NEW YORK--As seasonal color stories fade in importance, New York retailers say the makeup business is becoming more item-driven.
"We're seeing less of seasonal color stories. [Women] are more interested in what looks right, not what's trendiest," said Rita Burke, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Macy's East. "I don't think we need seasonal color stories. I don't think we'll miss them."
In place of the color stories, lipstick in particular has been capturing the cosmetics customer, retailers here agreed.
Burke attributed the lip boom to vendors' simplification of counter tester units and to advances in product technology.
"Most of the counters seem to have redesigned their lipstick tester units in the past year," Burke said, adding that the changes have made shopping easier for the customer. "Sometimes it can be so overwhelming."
Clinique, for example, rethought its tester unit by grouping its lipsticks according to color instead of formula. The customer, therefore, is drawn to the shades she prefers, at which point the beauty adviser can explain the different formulas.
New testers from Estée Lauder, Princess Marcella Borghese and Origins also have sparked sales, Burke said.
She noted that high-tech color products, particularly those with treatment benefits, have been attracting customers.
"There are more treatment benefits in products--even matte lipsticks that provide moisture, even long-lasting lipsticks that won't dry lips," she said, adding that manufacturers also are producing more lipsticks and foundations with Sun Protection Factor formulations.
The foundation business in general has grown, Burke said, thanks to a broader color range that reaches more of the population and to benefits catering to different skin types.
"They've really captured every need a consumer could want," she said. "That's a key product because a woman doesn't change foundation very easily."
Despite these highlights, Macy's total color cosmetics business is flat year-to-date, and Burke said she is projecting "moderate growth" for the year.
But Burke noted, "Although treatment and fragrance are on strong trends right now, color is still the biggest percentage of the business."
Lauder, Lancôme and Clinique remain the big three at Macy's, with Chanel and Prescriptives making headway. Burke cited Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent, which are in only a few doors, as two other hot lines.
Jane Scott, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Bloomingdale's, said color is lacking a strong direction, so individual items have taken over, led by long-lasting lipstick, mascara and wet-dry makeup.
"There's a lot of industry speak about color, color, color," Scott said. "My guess is we're still selling wearable makeup. A broad cross-section of the public continues to be comfortable with natural makeup."
But Scott said she is seeing a growing trend of customers "spicing up" the natural look with a little color.
In the foundation category, Scott pointed to two trends. First, she said, manufacturers have done a good job of simplifying their lineups, often incorporating the same shade in more than one formula. Second, women are using self-tanners in place of foundation.
Bloomingdale's top-selling brands are Lauder, Lancôme and Clinique, Scott said, adding that Chanel and Prescriptives also have been key to the store's business.
Sales of color cosmetics and treatment combined are up in the high single digits, Scott said, and the store is projecting similar results through the end of the year.
Although neutrals have been dominating the overall color cosmetics business at Saks Fifth Avenue, Steve Bock, senior vice president and divisional merchandise manager, said, "Lipstick is becoming more and more important, and color in lipstick is becoming more important."
Among the fast-moving lipsticks are YSL's Rouge Pur and Lauder's Double Matte, said Bock, who noted that glosses have made a powerful return with Prescriptives.
Overall, Saks' best-selling makeup lines are Chanel, YSL, Lauder and Lancôme, Bock said, adding that Christian Dior, Givenchy and Prescriptives also are getting excellent results.
Makeup sales at Saks are lagging behind treatment and fragrance, Bock said, noting there is "room for improvement." Although overall color cosmetics sales are "flat to up 5 percent," Bock said some lines, such as YSL, Givenchy and Dior, have had gains of up to 30 or 40 percent.
Bock added, "Fall certainly looks more exciting than spring did."
At Henri Bendel, where makeup accounts for 75 percent of the color and treatment business, even the preponderance of neutrals didn't slow down makeup sales, according to Louise MacKenzie, vice president and general merchandise manager.
"We were actually showing [the customers] how to apply a very neutral look," MacKenzie said. "It did, in fact, need a lot of steps."
She added, "With the comeback of berries and color for fall, we'll be even stronger."
Lip products lead the Bendel's business, but MacKenzie said the store has been doing well with eyeliners and multiple eyeshadows, particularly as the smokier eye gains popularity. MacKenzie noted that Bendel's typical customers come into the store to learn "how to create an interesting eye."
Top lines in Bendel's department include MAC, Chanel, Trish McEvoy and Shiseido.
Color cosmetics have had sales gains in the double digits across the board year-to-date, MacKenzie said, adding that she expects to keep up that pace through 1994.
"I think it is appropriate that fall features more dramatic color, and I think it will be well received," she said.

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