By  on July 9, 2010

While retailers the likes of Topshop, H&M and Forever 21 have introduced proprietary lines, Urban Outfitters is veering in the opposite direction.

The specialty store chain is applying its distinct merchandising touch — notable for ferreting out unique merchandise to outfit urbane young adults — more heavily in beauty with fixtures showcasing a curated collection of roughly 20 beauty brands. The fixtures will this month be placed near the cash wraps at a total of five stores in San Francisco, Santa Monica, Calif., Vancouver and in New York on Broadway and Avenue of the Americas.

The beauty brands headed to retail were culled from an online selection of some 50 brands that launched June 3. The top brands online — also probable solid in-store sellers — are Paul & Joe, Stila, Anna Sui, Japonesque, Blow and Demeter. Other brands entering stores are Lipstick Queen, Clean Perfume, Cake Beauty, Manic Panic, Noir, Medusa, Revolution in Cut, A Beautiful Life, Lucy B., Too Faced, Smell Bent, NYX, Streekers, Pixi and Blue Beards.

The fixtures are an outgrowth of a two-year drive to enhance Urban Outfitters’ beauty assortment from an array of often overlooked extras to a coveted high-low mix of emerging and recognized brands. Marc Jacobs, Too Faced, Betsey Johnson and Juliette Has a Gun are among the brands that were incorporated in stores as part of that effort.

“When I started, we had a lot of fun, kitschy makeup that were just add-ons. We really weren’t deep into cosmetic brands or fragrance,” said beauty buyer Marlyn Roquemore, who joined Urban Outfitters in 2008 after a six-year stint at Bergdorf Goodman ending as associate beauty buyer.

Roquemore emphasized Urban Outfitters’ upgraded beauty presentation is “all about the edit.” Rather than bringing in entire product line-ups, Urban Outfitters is zeroing in on key items spanning the price spectrum to satisfy the curiosities of its in-the-know 18- to 30-year-old shoppers. “Our customer loves the discovery process,” said Roquemore.

The assortment will broaden in the coming weeks with additional brands, including JK Jemma Kidd, Models Own, Cargo, Becca and Alcone. Beauty is not expected to expand much via private label, although there is an Urban Outfitters nail polish line and there will be private label holiday beauty gifts. Beauty products under Urban Outfitters label Kimchi Blue are no longer in stores, according to Roquemore.

Judging from early online performance, Urban Outfitters’ beauty experiment is on a positive track. “We have seen tremendous results across the board,” said Roquemore, who declined to discuss online or retail beauty sales figures. If comparable results are garnered in stores, she continued, there could be “bigger things to come.”

Christine Chen, a retail analyst at Needham & Co., called Urban Outfitters’ foray into beauty “pretty risk-free” and estimated it would constitute less than 5 percent of Urban Outfitters’ retail sales. Beauty “adds to the coolness factor in the stores that they already have because it is an opportunity for them to find up-and-coming brands,” she said.

Urban Outfitters may provide beauty companies a venue to experiment with fashion-forward products believed to be too risky elsewhere. Tonie Shin, a NYX spokeswoman, pointed out that funky styles of NYX lashes carried by Urban Outfitters are not suitable for all retailers. “They have picked great products to match their clientele,” said Shin.

Andrew Knox, president of Pixi and Pop Beauty, is convinced that beauty will thrive at Urban Outfitters. “The customer is there. It is not a question,” he said.

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