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Now in technocolor

Boutique Cosmetic Lines Push Hues to New Extremes

August 24, 2003|Hillary Johnson | Hillary Johnson last wrote for the magazine about beauty treatments in L.A.

Ten years ago, makeup artist Bobbi Brown declared war on "unnatural" makeup colors. Blue eye shadow and coral lipstick were banished, and the nation fell into a 10-year brown-out (the cosmetic equivalent of Gray Davis' energy crisis) from which we are still recovering. The problem with this philosophy, as I see it, is that brown isn't any more "natural" a color than is magenta, or sky blue. And as if grungy cheeks and loamy eye sockets weren't dreary enough, why on earth did anyone ever think it was a good idea for women to paint their lips the color of, well, dirt?

The popularity of earth-toned lipstick in the '90s had some of my male friends in a state of apoplexy. A short-story writer I know who had idolized Dana Delany from afar finally got to meet her at a premiere. The next day he was in a wretched state, railing against the criminal vandalism perpetrated on his goddess' perfect beauty by the ugly brown lipstick she wore. Being a poet and a big thinker, he blamed society at large for the phenomenon, and never the angel herself, whom he idolizes to this day--so blinding was the dire impression left by Delany's lip color, however, that he still feels as if he's never been properly introduced.

As much as I hate brown, I've always been a sucker for odd colors, and I've picked up my share of orange, yellow and hospital-green eye shadows over the years, always to be disappointed. While bold in the package, these colors never translated well to the skin. The pink eye shadow made me look like I had an infection, while yellow hinted at jaundice, and that frosty kumquat lipstick I bought thinking it would read as cheerful and snappy made me look like I'd been sunning myself on an atoll during atomic testing.

But there's finally good news to report on the color front: In the first blush of the 21st century, we have mastered the technology, and makeup counters everywhere are abloom with techno-color. The vivid shades on the market today come to us thanks to the smaller, more focused cosmetic companies that put a premium on such factors as pigment and texture, resulting in colors that are saturated enough that they transfer from palette to face without losing their intensity. Even colors that go on sheer maintain their assertiveness. So while it's still OK to get your makeup basics at the department store (Estee Lauder makes an eye shadow called Storm that is my wardrobe equivalent of the little black dress), for exotic, intense, idiosyncratic color, it's best to turn to the boutique cosmetic lines that are flourishing in niche markets everywhere, from Sephora to the Internet.

The newest addition to the small family of makeup brands carried at Fred Segal Beauty is a line from London called Pout. As you can imagine from the name, the overarching theme is pink--pink for cheeks, pink for lips, even pink for eyes. But the effect created by Pout's pinks is more dramatic than the demure peaches 'n' cream aesthetic one would expect. My favorite eye shadow of the season is their frosty creme "eyeslick" called Swing, which comes in a tube with a wand, and which you could mistake for lip gloss--as I did at first--if you hadn't read the fine print on the package. The color is like nothing found in nature, which by itself precludes the conjunctivitis effect. It's more like decorative cake frosting, or metallic auto body paint, and its visual impact is unique in being at once dramatic and pretty. (Speaking of auto body paint, Pout also makes a wonderful eye shadow duo called Miss July that is the happy color of a two-tone sea-foam green '55 Chevy.)

Even a child could handle Pout's cute, classy pinks, but Urban Decay's Pleather Pencil in a violent fuchsia called Asphyxia proves that this granddaddy of esoteric makeup lines is still the height of boutique chic. I wore this one for my 40th birthday earlier this month--and I plan to never wear it again.

But just when I thought I was going to be pink all summer, I found what may well be the world's first flattering yellow eye shadow. It's made by Fudge, an Australian company better known until recently for its hair products, which include serious, permanent dye in a rainbow of greens, blues, purples and reds (for that stage of life when you've grown out of dipping your ponytail in Kool-Aid, but you're not quite ready for L'Oreal). Their "f2 cosmetics" line likewise includes shadows and liners in intense, raver-girl colors for that Japanese anime look. Citrus Intensity Eye Color is shocking and illuminating when worn alone as a wash over the whole eyelid, and miraculously, it doesn't clash with my (I'll be candid here) rather yellowish natural coloring.

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