Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — Midway through a recent birthday party, an urban beauty junkie whipped out her barbell-shaped, brushed silver Philippe Prive lipstick for a quick reapplication. Before she could slip it back into her purse, some male friends — who don’t know MAC from Maybelline — demanded to see it.
“That is wild,” one exclaimed, as the lipstick was passed around the room.
In another beauty-obsessed city, a boutique owner was running a focus group for a major cosmetics company to test a new line of makeup. The women unanimously panned the products because of the blah packaging.
“If anybody saw me take that out in public, I’d be horrified!” cried one of the participants.
Packaging, it seems, is everything today. As a result, the beauty industry is shifting away from the ubiquitous basic black packaging popularized by the makeup artist lines of the Nineties in favor of compacts and containers that make a statement.
Just look at the most recent makeup launches. Calvin Klein’s new line features Fabien Baron-designed acrylic and metal packaging that is minimalist, but with a cool architectural quality thanks to its sharp edges and sleek shapes. The makeup line from Los Angeles eyebrow expert Anastasia features faux-metal packaging embossed with garlands and an ornate letter A that resembles a butterfly.
“Hippie rococo” best describes the packaging in Anna Sui’s makeup line, which debuted in 1999. In creating the embellished black pots and containers, the designer was inspired by her jet jewelry collection and by her carved black wooden furniture. All the boxes have a retro rose print on the outside and lavender on the inside — the exact shade found on the walls of Sui’s boutiques.
Watosa, the cosmetics collection from Japanese makeup artist Sablo Watanabe, looks like beautifully wrapped gifts, thanks to the colorful striped paper packaging. “That packaging knocked me off my feet, and I’m a packaging freak,” said Robin Coe-Hutshing, owner of Fred Segal Essentials in Santa Monica, Calif.
Elena Frankel, the owner of E6 Apothecary in Boston, flipped when she saw a tiny blurb about Watosa in Vogue. “The last time I got this excited about packaging was with Stila five, six years ago,” she said. “You don’t want to get too caught up in the packaging, but Watosa is so sweet and innovative.”
Scarlett Messina, whose Scarlett makeup comes in plain stock packaging, started doing kitschy, limited-edition pieces last year. Her Casino Collection featured lipstick in stacked dice and eye shadows in gambling chips. This spring, she struck again with Beauty-a-Bowl — eye shadows in bowling balls and lipsticks in bowling pins.
Some products, like Parfum Givenchy’s lipsticks and nail polishes and Prive’s entire line, look as if they came straight from an art gallery. It’s no surprise, then, to find out that Givenchy’s makeup line, relaunched last year, got its futuristic look from a sculptor who was hired to redesign the packaging. It’s space-age but functional, with mirrors on the lipstick case.
Practicality doesn’t seem to have been an issue for Philippe Prive, who is a French architect as well as makeup entrepreneur. His curvy lipstick cases are eye-catching but bulky and could never be slipped into the back pocket of a tight pair of Earl Jeans. The wedge-shaped cap for Prive’s nail polish bottle is both heavy and hard to hold. And as for his pressed powder, it comes in a round metal container that is twice the size and twice the weight of a hockey puck. It took three WWD editors to figure out how to open it.
But Prive does have a following for his makeup, which is one of the best-selling brands on
Even Bobbi Brown, who is known for her black packaging, has embraced the trend with her new line, ColorOptions. Each product comes in a box that reflects the color of the product inside.
“Basic packaging that looks like private label packaging doesn’t work anymore,” said Andrea Pomerantz Lustig, editor in chief of “It has to have something extra.”
Blame it on the fashion world. The minimalist has been shoved aside to make way for the rich bohemian. “We’re in such a great moment for color and texture, and black has been so passe for a couple of seasons,” said Amy Astley, beauty director of Vogue. “Witness the Fendi baguette.”
Astley credits Stila with launching the makeup packaging revolution. “They had a look that was completely, completely new,” she said.
When the line launched in 1994 with lipstick cases and eye shadow pots made of cardboard, no one had seen anything quite like it. But creator Jeanine Lobell wasn’t trying to be revolutionary. When she decided to introduce her own line and went around to cosmetics manufacturers, none of them wanted to take on the project because the quantities were too small. So she went outside the industry to a tube manufacturer.
“I looked at what MAC had done and asked myself how I could do it better,” said Lobell. “I wanted it to be quirky and striking.”
But now, Lobell admits she has raised the bar for other companies. “If you came out with a makeup artist line after mine, you had to think about it more than I did.”
One big influence on cosmetics companies today in regard to packaging is the open-sell environment found in stores like Sephora, DFS, Douglas and certain department and specialty stores. Now, products have to sell themselves, sometimes without the help of a beauty adviser.
“Leonard Lauder gave me the best advice about open sell,” said Lobell, referring to the chairman of the Estee Lauder Cos. “He said the front of the bottle is so important now because you’re thinking about self-serve.The front has to be inviting and tell you what it is in this whole other environment.”
At Sephora, said Lustig, the packaging is part of the decor. “It’s like a color-and-packaging oasis,” she noted. “The packaging and products are the visuals of the store, and that’s what intrigues the consumers.”
As a result, she added, “Packaging that is simple looks dated.”
The Internet is another place where packaging needs to entice the customer. A colorful compact from, say, Body & Soul or Bourjois is going to stand out onscreen more than a basic black pot of color would, especially on sites where the graphics are not terribly sharp.
For her part, E6’s Frankel hopes the trend away from basic packaging doesn’t die anytime soon.
“I always have people come in with a black lipstick tube and the label is worn off and we can’t even tell whose line it is,” she said. “That never happens with Shu Uemura or T. LeClerc or Too Faced.”