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BY DESIGN : Color Guards : With her Stila cosmetics line, Jeanine Lobell is the latest makeup artist to shun garish palettes for hues based in reality.

November 09, 1995|MAUREEN SAJBEL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

While the makeup Establishment revels in the season's trendy colors--be it baby blue-lined eyes one moment, burgundy-black lips the next--a band of rebels has been marching in the opposite direction.

This small but growing number of professional makeup artists is fueling a counterrevolution of sorts. Their lines, from M.A.C. to Bobbi Brown to Lorac, are rooted in a world of reality-based colors. Among the latest upstarts is Jeanine Lobell's California-conscious Stila line, which has just arrived in Nordstrom (Westside, Glendale, Topanga) after proving itself at Barneys New York and Fred Segal Santa Monica.

In a range of low-key, highly wearable colors that play well in a sunny climate, and in perhaps the most innovative packaging seen in years, the Stila shadows, blushes and powders manage to break up the monotony imposed by economic hard times and consolidation of lines.

"The creativity the department stores had 10 years ago doesn't exist today," says Allan Mottus, editor of the Informationist, a New York-based beauty industry newsletter. "The top five brands control 75% of the makeup business."

While those major brands satisfy the needs of most women, Mottus notes, big-city customers tend to look for new finds. A big part of the attraction to Stila, retailers say, is its surprising ecology-minded packaging.

Lobell designed sleek black lipstick tubes and shadow and blush pots from recycled cardboard, and put powder and foundation in containers destined for aluminum recycling bins. Besides the word Stila , the only graphic embellishments are quotations from women writers on container lids. ("Wisdom never knocks at the iron walls it can't bring down," Olive Schreiner declares from inside an eye shadow cap.)

"It's a pretty hip customer who understands the paper packaging and quotes from women," says Heidi Manheimer, cosmetics buyer for Barneys New York. "The colors are very neutral and sheer, just what our customer wears," she adds. "It appeals to somebody who doesn't want to wear a lot of makeup."

And that's just fine with the line's no-nonsense creator. Lobell, 31, trained at the London School of Makeup, then paid her dues behind department store cosmetics counters before getting her break as a hair and makeup assistant on the feature film "Drugstore Cowboy." Since then she has applied powder and gloss to the faces of Helen Hunt, k.d. lang, Courteney Cox, Suzanne Vega, Natalie Merchant, Mary-Louise Parker and Rosanna Arquette, among others. And even though she's married to a star, Anthony Edwards of "ER," Lobell retains the air of a working artist.

In her tiny Los Feliz office, to the left of a vintage Art Deco desk, hangs a photo by Larry Clark, a photographer famous for his shots of '50s junkies and for directing the controversial street film "Kids." "The highlight of my career was not 'Oh my god, I'm working with Naomi Campbell.' It was 'Oh my god, I'm working with Larry Clark,' " says Lobell, referring to their collaboration on a Chris Isaak video that proved too racy for U.S. release. She also admires Richard Avedon's haunting photo book "In the American West"; it inspired her makeup work for R.E.M's "Everybody Hurts" video.

When it comes to making up real women, though, Lobell is anything but offbeat. "A while ago, they [the big names in makeup] were trying to get everyone to wear fuchsia lipstick. You know what? That's a fashion trend that looks great on Kate Moss and Linda Evangelista. I happen to look ridiculous in fuchsia lipstick. If you want a color like fuchsia, go buy an inexpensive one. Don't knock yourself out. It's going to be over."

Stila's best-selling lip colors, priced at $15 each, are brown-based neutrals close in color to natural lips. It's just a coincidence, Lobell says, that some of her colors work well with the Mod makeup trend of little or no blush, smoky eye liner and pale, unlined lips.

The rest of the line's all-season palette contains colors tuned in to California. A red lipstick has a West Coast orange--rather than an East Coast blue--undertone, and a taupe mascara is meant for California blondes with pale lashes. "If they wear black or brown, it looks like they have levitating dots," Lobell explains.

Above all, Stila avoids bowing to fashion's love of garish colors.

"Baby blue was the No. 1 selling eye shadow in this country for 20 years. Thanks to M.A.C., women started going a whole new way and they're not going back," Lobell says. "'They figured out they look better."

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