SAN FRANCISCO — For anyone who ever wanted to major in makeup, Sephora fulfilled a few of those dreams when it turned its North American training facility here into a cosmetics university for consumers.

The event last month marked the first time that the Paris-based company offered comprehensive training for nonemployees.

The two-hour class attracted 125 invited Sephora customers from the Bay Area who paid $25 (redeemed for a Sephora coupon) to attend a two-hour beauty class led by Bare Escentuals founder Leslie Blodgett. It was almost a full house in the long, bright white classroom of square tables for six, outfitted with mirrors, tissues, makeup brushes and jars of Bare Escentuals signature mineral-based powder foundation, blush and eye shadow.

“We would like to roll this out to the rest of the country,” said Karen Kenney, vice president of education and development in North America. The training center, called Sephora University, opened in October as the prototype for the company’s expanded education programs for its staff.

The decision to periodically hold customer makeup and skin care classes at SU, beyond what’s offered at Sephora’s 515 stores in 14 countries, was a logical step, Kenney said. “Our clients have been asking us for more and more dedicated training,” she said.

In turn, more in-depth SU sessions also provide a marketing window into Sephora customers — executives compared the training to a big focus group, where free makeup gift baskets were raffled off.

Located in a downtown San Francisco office building on Market Street, next door to Sephora’s North American headquarters, SU seemed to naturally make the transition to an after-work consumer beauty clinic. The all-woman audience represented a wide age range, although most were in their 20s and 30s.

After a welcome reception, guests carried their wine into the classroom where Blodgett gave a Bare Escentuals coaching session as two makeovers were under way from a raised platform. The products demonstrated were from a new line of Bare Escentuals makeup kits for Sephora, like a $34 Rocker Eye and $28 Buxom Babes Lip Polish.

“There are no hard-and-fast rules in applying makeup,” Blodgett told her attentive audience, while making one exception: Women shouldn’t go without blush, she instructed. Among questions she fielded was one from a woman allergic to corn starch. Blodgett replied she’d have a corn starch-free foundation created.

This story first appeared in the May 27, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Next, Sephora makeup and skin care specialists fanned out across the room to each table for more Bare Escentuals tips, as Blodgett greeted her fans and signed autographs. The evening wrapped up with double chocolate brownies in an adjoining classroom where laptops were setup for customers to place orders.

Kenney said Sephora Universities have also opened in Paris and China, which has two, and more will open in the U.S., with Los Angeles being the next location. The frequency and types of SU consumer classes to be offered at SUs are being weighed.

As for business, Kenney said Sephora’s North American sales are posting double-digit increases, a strength in tough economic times she pins to Sephora’s midmarket prices and women’s beauty needs. This year, Sephora plans to add 40 stores in the U.S. and Canada, Kenney said, to its current roster of 190.

With customers continually looking for beauty advice, Kenney said the top question — what’s the best long-term skin treatment? — doesn’t seem to change, nor the answer: sunscreen.

— Joanna Ramey

Clarins Sponsors Solar-Plane Project

PARIS — Clarins has become an official supporter of Solar Impulse, a project focused on building solar-powered airplanes.

During the five-year partnership, whose financial terms were not disclosed, Clarins stated that it aims to give the Solar Impulse project worldwide visibility through its 150-country presence.

Founded in Switzerland by pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg, who are president and chief executive officer of Solar Impulse, respectively, the company’s first prototype aircraft is under construction in Dübendorf, Switzerland, near Zurich. The goal is to create an aircraft that can take off and fly, during day and night, using only solar energy — hence needing no fuel and releasing no polluting emissions. Trial flights are slated to begin early next year.

“The values represented by Solar Impulse are part of the genetic makeup of Clarins — research, innovation, respect for mankind and for nature,” stated Christian Courtin-Clarins, president and ceo of Clarins.

— Ellen Groves

Malone Garden Highlights Scents’ Ingredients

LONDON — Everything’s coming up roses for Jo Malone. The Estée Lauder Cos.-owned brand’s debut garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, which opened Tuesday and ran through Saturday, picked up a silver medal in the floral display category.

Dubbed The World of Jo Malone, the garden featured shrubs, herbs and flowers used in the brand’s fragrances, including mint, wild strawberries, honeysuckle and gardenia.

“Jasmine bubbles out over the bath, as if you’ve poured in White Jasmine & Mint [bath oil] and it infuses your world,” said florist and garden designer Mathew Dickinson, who created the garden, pointing to a flower-filled tub. The garden, which was visited by Queen Elizabeth II, is to be relocated to London’s Oakleigh School for children with disabilities and special needs.

— Brid Costello

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