Byline: Kerry Diamond

NEW YORK — The head beauty executive at a major department store group was pondering the future of the industry recently. “Who is the next Bobbi Brown?” she asked. “Where will the next MAC come from?”
It’s a good question. As those brands have become the new classics and as the Estee Lauders, L’Oreals and LVMHs of the world have snapped up many of the hot indie companies, the playing field has been cleared for the next round of brash newcomers.
This fall has been particularly bountiful when it comes to notable indie debuts. Among all the new launches, five companies stand out for their products, packaging and personality — plus, their founders are ambitious, articulate and attractive. They are Defile, Jeni Lee, Pretty Pretty, Sue Devitt Studio and Tarte.
These upstarts are entering the industry at a time when counter space is at a premium and competition at an all-time high. Yet they do have the good fortune of stepping in at a point when the market is particularly receptive to new brands.
“I really enjoy bringing in new brands to the store,” said Robin Coe-Hutshing, the owner of Fred Segal Essentials in Santa Monica, Calif. “You create instant excitement in the store, because people love something new.”
Elizabeth Genel, the owner of JD’s Cosmetic Essentials in Westport, Conn., agreed. “The big lines that we carry definitely pay the rent, but it’s nice to have fun new things to excite the customer,” she commented. “We look for stuff that’s charming and that will add something to the store, but it can’t be so trendy that I need to get rid of it in a year.”
Bringing in new brands is a risky proposition for retailers. First of all, they’re taking a chance on brands that have no name recognition, as most young cosmetics companies don’t have money to advertise. Instead, these start-ups tend to hire public relations agencies to assist them in building their profiles through editorial mentions. Secondly, the retailers are banking on these companies to have their production issues in order.
“I’m much more careful than I used to be about the ones I select, because it’s a very expensive process,” explained Coe-Hutshing. “You’re taking a risk on your own, and you’re tying up valuable space. Our biggest problem in launching smaller lines is that they do a small product run, and when it comes time to produce more products, they don’t have the cash to do it. Then you’re out of stock on some of your top stockkeeping units.
“These brands have a responsibility to be financially sound enough to stay in production on their products,” she continued, “and to support the line, either with events or artistry support, without putting themselves out of business.”
So who do they think the winners will be among the newest brands?
Both Genel and Coe-Hutshing said it’s hard to say. “We try and figure out what’s going to be the next big thing, but sometimes I’m right and sometimes I’m wrong,” admitted Genel.
“There are certain subtle reasons why something makes it and other things miss the mark,” said Coe-Hutshing. “Sometimes it’s just the energy and the drive of the person behind the line. When you look at successful lines, there’s not a huge point of difference with many of the products, so why are some successful and some boring? The bottom line is the quality of the product and the ability of the company to get that product into people’s hands.”
Whether Defile, Jeni Lee, Pretty Pretty, Sue Devitt Studio and Tarte have what it takes to thrive remains to be seen, but they seem off to a good start. Here is a look at these promising members of this season’s freshman class:

Founder: Marc Beckman, a former lawyer and the owner and creator of the Solar FX nail polish line.
Launched: October at Harrods in London.
Positioning: Elegant and fashion inspired.
Sales Target: More than $5 million at retail in the first 12 months.
Sku’s: More than 300.
Distribution: Harrods, Sephora and
What’s Next: The company plans to open 15 freestanding Defile stores in 2001 and launch a fragrance in fall 2001.

Founder: Movie makeup artist Jeni Lee Dinkel.
Launched: August at Henri Bendel in New York.
Positioning: Makeup and skin care with expiration dates.
Sales Target: More than $1 million at retail in the first year. First-year advertising spending could top $500,000.
Sku’s: 243.
Distribution: Henri Bendel and the freestanding Jeni Lee store that opened in Cincinnati in August.
What’s Next: The company may open an additional 22 freestanding stores by the end of 2001.

Founders: Makeup artists James Vincent, who has worked for Alchemy, Stila and Urban Decay, and Nick Gavrelis, MAC’s former head of artist training and development for the Northeast.
Launched: August at Apothia at Fred Segal in Los Angeles.
Positioning: Fun and pop-culture inspired.
Sales Target: More than $3 million at retail in 2001.
Sku’s: 57.
Distribution: Apothia at Fred Segal, 4510 in Dallas, Louis Boston, Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Apothia in Brentwood, Calif., and Pretty Pretty’s Web site,
What’s Next: The company plans to expand into 30 doors by the end of 2001.

Founder: Sue Devitt, who was Francois Nars’s assistant and the creative color consultant for Awake.
Launched: September in Barneys New York. The line was first introduced in Devitt’s native Australia in February 1999.
Positioning: Urban and sophisticated.
Sales Target: $2.5 million at retail globally in the first 12 months.
Sku’s: 110.
Distribution: The line will be featured exclusively at Barneys through August 2001.
What’s Next: A line of spa products, set to launch in the U.S. in the spring.

Founders: Entrepreneur Maureen Kelly and makeup artist Troy Surratt, who is Kevyn Aucoin’s assistant.
Launched: September in Henri Bendel and on
Positioning: Chic and playful.
Sales Target: $1 million at retail in the first 12 months
Sku’s: 125.
Distribution: Henri Bendel,, Fred Segal Essentials in Los Angeles, E6 in Boston and JD’s Cosmetic Essentials in Westport, Conn.
What’s Next: Skin care in 2001.