gale Hayman Beverly Hills collection. Hayman, who was one of the creators of Giorgio perfume, has taken a different approach to raising the price of lipsticks: She sells them in tiny tubes. The leopard-print tubes are about one-third the size of traditional tubes but cost about the same: $9.50. Hayman says that the small size attracts customers because "this way they use it all; it doesn't just sit half used in the drawer. And the formula is filled with good ingredients."

Gary Grove, a skin physiologist and vice president of Philadelphia's Skin Study Center, where many of the world's new cosmetics are tested for effectiveness, shakes his head when asked about these new high-cost lip products.

No lipstick ingredient should force the price over $10, he says.

"If we're talking about moisturizing the lips, I don't think anything can beat Petroleum Jelly Plus Chap Stick for effectiveness," he says.

But representatives of leading department stores are waiting for consumer reaction.

For example, Patty Payne of Bullock's, which introduced Mon Rouge to Los Angeles as part of the Paloma Picasso holiday package, says, "Consumers are willing to spend more and more money on color.

"I don't think they've reached their limit yet."

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