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Face-Saving Techniques

Two noted makeup artists help customers update their beauty skills, offering advice on color and the best way to apply it.

November 19, 2000|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

What every woman will eventually learn on her first, or her 10th, trip to the makeup counter is this: You can never learn just one way to make up your face. Makeup fashions evolve, products improve, and most of all, our faces and our lives change. Routines are for gymnasts and bureaucrats.

When Laura Mercier and Bobbi Brown, two nationally recognized makeup artists, appeared in the Beverly Hills Neiman Marcus recently, they taught customers of all ages the little bits of magic that can highlight their best features and downplay others. With each appearance, a celebrity makeup artist can help boost sales in one day to meet or exceed a typical week's total.

Brown, whose line was recently acquired by Estee Lauder, and Mercier are among a handful of makeup artists who helped revolutionize the makeup industry when they developed cosmetics collections based on their specific makeup artistry. In 1991, the appropriately named Brown introduced her cosmetics based on natural brown tones. Mercier's trademark "flawless face" is achieved through a combination of products that camouflages imperfections and prepares the skin for color applications, much as a painter primes a canvas.

The pros came armed with a candy store of products, teams of makeup artists and the message that faces, just like our clothes, need an update over time--no matter your age.

Though at 15, Britney Swann is blessed with perfect skin and a wrinkle-free face, she also possesses a typical teenager's preoccupation with self-improvement. Britney convinced her mother, Donna Swann, to let her skip school and drive her from Valencia for a session with the famous makeup artist.

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When Britney read a review of Brown's latest book, "Teenage Beauty: Everything You Need to Look Pretty, Natural, Sexy & Awesome," (Cliff Street Books) she searched every bookstore until she found it. "I feel I can trust her," said Britney, who found the information about brow grooming in "Teenage Beauty" particularly interesting. "She said not to take away too much or else it will make your nose look wider."

A teenage girl's face is often the battleground upon which every conflict about self-image is played out. Yet most beauty books concentrate on the adult face. Brown remembered that all too well when she "morphed herself into a teenager again" to write the book from that tender perspective. She included photos of herself and celebrities as teenagers, in part to show that beauty changes over time.

"The point of the book is to accept your own beauty at an early age," said Brown, 43. "As a kid, I wanted to look like Barbie and Cheryl Tiegs." The petite, brown-eyed brunet frequently uses herself as an example in the book.

"I think she wins young girls over because she can relate," said Donna Swann. "I read the book. She can really empathize. We've all been through that awkward age."

In one way or another, that awkward age of self-doubt and internalized criticism never really stops--it just finds relief in different types of self-improvement over the years. Nearly 200 women of all ages lined up for makeup lessons from Brown's team of artists, while a few days later at Neiman's, more than 350 got the gospel according to Mercier, who has made up Madonna for magazine covers and high-profile appearances.

The faithful who sat for the artists' 30-minute lessons came away with lists of products, sketches of how to use them, and the idea that a woman can never possess too many makeup brushes. Minus the skilled handiwork of the experts, brushes seem to bridge the difference between a dot and a blob, a smudge and a smear.

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Ever so carefully wielding her special flat eyeliner brush, Mercier can draw the thinnest of lines in a place most never think to apply makeup--on the interior edge of the upper eyelid, beneath the lash line. Mercier and Brown paint faces with an assortment of brushes, sponges and puffs made for the eyelid crease, the cheek, the lashes and more.

But no toolbox ever remains static, even if one finds that special trio of colors for the eye, cheek and lip. Brown showed virtually every woman at her event the face-brightening magic of lip gloss. Who knew?

While purring French-accented reassurances, Mercier taught legions to paint over their red spots or dark circles with her Secret Camouflage, a concealing cream that she first swabs onto her hand, and thins with a touch of eye cream.

"I can do a good makeup job without everything--except my Camouflage," said Mercier. "I would panic if I forgot my Camouflage." Mercier teaches women her techniques on her recently released "Flawless Face" video, and through the traveling teams who nearly every week stage the mass make-overs in stores. Someday, Mercier may also write a book. For now, she's concentrating on new products--a scrub, a facial mask and the new cake eyeliner that she has personally been testing for the past six months--hence, the wide, Sophia Loren-like stripe of liner across her lids.

As both Brown and Mercier worked the crowd, they studied a client's colors, rattled off the list of colors to use and how to apply them. Older women and those with skin dry from winter weather were advised to use creamier blushers, lipsticks and shadows. Younger women, especially Brown's teens, were told to keep it simple with just a hint of lip and cheek color. And for every perceived problem, both had solutions: Mercier's premixed eye camouflage cream, Brown's pots of lip gloss coordinated to every skin tone or lipstick color.

Makeup trends come and go, but both artists understand that women rely on makeup to feel rejuvenated. "There are days where we all feel ugly, or short or old. But there is something great about being comfortable in your own skin," said Brown, who, like Mercier, left her freshly painted customers feeling hopeful about hanging onto that look of perfection just a little longer.

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