By  on June 9, 2006

NEW YORK — For a woman who claims she's never dated a man with a "desk job," Lauren Hutton sits comfortably behind her desk as president and chief executive officer of a $20 million beauty company that expressly targets women over the age of 40.

Hutton, who introduced her namesake cosmetics collection in September 2002 at the age of 58, said the products resonate with mature women looking for solutions to new problems, such as thinning skin or fine lines.

Having built her business through the Home Shopping Network — where Lauren Hutton is the second-best-selling makeup line — and infomercials, the company is currently in talks with department stores and aims to have a retail presence in at least one by early 2007.

Industry sources estimate that with retail distribution the line could reach $40 million to $50 million in sales after one year.

With established beauty firms — including Revlon with Vital Radiance and Procter & Gamble's Cover Girl — still fine-tuning how to speak to older women, Hutton said she's been successful by being frank.

"I've always been very direct about my age. I've told the truth," said Hutton. "The point is not to grow old, it's to go up."

Hutton's honesty about her age has not always been met with admiration. In 1984, she was fired from Revlon — after 10 years as a spokesmodel — when she turned 40. "Women over 40," they told her, Hutton recalled, "don't wear makeup."

"I told them to take me back, that they needed me," she said.

Hutton said that even at the time, she anticipated beauty firms would one day seek out mature models to front their brands and speak directly to women over 40.

"I knew it would have to come," she said. Sure enough, Revlon introduced Vital Radiance this spring, and Cover Girl rehired Christie Brinkley to front Advanced Radiance Age-Defying foundation.

In a move to get ahead of the trend, Hutton returned to modeling when she was 47. But makeup artists with noble intentions of making her look "younger" used a palette of mica and pearlized formulas on her face. "I knew a lot about makeup," said Hutton, now 62, adding that shimmer-laden shades are not suitable for mature skin. So she began mixing her own formulas in her kitchen."After 40, we look different. Our shadows have moved, and we need to put makeup in different places than before," said Hutton. Today, her 38-item collection includes Custom Blend Foundation, two shades of sheer foundation in one compact, for $29; the skin cream Phyto Face Firm, for $30, and Face Disc, a palette of shades for the entire face along with an instructional video for $60.

Hutton's interest in educating women about how to enhance their appearance prompted the company to delve into infomercials in March 2005, a move that helped bolster sales 400 percent over 2004, noted Douglas Cooper, chief operating officer for Lauren Hutton. He added that the company also has a database of 250 million active customers from its infomercials.

Cooper acknowledged the flurry of activity in the antiaging cosmetics segment, including L'Oréal Paris recently recruiting Jane Fonda and Diane Keaton, but he said, "What's different about this line is that Lauren created it out of her own need."

Virginia Lee, senior research analyst for Euromonitor, said that antiaging lines translate well via television retailing. As for the prospects at retail, she noted drugstores are a good fit, but doubts that entries such as Vital Radiance are growing the category. In fact, last week Revlon acknowledged that Vital Radiance is "a slower build" than expected, and as a result the firm lowered its 2006 outlook.

But Cooper believes Hutton could pull off what several multibillion-dollar beauty firms have yet to achieve.

"Wherever Lauren's able to tell her story, the line will be successful."

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