By  on January 18, 2002

NEW YORK -- Natural cosmetics are getting stylish.

For years, natural beauty lines have been characterized by ingredients, not by color stories. Shoppers looked first at whether the products contained natural ingredients before worrying about shades.

Makeup artist Gabriel DeSantino hopes to change the way natural beauty is sold with the debut of his new line called ZuZu Luxe.

ZuZu currently is launching exclusively at Whole Foods Markets across the country. Whole Foods, one of the nation's leading natural products retailer with annual sales exceeding $2.2 billion, operates 126 stores in the United States, under various store banners including Whole Foods, Bread & Circus and Fresh Fields.

DeSantino has started making personal appearances at a store in the Chelsea district of Manhattan, which has a separate Whole Body store next to the Whole Foods Market. "This is my laboratory and where I really get my ideas," he said about performing the makeovers.

DeSantino, founder and ceo of Gabriel Cosmetics, is already a major player in natural skin care with Gabriel skin care and in cosmetics with his line called Gabriel Natural Color. However, he saw an opportunity to delve into fashion hues to meet changing consumer demand.

The Gabriel line, created eight years ago, featured basic colors -- or as DeSantino called it, "the Bobbi Brown of natural products." In recent years however, more than traditional natural products, consumers have sought out natural cosmetics lines, said DeSantino. "I faced a dilemma. I couldn't discontinue brown for peacock in the Gabriel line, but we had requests for more colors. I looked around and thought that if Estee Lauder could have several different brands, why couldn't I?"

DeSantino, who got his love of natural ingredients from his grandmother -- who was an herbalist -- selected the name because it is European slang for fast, hip and trendy. ZuZu consists of a full range of beauty products including foundations, concealers, blush, eye shadows, mascaras, eyeliners, lipliners, lipsticks and lip gloss. Natural ingredients are used, including jojoba and sesame oil in the lipstick and grape seed extract in the mascara.

Prices range from $9.50 for a lipliner to $12.50 for lipsticks, and DeSantino thinks the best movers will be lipsticks and mascaras. Provocative shade names include Temptress and Femme Fatale -- a far cry from the traditional "hippie" positioning of natural lines, noted DeSantino.Natural products are important to DeSantino, who worked as a makeup artist with major department store brands before branching out on his own. "I was surprised by all of the chemicals in those brands," he said. "When you think about the fact that women ingest four pounds of lipstick in a lifetime, you understand the importance of ingredients."

The addition of ZuZu is expected to expand his company sales, which are estimated to fall between $2 million and $5 million, by 40 percent. DeSantino said he expects the new line's sales to surpass the existing Gabriel skin care and color cosmetics, which are sold in more than 700 doors. If successful, he plans to extend the franchise with skin care and more "cutting edge" ingredients.

He hopes the injection of fashion colors will lure shoppers who have been using other brands -- especially thanks to his exposure in Whole Foods. To keep the colors on trend, DeSantino will launch new shades every six months -- something unusual for the natural products market.

Although he expects ZuZu to court a younger shopper than traditional natural color lines, he also hopes to convert mass market users. "This is a customer who may be purchasing natural supplements, but still using Cover Girl. They may be ready to filter out chemicals and replace them with ingredients," he said. The display and packing for ZuZu is also a departure for the natural products. The fixture is acrylic and the packaging has polished silver accents. "It is a bit more cutting edge," explained DeSantino. At this point, DeSantino does not see expanding beyond natural sellers into mass market stores.

The total natural products market currently does about $230 billion in sales. And while traditional mass market beauty sales are flat, natural lines are showing 24 percent jumps, according to industry sources. "And now, those who want a silver lipstick can get a natural product," said DeSantino. "We're the Hard Candy of natural products."

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