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Changing Their Tones

Makeup: Driven by a fast-growing market and a diverse population, cosmetics companies are addressing women of color like never before.


Imagine getting dressed in someone else's bedroom.

You open the closet doors to a stunning wardrobe, beautifully coordinated, yet nothing seems to fit quite right. That was the experience of many women of color at makeup counters in this country until recent years.

"Finally, it seems that cosmetics companies are getting it," said Collier Strong, a makeup artist with the Cloutier agency in Los Angeles. "They're becoming more intelligent as far as a darker skin market."

A group of young cosmetics companies, and many of the older ones, are addressing women of color like never before. Industry insiders attribute this growing interest to the nation's changing demographics. By 1999, annual sales of ethnic cosmetics are expected to hit $438 million.

"The reason that [cosmetics companies] are all very concerned about this market is that it's the fastest-growing category," said Lafayette Jones, president and CEO of Segmented Marketing Services Inc., a promotion, marketing and sampling company based in Winston-Salem, N.C.

But Noliwe Rooks, author of an upcoming book, "Hair Raising: Beauty, Culture and African American Women" (Rutgers University Press), attributes the recent move of mainstream companies into ethnic markets to, among other things, the overall prominence of diversity issues in corporate America.

"It has something to do with the political time in businesses across the country," said Rooks, an assistant professor and director of black studies at the University of Missouri. "They discovered, 'Oh, we can make products specifically for these communities,' at the same time they started saying, 'We need to have black vice presidents and promote blacks into management positions.' "

Whatever the motivation, the result is an unprecedented range of products for African American, Latino, Asian American and Native American women.

Back when Iman regularly graced the pages of fashion magazines, she had to be a part-time chemist, mixing and matching colors. To help others avoid that struggle, two years ago she founded Iman Cosmetics and Skin Care Collections, which can be purchased at JCPenney stores.

"She said, 'I want this line to be everything I never had in the '80s,' " said Byron Barnes, creative director for the company.

That meant starting with a basic concept: Products for women of color must do more than come in darker shades. For example, Iman mascara is liquefied, which means less clumping on curly lashes. Foundations and powders are designed to complement everything from an Asian to a blue-black African complexion. And Time Control, an anti-aging treatment, is formulated for darker-skinned women.

"[African Americans'] aging process is tremendously and noticeably different," Barnes said. Wrinkles spawned by sun damage are less of a concern, so the product is formulated to improve texture and rid the skin of a dull gray mantle.

Among the first companies to pay special attention to women of color was one started by another former model. For Naomi Sims, the first African American to appear on the cover of a mass market magazine, skin care was a key concern.

"No matter what anyone tells you, there is a difference in skin care for women of color and other women," said Linda Pedreira, vice president of marketing for the Naomi Sims line, which is sold at Sears, JCPenney and Macy's. "Black skin tends to have more of an allergic reaction to what a person is putting on [it], to stress and the environment," she said. And dead cells appear more prominent on darker skin, creating an ashy effect. Sims' hypoallergenic line is built on a three-step cleansing regimen.

The company more recently introduced a product called Chalk, which is applied to eyelids before shadow to prevent creasing. While most versions come in a sharp white, Naomi Sims' is a banana yellow that blends better with darker skin and helps colors appear more vibrant.

Celebrity makeup artist Bobbi Brown, who founded her makeup line in 1990 with 10 brown-based lipsticks, has also expanded her palette because "most of the colors out there just were not working," Brown said. "I never know who's going to sit down in my chair. Between Bernadette Peters and Grace Jones, there's a wide range. I need to know that no matter who it is, I can find makeup that works with their skin."

Numbered from 1 to 10, Brown's foundation sticks and powders, sold at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, reflect her belief that most women, regardless of their complexion, have a yellow skin undertone. Her deepest color has a blue undertone. It was created for Somalia-born model Waris after Brown could not find a foundation right for her.

Founded in 1979, Prescriptives started up with an extensive line of colors, but it reached a turning point after the 1990 census. "That was a real awakening for us," said Nikki Gersten, a company spokeswoman. "[It] definitely showed us that there are a number of different ethnic skin tones, crosses of skin tones."

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