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Making It Up to the Masses

Cosmetic artist shuns department-store prestige for wider public appeal.

November 08, 2000|BARBARA THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Sonia Kashuk admits to being part of the "grandparents" generation of super makeup artists that includes Laura Mercier and Francois Nars. Kashuk, now 41, came of age professionally at the time of the supermodels. In fact, she wrote a book with the super-est of models, Cindy Crawford, "Basic Face" (Doubleday, 1997).

While Mercier and Nars each went on to launch their own prestige makeup brands, Kashuk is a class rebel. She chose to take a more practical turn, approaching Target stores to launch Sonia Kashuk Professional Makeup for the mass market. The move could be called a tad "dress-down" for a high-fashion alumna. "Marc Jacobs made my wedding dress!" she said.

She hopes to have the success with makeup that designers Phillippe Starck and Michael Graves have had with their home accessories at Target, or Martha Stewart's linens at Kmart.

"I really wanted to dissolve the stigma of 'mass,' " she said, alighting ever so briefly for a quick lunch. She was in town briefly from her base in New York for a site visit at the Pasadena Target.

Kashuk, dressed in leopard-print Moschino cropped pants and an oversized men's cut black shirt (if men wore size 2), hardly looks like the self-described grandma. Her hair is a mess of gorgeous auburn curls, her lips bright red with her own "Garnet" lipstick.

"For prestige customers, it's very hard to cross them over to mass," she said. Aside from a certain lack of respect, mass-market cosmetics have other, more concrete obstacles. At department stores, customers can linger, touch and feel products and they provide helpful feedback about prestige brands at cosmetic counters. "You can't really test makeup at mass stores," she said.

Still, many cosmetic companies are aware that more women now shop in a hurry.

A typical Target shopper is a working, college-educated mother who schedules her business trips around her children's needs. Imagine this busy woman on a Saturday, pushing a shopping cart with two or three screaming kids in tow who want Pokemon backpacks, and you get a sense of how much time a woman spends at a makeup counter at Target.

So Kashuk's line is packaged so that the product color is clearly visible. Prices range from $7.99 for lip and cheek stains (prestige brands hover around $28) to $1.99 to $9.99 for makeup brushes. Kashuk says she can keep her costs down because Target handles the distribution and she has no counter-rental costs to figure in.

Target is one of the savviest marketers in the world of discount retail. While Wal-Mart's TV commercials are warm and fuzzy testimonials from almost dowdy actors, Target ads are a very groovy montage with beautiful young casts.

The Minneapolis-based company's 1999 revenues of $26.08 billion represented a 13% increase from 1998. Target won't disclose how much of that was from cosmetics, but Kashuk's line is exceeding expectations, a spokeswoman said.

Kashuk will share one secret, however: "I can't sell orange [lipstick] to save my life," she said.

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