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Urban Decay Marks 20 Years in Business, Resets Setting Sprays

The brand was integral in making makeup setting sprays such as its bestselling All Nighter significant sales drivers at stores.

In the two decades since its founding, Urban Decay has surprised the beauty industry on countless occasions: it showed that a high-impact color cosmetics authority could make a splash with neutrals, brand-led e-commerce wasn’t a death knell, social media required serious stewardship, makeup products meant to go underneath makeup would be a big-time business, and perennially perfecting a product yields winners.

“One of my philosophies has been we are never done,” said Wende Zomnir, Urban Decay’s cofounder and chief creative officer. “We have redone our eye shadows three or four times. That’s my mind-set, and people always love when we bring back products and make them better.”

Six years after they originally launched, Urban Decay is releasing retooled makeup setting sprays. It’s not doing so because they weren’t moving in stores. In fact, the iconic All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray is Urban Decay’s second-best-selling stockkeeping unit and only Naked Ultimate Basics surpasses it. The brand has retooled the setting sprays because Zomnir wasn’t fully satisfied with their packaging.

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“The bottle picked up makeup grime, and my fresh pretty white bottle always looked grungy and gross,” she lamented. The solution? Urban Decay swapped the white bottle out for a soft black bottle capped with a lavender fine-mist sprayer and adorned with lavender script running across it detailing what’s inside. What’s inside hasn’t changed. Urban Decay’s three setting sprays created in partnership with Skindinavia – the stalwart All Nighter, oil-controlling De-Slick and cooling Chill – still boast temperature control technology designed to keep makeup in place for up to 16 hours.

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“Our setting sprays hold up because we are the only one with temperature control technology. That’s the ingredient that gives us the true, long-lasting ability. There are other sprays that are nice and feel good,” said Zomnir, continuing, “With a lot of the other sprays, you don’t get an ultrafine mist. It feels like little water droplets hitting your face. Our spray is like a veil of hydration hitting your face.”

Available at Sephora, Ulta Beauty and select Macy’s locations, the $31 sprays helped convince stores that products intended for makeup prep are lucrative. It’s an undeniable reversal from an initial reluctance to carry them. “Some retailers said we don’t understand this, and we are not going to take it, but that didn’t stop us from doing it,” recalled Tim Warner, the brand’s chief executive officer. “It has been a great success, and it has fulfilled a need that was out there.” Zomnir added, “This was something people were waiting for. It was at the right place in the right time. It was at the moment when people were starting to wear more makeup, and they were looking to make their makeup last.”

On top of upgrading its setting spray bottles, Urban Decay has refurbished its complexion primers by putting them in lime-green containers. It has also expanded the complexion primer range that started in collaboration with Skindinavia in 2013 with B6 Prep Spray by introducing Quick Fix Hydra-Charged Complexion Prep Priming Spray for $31. Quick Fix was formulated for people with dry skin in mind. “If you put makeup onto a dry face with dry patches, as soon as you apply it, that dry flakey skin is magnified to the eye. This improves the look of your skin instantly,” said Zomnir. “Even if you are not wearing makeup, it will make your skin look better. That extra boost of hydration plumps everything up and makes you look refreshed.”

The setting sprays and complexion primers are outgrowths of the unique, 11-year relationship between colleagues Warner and Zomnir that balances financial realities with efforts to push the product envelope. That balance has been been key to Urban Decay’s rise. In the third quarter, owner L’Oréal lauded the “excellent performance” of its luxury division, which includes Urban Decay, that registered a like-for-like sales leap of 9.3 percent to nearly 1.9 billion euros or $1.95 billion at the current exchange rate. “We really are peers in this. We trust each other,” said Warner of him and Zomnir. “My focus is really on the business side of it and on profitability, and I’m always a great proponent of her creativity. I would never squash a creative idea because cost of goods doesn’t meet the typical parameters. You need to be able to take risks.”

Zomnir pointed to Urban Decay’s commitment to product quality and technological forward-thinking as crucial to its longevity as well. Warner said Urban Decay was among the first beauty brands, if not the first, to sell products on its own e-commerce site. He and Zomnir both emphasized that the brand bringing on board a dedicated social-media professional in 2008 was a pivotal decision. Back then, Zomnir remembered, “Tim was like, ‘We are going to hire someone to sit around all day and play on Facebook.’ We were like, ‘Yeah,’ and he said, ‘OK.’ Tim is always really open to our crazy ideas, and it did seem like a crazy idea to take a whole position for social media. Now, if you only have one person doing social media, you are crazy.”

On the product quality front, Zomnir fights to maintain Urban Decay’s standards. “I just had a call with [L’Oréal Luxe USA group president] Carol Hamilton about the importance of product quality, and she gets it. It’s one of the things I liked about them [L’Oréal] when I met them. They do understand product integrity,” she remarked. “That said, I do push back all the time. It is a big company. A lot of people have their fingers in different pies. And it’s important not to lose the fact that we have to stand up for ourselves, and L’Oréal appreciates it when I say, ‘That’s not right for our brand.’”

Firmly entrenched in the U.S., Urban Decay is making a global push. In its third-quarter earnings release, L’Oréal disclosed the brand entered 10 new countries this year. Warner estimated that international distribution could eventually account for as much as 40 to 45 percent of its revenues, up from 30 to 35 percent today, while noting, “We still have very dynamic growth in the U.S.” Ultimately, Warner stressed Urban Decay will sustain momentum by sticking to the tactics that have been effective so far. “We have had a consistent strategy. We don’t change at the end of the year or overreact. We keep marching forward with great innovative products and creating great interaction with consumers at retail,” he said. “That’s the same strategy we deploy in all the countries we open. It’s kind of simple.”