By  on February 25, 2005

NEW YORK — In March, makeup artist brand Jeni Lee is getting a second chance — following earlier difficulties — thanks to Lucent Cosmetics Inc.

“We had been looking for entrepreneurial women who had built a company on a concept and were ready to take it to the next step,” said Peter Aurigemma, president of Lucent Cosmetics, a holding company that acquired the brand in April 2004. Aurigemma said that he expects the brand to bring in up to $2 million in first-year sales in the U.S.

Originally started by Hollywood makeup artist Jeni Lee Dinkel, the Jeni Lee line launched in Henri Bendel in the fall of 2000, and then expanded into Nordstrom. While the brand enjoyed significant industry buzz in its initial months after its launch, it pulled out of both retailers in 2001 due to changes in distribution strategy, but remained in small boutiques, according to the company.

Featuring a range of color cosmetics, from brow pencils to cream foundation, Lee built her line on two principles. First, a makeup line should span multiple cultures: “If you’re a person of color, you can easily find a color [in my line] that works for you,” Dinkel said. The second principle is that cosmetics don’t last forever. Packaging for the original line featured expiration dates, so consumers would know when it was time to throw out old products. “I wanted to protect the customer and educate them at the same time,” she said.

Aurigemma and his partner, Carl Liu, a television and media expert, discovered the struggling brand in March of 2004 and had a vision for the line: taking it from a “standard makeup artist brand” to a lifestyle brand, he said. Dinkel hopes the concept of a lifestyle brand will help to differentiate Jeni Lee from other makeup artist offerings on the market. “At the end of the day, I want to be the Martha Stewart of cosmetics,” she said. “I want to be recognized not only as a Hollywood makeup artist, but as a woman who put her own money on the line with an idea and a group of investors and just went for it.” Included in the lifestyle brand plan is both an expansion of the line’s product offerings, from bath and body to skin care to fine fragrance, and a commitment to open a series of freestanding Jeni Lee stores, both domestically and abroad.In April, the first Lucent-backed Jeni Lee store will open in Dinkel’s hometown of Cincinnati. This will be followed by a store in Flushing, N.Y., a flagship location in Chicago in June and one in Nashville in early summer. Two more  areas will be named later, for a total of six U.S. locations by the end of 2005. Other stores are in the works for New York, Los Angeles and the South Florida area, according to Aurigemma.

Stores will feature a minimalistic, Asian theme, with cherry wood, brushed aluminum interiors and inside waterfalls. Floor space will average between 1,200 and 1,400 square feet. Aurigemma said that Lucent plans to capitalize on Jeni Lee’s multicultural image by expanding the line overseas, to Asia in particular. “We’re opening up 50 salons and stores in the next year in Asia,” he said.

The revamped line is very similar to what Dinkel started with: sleek, silver packaging and simple black lettering. However, there are two distinct changes —  lower price points and no expiration date: “I thought the consumer would care more about what was going on her face, but it never really caught on,” said Dinkel. However, the Jeni Lee line will continue to keep its customers informed via an online database; each time a customer purchases a Jeni Lee product, the date of the purchase will be recorded and, when the product “expires,” the customer will receive an e-mail notification, according to Dinkel.

In terms of price points, significant changes have been made: The original collection featured, among other offerings, a $20 eye shadow, an $18 lipstick and a $42 cream foundation, while the updated line will range in price from $10 for a lip gloss to $25 for a loose powder.

Two of the line’s most recent introductions include Serious Shine Plumping & Conditioning Lip Gloss, $14, and Next-to-Natural SPF 15 Tinted Moisturizer, $25. In addition, a Gold Compact and Gold Lipstick, each featuring 23-karat gold finish packaging and retailing for $200 each, will be available in March and come complete with a lifetime guarantee of free refills. The skin care line, another new addition, features a Facial Moisturizer with SPF 22, a Gentle Cleansing Lotion, an Herbal Toning Mist and a Hydrating Primer, all priced at $15 each.For the future, Dinkel hopes to expand beyond the realm of her freestanding stores into specialty stores like Ulta and Sephora. “Pairing with Lucent is a great advantage, because from where I built the line, you can go in any direction,” she said.

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