|lied with a paint roller and
permanent marker, Red, as a name, is passe as far as today’s makeup
market is concerned.
“Naming something just ‘Red’ would make it feel plain and boring
and not very much fun,” said Bobbe Joy, a former Hollywood makeup
artist who’s worked on Lucy Liu and Dolly Parton, and who now owns a
custom makeup company in Beverly Hills. “Sedona” — a reddish tone
in one of Joy’s makeup lines — “is more fun.”
which burns hotter, Joy’s Sedona or MAC’s Redwood? Would OPI’s To
Eros Is Human nail color claw the eyes out of Maybelline’s
Invinsible? Which makes us blush more, Bitch Slap! powder blush from
Ramy Beauty Therapy or Sephora’s refined and Euro-chic Rouge Peche’
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A more fitting question might be: What kind of mood are you in?
Or, better yet: What kind of mood do you want to be in?
(See: MAC’s Satiate or Philosophy’s Contemplation lipsticks).
As the makeup industry struggles to sell products in an era when
women are as likely to go au naturel, au collagen or au botox as
they are to clown-out, when scores of companies offer identical
shades at a spectrum of prices, hooking consumers can mean
deliberately raising eyebrows.
“Do you feel the glamour when you slap on some hot pink, or some
Schiaparelli pink?” asked Rachel Weingarten, a former celebrity
makeup artist and president of GTK Marketing Group in New York City.
Since ancient times and the fortuitous discovery of lead oxide
(which, while being ridiculously toxic was also an ingredient in
primitive tinted makeups), humans have been dolling themselves up to
feel better and appeal to others (or, as the case may have been, to
the gods). While makeup’s favor alternately waned and mostly waxed
over the centuries, it wasn’t until the 1900s — really, the 1990s
— that makeup names took on a life that often had little or nothing
to do with actual colors, garnering appellations that rival those of
(See: Urban Decay’s Midnight Cowboy Rides Again eye shadow or
OPI’s At Your Quebec and Call nail color).
“Color cosmetics used to be such a main component of everything.
Women used to match their lipstick color to their purse to their
shoes,” said Melinda Minton, a beauty expert in Fort Collins
Colorado and the executive director of The Spa Association, a
national organization of health spas. “Now, we want to look younger
and more natural and we never would think of matching our lipstick
to our handbag, so companies had to think of a new way to sell their
“Now, they sell the fantasy.”
With lines high-end to punk-chic, cosmetics companies aim to
create an illusory world in which you, Consumer, become skinnier,
more capable and bee-stung.
“Look at Chanel. You’re going to find Tranquil Mist, or Caribbean
High Seas, something destination or high couture or that’s
sophisticated but won’t be in any way distasteful,” Minton said.
“With teen lines, it’s all about fruit and candy. With MAC, you’ve
got dominatrix and urban hip and decadent sex acts.”
But divining any meaning from today’s cosmetic names can
sometimes take at least a working knowledge of pop culture.
(See: Lush’s Buffy the Backside Slayer skin conditioner and Merle
Norman’s holiday line, Sets In the City.)
“That sort of blew me away, and I had to look at it twice,” said
Terri Guerin, who for 21 years has run Merle Norman Cosmetics of
So, do the colors have anything to do with the show? Guerin says
yes, and sets were even broken down into shades fitting each
character, from flamboyant to reserved.
The sexy colors, “two out of the three girls would definitely
have worn them,” Guerin said. “The purple color would be the Sarah
Jessica Parker (character) and the other flashy (set) would be that
one who liked to take off her clothes a lot.” (By the way, that’s
Kim Cattrall’s character, Samantha Jones).
Guerin added: “I swear, they have someone who sits up all night
in California who comes up with these names.”
At Bobbe Joy’s company, while an all-nighter is rare, the
employees do schedule brainstorming sessions to churn out possible
names for each season’s new lines.
“We sit around and throw out names until we get something that’s
great,” Joy said.
Yup, it’s that complicated.
And it’s not unheard of for a cosmetics company to bestow the
honor of naming a makeup color as reward to an underling.
“Not a lot goes into the naming of colors. The relative
importance of it is demonstrated through the assignment of that to a
junior,” said Mark Levit, a professor of marketing at New York
University and a partner at Partners & Levit Advertising in New
York City. “If it was something important it would be handled by a
senior or sent out to a company that specialized in names.”
Understandably, companies can get a little prickly when their
finely manicured toes are stepped on by competitors — a situation
that’s more likely as witty, somewhat pithy names become harder and
harder to dream up.
“It isn’t always easy to get the name that you want. A lot of
times words that are single-use words are already taken, so you go
to two words, and a lot of those are taken, too, so you turn to
cutesy, longer names,” said Joy, whose company now offers the Once
Upon a Time line, which includes lip glosses named Pink-a-rella and
Little Bo Pink.
For instance, she once named a line of lip glosses Jet Set only
to find out that another company had already claimed that title for
one of its lines.
“They sent us a cease and desist letter,” said Joy. “So we
changed it to Jet Setter.”
Stephanie Earls can be reached at 454-5761 or by e-mail at