WOOING fickle consumers continues to be the No. 1 priority in the volatile cosmetics business. Makeup purchasers can't be trusted to develop loyalty to one brand. In fact, they can be trusted not to.
This capricious attitude is especially apparent when it comes to eye shadow. The American woman has been coloring her eyelids for more than 30 years and by now is familiar with every color and which ones she prefers. Marketing research indicates that she's not particularly concerned about formulation. So, these days, cosmetics manufacturers are hoping that she'll be swayed by innovative presentation.
Strolling past the cosmetics counter, a woman has her choice of shadows imprinted with houndstooth checks, ziggurats and waves. Most of the patterns reflect trends in design or are tied to themes of the season's fashions. Chanel's Ombre Couture eye shadows are stamped with the quilted pattern that has become a signature of the French fashion house. Estee Lauder's Pressed Satin compact features four shadows, each shaped in interlocking paisleys, a pattern popular in fall fashion collections.
Following a trend that first surfaced in Japan and then appeared in Italy, intricate patterns and textures are showing up in just about every prestige-price collection this fall, and the trend will continue into the holidays.
"American manufacturers were late to catch on to the pressed patterns," says Karen Young, executive director of makeup marketing for Estee Lauder. "The Japanese have been doing it for years because they have the advanced technology that it takes. It's only very recently that American firms have linked with Japanese companies and been able to take advantage of their technology."
In Milan, Pupa Cosmetics has created an 8-inch-square compact that holds 16 different eye-shadow colors, all shaped to create the wings of a butterfly with a mascara tube as its body. Marketed in Italy last year, the set is being sold this year in the United States as a $50 gift item.
"With so much competition from American and French firms, the Italian companies had to do something to draw people to their counters," explains Dan Wilkes, president of the Wilkes Group Inc., which distributes Pupa in the United States. "Complex, unique presentations are something that the Italian woman has come to expect."
Pretty presentations affect the price of the shadows, but not as much as consumers think, Wilkes says. Young says the $20 price tag on Estee Lauder's shadows is up from last year's four-shadow compact, "but that would have happened anyway. Prices in general are slightly higher."
A single shade of eye shadow will sell for as much as $25 this season. Some compacts containing four colors can carry a price tag of more than $40. Taking the elitism of cosmetics to an extreme, Chanel's Ombre Couture is marketed with a $100 mini shoulder bag in a quilted jersey to match the shadow's imprint.
"The industry isn't as creative as it was 10 years ago," Young says, "but pressed patterns have been one way of generating some excitement. It's another way to seduce the consumer."