NEW YORK —?Beauty’s involvement at the fashion tents this season has grown to such a spirited pitch that vying for a spot backstage has become a show in and of itself.

And, for the first time, mass companies are commanding just as much attention as luxury brands by supporting backstage beauty for designers and by writing six-figure checks for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week sponsorships.

Most notably stirring the pot is the addition of two mass beauty brands, Dr. Scholl’s and Aveeno, to Fashion Week’s beauty sponsorship list. In keeping with tradition, only one key cosmetics brand — Shu Uemura — and one key hair care brand — Redken — took top sponsorship slots, but the addition of Dr. Scholl’s pedicure pits and Aveeno’s lotion handouts were a drastic change to the luxury image current sponsors offer.

While seeing Dr. Scholl’s products in such close proximity to $5,000 dresses shocked some fashion snobs, a sponsorship for Schering-Plough Corp., Dr. Scholl’s parent, allows the fashion public to look at the brand in a new way. "People don’t necessarily think of us as trying to make feet beautiful — but we are," said Nancy Imbalzano, senior product manager for the Dr. Scholl’s brand, which sponsored a booth in the tents that highlighted the brand’s products. The booth also showed off the brand’s new pedicure line and a number of comfort insole products the company is currently marketing. "It makes sense to present that message here, where we have the opportunity to present it to editors and image makers going to the shows." As well, the brand’s three pedicure stations, headed up by nail artist Maria Salandra, were constantly booked, she noted.

Fern Mallis, vice president and executive director of 7th on Sixth, the producers of fashion week, said that beauty overall is playing a larger role at the shows.

"It has become more visible, but it has also become more integral," Mallis said. She added that an official fashion week sponsorship offers a brand key signage, banners and advertising opportunities unavailable to nonsponsors. She pointed to Redken, which is also supporting 15 shows backstage, as a key example.Sponsorships, such as Redken’s, which cost in the six figures, may be heating up the competition to create beauty looks for designers’ shows backstage, which cost much less but offer the same cachet.

Celine Kaplan, director of public relations for Bourjois, said the brand picks up the entire makeup bill when it supports a designer’s show, which can range from $5,000 to $12,000. "That means there are no makeup costs for the designer, which helps out smaller designers," she said. This year, Bourjois sponsored shows including Alice Roi and Betsey Johnson.

Sponsorship fees, overall, generally include payment to the lead makeup artist, the rest of the makeup team, all cosmetics used and, in many cases, goody bags. Kaplan said getting sponsorship is becoming more and more competitive as big-name companies flaunt their clout.

And, others say, their checkbooks, too. More than one source said that beauty brands have been writing checks to help fund show costs, in addition to paying for makeup costs.

Avon Salon & Spa admits to helping fund Nicole Miller’s show, but what they shelled out in sponsoring fees didn’t come near the $50,000 the company spent on front-of-house giveaways, including $50 spa gift certificates, Brad Johns hair care products and products from Eliza’s brow collection, in addition to supporting backstage beauty, according to Jennifer Wolinetz of Avon.

"We felt this was an extraordinary opportunity to participate with a designer and make our first entrance into a beauty venue like this. It’s a new direction for us," Wolinet said.

Pat Parenty, Redken’s senior vice president and general manager, said Redken has never paid off a designer in return for a show sponsorship, but like Avon, Redken gave an undisclosed sum to the Proenza Schouler show, and also supplied hair services. But Parenty said Redken does not compete in money for designers. "We are not into that at all."

Another result of having only one hair care and one makeup sponsor under the tents is the competition it spurs between beauty brands to support venues outside of Bryant Park. Under and around the tents, beauty companies, aside from Fashion Week sponsors, are limited to goody bags and prominent product placement backstage to get attention. But a beauty brand supporting a show off-site has much more free range, and can plaster posters and even ads on a runway’s sides. This exclusivity, however, can generate a bit of paranoia. At one off-site location, a makeup artist at a MAC-sponsored show was seen hiding a Physician’s Formula compact in her makeup bag after applying the powder to a model’s face. At other shows, artists working for competing brands were said to be removing the Shu Uemura signage from backstage so as not to compete with their own brands.John Demsey, president of MAC, thinks such antics are unnecessary, knowing full well that no artist uses just one makeup brand. "Not everything is pure-play of your own product, no matter who you are. But I’d say that a good 70 to 80 percent of the products our artists use are MAC. But if someone uses Shu Uemura, good for them. If they use Stila, congratulations. We have had shows referred to us by Jeanine Lobell, [president and founder of Stila]. Granted, we are part of the same corporation, but she is still our competition."

MAC’s connection with Fashion Week began years ago at the Paris collections with makeup artist Frances Hathaway, and has evolved into a 145-show franchise. For New York Fashion Week, MAC is sponsoring 49 of the 112 shows. Demsey said MAC’s strong presence backstage is due to the brand’s heritage, as opposed to its deep pockets. "We would not get this type of association if we didn’t have the talent and if we didn’t have the product," he said.

Demsey wouldn’t get into the financials of sponsoring a show, but he said supporting beauty backstage is not a money-making venture. "The reason why we get involved is for creative inspiration, in terms of using it as a road test for ideas in the future."

Lobell agreed: "I always get tons of ideas for makeup at the shows," she said, noting that many colors and formulations she’s tested at other shows — including the recently released Demi Creme lip color line — make it into her lineup, on an average of six months later. This season, for instance, Lobell held up a hot pink she was using at Cynthia Steffe, noting that it was slated to become an addition to her Convertible Color lineup for the fall. "You get to see what works and what doesn’t," she noted.

However, according to Lobell, being a part of the shows shouldn’t be all about the makeup brand. "In my opinion, the shows should be about what’s right for the designer and the clothes, not necessarily about what’s right for my brand," she said. "It’s not about hawking my products. If the designer wants green eye shadow and I’d planned something else, the designer gets the green eye shadow. And really, the brand should be a good fit for the designer. There are some shows my style and brand wouldn’t work for; they’d be an awkward fit."Still, the most entrenched of department store makeup brands are also finding that being a part of the shows can lend a little street credibility. For instance, one of the "Big Three" of the department store makeup world, Lancôme, stepped further into the show arena this season, handling the makeup for Badgley Mischka, Tracy Reese and Gen Art. Another big player, Shiseido, was a part of at least five shows, including Zac Posen and Proenza Schouler.

And they aren’t the only ones gaining a little extra exposure for their products. Linda Cantello used her own line at Carolina Herrera, Anne Klein and Behnaz Sarafpour, while Wende Zomnir of Urban Decay was spotted with several of her own colors in hand at Heatherette. Nail artists were also more prominent this season than in the past, with Ji Baek of Rescue Beauty Lounge and Deborah Lippman of Lippman Collection each doing about 10 shows, and Creative Nail Design serving as a sponsor of the MAO Space venue, which featured about five designers.

Beauty’s involvement in fashion has become so entrenched that companies like Shu Uemura and Redken have committed to three-year, six-season agreements.

"Being a part of the shows works for us on so many different levels," noted Michelle Kwok, marketing manager for Shu Uemura. "We are hoping to expand our distribution in the near future, and the people attending the shows meet the demographic we are trying to reach."

Bounce-back cards being handed out in the brand’s booth in the tents also direct customers to Shu Uemura’s SoHo boutique. In fact, for some, the tents were one big sampling opportunity, with Aveeno, Shu Uemura and Redken, among others, handing out samples from their lines.

The influence of the shows also ends up in many other arenas that affect the products’ end users, including advertising, education and services at salons.

"My makeup artists work with me and then go on to do other events [including] in-store," said Bobbi Brown, founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. "And my educators come [to the shows] with me."

As a result, she said, the brand’s training programs are able to adapt elements from the shows. "We bring back to counter what we did. It’s a way to change — we look forward to changes every six months. Also, we shoot videos backstage and show them on-counter. We teach women how to take a look from a show and make it work," Brown said, citing as an example the look she created for Bruce’s fall presentation on Tuesday — a look she described as "wearable."The shows also influence elements of Brown’s marketing campaigns. "We do our ads after the shows," said Brown, "to get an idea of what they should look like."

And Rodney Cutler, owner of Cutler Salon — which was part of the Redken team at a number of shows — is all for the energy that they bring to his salon. "Our artists gain additional show experience," he said, "and they bring the inspiration that they gain backstage to the salon."

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