POPPY KING STAGES HER COMEBACK

Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — Poppy King has been on a two-year roller-coaster ride that, surprisingly, has ended in the Tunnel of Love.
As the Australian tabloids recently reported, the 27-year-old cosmetics entrepreneur is dating Adam Trescowthick, the 34-year-old executive who rescued her company, Poppy Industries, and is its chairman.
It’s no surprise that the papers Down Under jumped on the love match. Trescowthick is also the chairman of Harris Scarfe, the Australian department store chain, and King — an offbeat beauty with big, green eyes — is a tabloid darling in Australia.
“If you use the press to promote your business, you can’t complain when they cover other aspects of your life,” said King. At least, she added, the current stories were positive compared with the extensive coverage she received when Poppy Industries was on the brink of collapse two years ago. “It was such a drama,” she said. “Maybe I attract drama?”
In April 1998 when King brought on Tab and Eva Fried as investors and business partners. She then announced ambitious plans to expand her brand into categories like handbags and stationery, and she hoped to showcase everything in a concept store in SoHo. But things quickly went sour when she and her partners couldn’t agree on strategy. They split, and King was forced to put her company into voluntary receivership.
It was a tense time for King as she came close to losing the beauty brand she founded at the age of 19. Dozens of firms were interested in buying Poppy Industries, but none was obliged to retain her as an employee.
Enter Trescowthick. Not only did King keep her job as chief executive officer of Poppy Industries, but she found a boss — and a boyfriend — who shares her vision for the brand.
“He bought Poppy Industries as part of a private syndicate of investors of which he owns the majority stake,” noted King. “He was interested because he felt the brand had enormous potential and he could provide the stable business background from which it could grow.”
With the receivership behind her, King has been busy getting Poppy back on track — especially in the U.S. The brand has been sold here since 1993, but has failed to break out of cult status. That seems likely to change, as King has expanded Poppy’s distribution and added several new products.
According to industry sources, Poppy is expected to grow more than 50 percent in 2000 and do more than $5 million at retail.
“Poppy has a cult following right now, but she has a huge opportunity to reach a wider audience. She’s extremely creative and innovative,” said Heidi Manheimer, the former Barneys New York executive who launched Poppy in 1993. “Now she is in a situation financially and personally where she can invest more time, energy and money in making her brand work in the U.S.”
Late last year, Sephora and Nordstrom started carrying the brand in select doors. Sephora will bring Poppy into Japan later this year, and Nordstrom may start carrying Poppy’s lingerie line — available currently in Australia — in the near future. Fred Segal Essentials, the cult beauty boutique in Santa Monica, Calif., started carrying Poppy this month.
King was courted by several of the Internet’s pure-play sites, but she decided to go with Eve.com. “We wanted our online partner to be very special, and I feel that Eve has elegance and credibility,” she said.
To handle all the activity, King has hired a U.S. business manager, Kim Haynes, who was previously MAC’s manager of retail operations for the central region. Haynes is based in Dallas.
Although Barneys New York no longer carries Poppy on an exclusive basis, the retail chain is putting major support behind the brand. Poppy has been added to the beauty lineup in the New York flagship’s renovated Co-op department, and the ground-floor counter is being expanded and updated. Poppy also will be part of the beauty mix in the new Barneys New York Co-op store when it opens this May in Chelsea.
Later this month, King will be making appearances at the Barneys beauty departments in New York on April 17 and 18, Chicago on April 19 and Los Angeles on April 21 and 22. King, who isn’t a makeup artist, will meet with customers and train counter personnel.
Mary Lavo, Barneys’ divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics and fragrances, said the chain had remained loyal to King because she remained loyal to Barneys.
“I think that Poppy is one of those special people you want to do special things for,” said Lavo. “She remained exclusive to us even when her investors pushed her to expand, and she has a wonderful following.”
King is expanding into new product categories. “We were in a bit of a holding pattern for a while there, product-wise,” admitted King, “but now we’re bringing out new items every season.”
This month, she launched four loose powder blushes, at $15 each, and three pressed powders, at $16 apiece. In May, King will introduce Heat, a trio of lip glosses in her favorite color, red. Each will retail for $12.50.
“I’m a red fanatic,” said King, who is rarely without her trademark matte red lipstick. “The image of Jerry Hall walking out of Studio 54 with bright red lips was a big inspiration for Heat.”
To go with the glosses, King will launch Stay Put, a creamy clear pencil that is said to prevent lipstick from bleeding and feathering. It will retail for $11.50.
Despite all the activity in the U.S., King isn’t neglecting her primary market, Australia. She is firing up her publicity machine Down Under with some fun, innovative promotional tactics. Women who visit the ladies’ room at certain clubs in Sydney and Melbourne will find the words “Poppy’s Here” scrawled in lipstick on bathroom mirrors.
Since the Summer Olympics are being held in Sydney this year, King has created a lipstick for some members of the Australian gymnastics team to wear during competition. Called Grace, it will be sold for a limited time starting in September and will retail for $12.50.
“I am working on perfecting the color now. It is a first for me as it will be highly shimmery, but still very matte. Like a glittery crayon,” King said. “The girls need to sparkle at the Olympics!”
Instead of hiring an advertising agency to handle her “Saint and Sinner” holiday ad campaign, King will employ students from the Swinburne Institute of Design, an elite graphic design school in Melbourne, to create the advertisements.
In May, King will turn the storefront windows of the Myers Department Store into a cafe for a week. Customers can step into the windows for a cup of coffee and a Poppy makeover, while passersby watch the goings-on.
It’s no surprise King came up with a gimmick like this, given how used she is to public scrutiny. While she hopes her antics will cease to have amusement-park appeal, she’s prepared if they don’t.
“Now,” she promised, “I’ve got my seat belt on!”