Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — There’s something about working at Kiehl’s that brings out the entrepreneurial edge in a beauty-minded person. Demeter co-founder Chris Brosius spent time there, as did Trae Bodge and Chad Hayduk of Three Custom Color Specialists.
Now, Stephen Musumeci, who developed some of Kiehl’s best-loved products as the company’s chemist, is launching a collection of lipsticks under the Stephen Est. 1985 label. The line will be featured at Fred Segal Apothia in Los Angeles and at the Demeter store in the East Village starting in May. Further distribution will be limited to specialty stores and beauty boutiques.
The lipstick line is called Compliments because the colors are designed to work with all skin tones. There are six shades of lipstick and each is available for light, medium or dark skin tones for a total of 18 stockkeeping units. There also are three lip glosses and three Complimentoners (in light, medium or dark) that women can use to make certain lipstick shades look more flattering with their skin tone.
Musumeci, who is prone to scribbling diagrams of pigments and procedures on napkins, looks and acts more like a droll chemistry teacher than a cosmetics industry executive. He has worked for Estee Lauder and Avon and he helped Bobbi Brown develop her first lipstick shades. He was Kiehl’s chief chemist from 1983 until last year, when the company was sold to L’Oreal.
Musumeci didn’t know anything about Kiehl’s until he answered an ad the company had placed looking for a cosmetics and pharmaceutical chemist and arrived at its quirky Third Avenue headquarters for a meeting with owner Aaron Morse.
“I’ve worked for these huge corporations and I turn the corner and see this little storefront,” recalled Musumeci. To make things worse, Morse said he couldn’t conduct the interview that afternoon, but Musumeci insisted, saying he had come all the way from Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania?” asked Morse. “I don’t want to hire someone from Pennsylvania.”
He finally took a look at Musumeci’s resume. When he saw that the scientist had emulsified iodine, he was so impressed that he peeled $400 off a large wad of cash and told Musumeci to head to B. Altman’s to buy some products and evaluate them. Musumeci eventually got the job and grew to regard the Kiehl’s owners and employees as his family. He had quite a successful run there and created cult products like Creme with Silk Groom, Ultra Facial Moisturizer and Pineapple Papaya Scrub.
The name Stephen Est. 1985 comes from a small side business Musumeci launched that year in which he created customized shades of lipstick, or matched discontinued colors for distraught consumers.
Musumeci plans to expand his company into other categories, the first of which will probably be shampoos and conditioner. He’s also working on some skin care items inspired by a recent vacation in the Virgin Islands. While there, he noticed his and his wife’s skin getting smoother because of the humidity.
The packaging for all the products, from the lipsticks to the ones launching later this year, has a simple stock look. “It’s like Kiehl’s,” he said. “It’s all about the products, not the packaging.”
Musumeci said he expects Stephen Est. 1985 to do $1 million at retail this year.