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Still Trendy After All These Years

Cosmetics: Perennial favorites at the makeup counter work on nearly everyone--that's the secret of their staying power.

March 26, 1998|JILL GERSTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Remember beige matte lipstick? Silver eye shadow? Kiwi-colored nail polish?

Every season, cosmetic companies unleash a tidal wave of new products, some of which have a shelf life of 15 minutes, while others become bestsellers that endure for years.

No-shine beige lips looked blah after a few seasons, silver eye shadow never made the transition from catwalk to sidewalk and green nail polish was really a mall-rat kind of thing.

On the other hand, there are those top-selling perennials that have been around longer than scent strips or Kate Moss, like Estee Lauder's Frosted Apricot lipstick (introduced in 1977) and Maybelline's Great Lash mascara (introduced in 1971) that women refuse to give up, no matter what Vogue and Elle decree.

"What makes something a perennial favorite is that rather than follow a trend, it looks good on most everyone," explained Sandy Cataldo, vice president of marketing for Clinique. "When someone says, 'Wow! That looks terrific on you!' it doesn't make a difference that it has been around for 25 years."

Never mind that Frosted Apricot is a deep, true orangey pink that isn't au courant with fashion hounds who are painting their lips--for the next month at least--shades of lilac and azalea.

"Once customers try something and like it, they stick with it," said Muriel Gonzalez, senior vice president of marketing for Estee Lauder, adding that Frosted Apricot is one of those "universally flattering" colors.

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At Chanel, Red Coromandel lipstick, which debuted in 1985, hooked so many fans that when the company briefly took it off the market, customers demanded it be brought back. Naturally, it was.

"There are a zillion reds out there--one may be too blue or too brown or too bright--and if a woman finds that perfect red, she never gives it up," said Annette Falso, executive director of product development for Chanel.

Beauty mavens who prefer their lips colored a cappuccino shade can't be pried loose from Revlon's Coffee Bean lipstick, which was launched in 1972. Devotees who weren't part of the granny-gown-and-platform-shoes generation have latched onto this frosted brown that their mothers wore.

The current rage for weird, nontraditional nail-polish colors like baby blue and iridescent yellow hasn't stopped fans from snatching up Revlon's Copper Glaze Bronze and Copper Glaze Platinum, which debuted in 1976.

"They have just a hint of color," said Cindy Cirlin, vice president of product development for Revlon. "They're not as strong as the metallics you're seeing today." Translation: You can be trendy without looking outrageous.

Actually, women can be fickle when it comes to color products like lipstick and nail enamel. According to Donna Barasch, vice president of product marketing for Lanco^me, it is easier to entice a woman into trying a new lipstick shade than it is to get her to switch foundations.

"Women buy lipstick for the color, but they buy foundation for the formula, assuming there is a shade to match their skin," she said. "Once they find a formula they like, they come back again and again."

Which is probably why Lanco^me's Dual Finish powder remains a bestseller almost 14 years after it came on the market.

"It developed this underground cachet because makeup artists and models were among the first to use it," said Barasch about the foundation, which can be applied wet or dry. "They talked it up in the magazines, and word of mouth just spread."

That also happened with Prescriptives' Flight Cream, a heavy-duty moisturizer that debuted in 1986. After models and fashion editors were spotted slathering it on before landing in Milan or Paris, the rest of the fashion pack followed--and, eventually, so did Everywoman.

"People who fly a great deal and switch climates swear by it," said Anne Carullo, vice president of marketing and product development for Prescriptives.

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Mascara is another item that women remain fiercely loyal to. Devotees of Maybelline's Great Lash mascara couldn't care less that it has been around since Richard Nixon was in the White House or that it is packaged in a kitschy, bubble-gum pink and lime green plastic tube.

"It's an all-purpose mascara that delivers," said Ketan Patel, vice president of marketing for Maybelline, adding that one tube is sold every 1.9 seconds in the United States. "That is why you find it in Hermes bags and college backpacks."

Thirty years ago when Clinique introduced a pale yellow lotion in a little glass bottle called Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion, the words "alpha hydroxy acid" and "topical vitamin C" weren't in the beauty lexicon. Regardless of the high-tech competition, Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion remains Clinique's bestseller because, as Cataldo put it, "customers are convinced their skin has never looked better."

When it comes to perfume, women might have "a wardrobe of scents," as they say in beautyspeak, but there is usually one fragrance that they have been dousing themselves with for years.

Estee Lauder's Youth Dew, a heady Oriental perfume that evokes memories of your favorite aunt, is more than 40 years old and hasn't been given a publicity push in a decade. Nevertheless, it still ranks in the top dozen fragrances for department stores, according to Gonzalez.

"Even though people are now into light fragrances, it doesn't matter," she said. "Youth Dew sells year after year."

Devotees of Chanel No. 5, which was introduced in 1921, include everyone from blue-haired matrons in Kansas to club crawlers in London. (Kate Moss is reportedly crazy about the distinctive floral scent.) Not surprisingly, it's Chanel's top seller.

"Every year, a new, young clientele discovers it," said Falso. "It's a classic."

In the here-today-gone-tomorrow world of cosmetics, that is praise indeed.

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