NEW YORK--Although neutrals are still the dominant force in the cosmetics business, manufacturers and retailers are saying that color is making a comeback.
"Lipstick is becoming more and more important, and color in lipstick is becoming more important," said Steve Bock, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue.
"Neutrals, accented with color on the lips, are driving business in all areas," agreed Howard Koch, division merchandise manager of Parisian in Birmingham, Ala. "It's a look that has been well accepted by the consumer," he said. "It fits in well with ready-to-wear color palettes."
The return to color is partially attributed to fall's fashions. Manufacturers agree that the season's highly textured fabrics, such as mohair and chenille, as well as the bright fuchsias and purples, call for livelier makeup on the face than the pale neutrals of seasons past.
"They were showing a lot of fuchsia and colors in the plum range with highly textured fabrics," said Linda Quinn, vice president of marketing for Princess Marcella Borghese. "These things can be overwhelming. You need makeup that is richer and deeper to pick up the fabric. Otherwise, you are a walking mohair sweater."
The color of the moment is red, which manufacturers are using as bait to lure women back into wearing more color on their faces.
"Red is a color people feel comfortable moving toward after so many seasons of neutrals," said Karen Young, assistant vice president of marketing for color cosmetics at Lancôme. "It is now considered a neutral in its own right, and it is a lot easier for most people to deal with than, say, a purple or a burgundy mouth."
With the return of red comes an aura of glamour and drama that has been notably absent in the last few seasons of grunge and monastic fashions.
"Red has always been an indicator of glamour, and everyone needs a change," agreed Annette Vasso, executive director of marketing for Chanel color cosmetics. "People are ready for more drama and glamour now." Vasso noted that with a red mouth often comes a more finished eye that is lined and shadowed with a deep and smoky color.
The resurgence of more glamorous makeup with a sheer look is a far cry from the heavy, opaque hues of the Seventies and early Eighties. Manufacturers claim that a new technology grinds colored powder so finely that the application is very sheer, allowing the wearer's skin tone to show through. The end result is considered to be much more natural looking.
Adrienne Hoyer, senior vice president and general merchandise manager, noted that at I. Magnin, customers are returning to makeup, and they are searching for maximum coverage, but in lightweight formulas.
Many retailers are optimistic that the move away from nude, matte faces will boost sales in a category that has trended flat to only single-digit growth over the last few years.
"The return of color to the face is lighting the path to the beauty counters," said Melba Allard, cosmetics manager of Balliet's, a woman's specialty store in Oklahoma City. "And the fact that the shades are rich and beautiful makes buying something new that much more alluring."

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