POOLE: MAKING A CASE FOR COSMETICS KNOWLEDGE
Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones
LOS ANGELES — Louise Bonnet is set to go single.
Since launching the cult cosmetic line Poole last year, the founder has been making a case for an all-in-one product with “idiot-proof” instructions and every eye shadow, lip color, brush and any other element (including a mirror) required to complete a particular look. The face behind the 10 looks of the first two waves has been Smashing Pumpkins’ bassist Melissa auf de Maur, with each of the elements of those images contained in a diminutive black, then polished chrome case.
An international base of retailers — including Sephora, ready to accept its first order this spring — weren’t the only ones who caught on to the concept. All-in-one cases poured into the market in time for the stocking-stuffing season, many sharing Poole hallmarks, including a Nars black rubberized case with 10 colors but no brushes and an Urban Decay Face Case that is a smaller, matte silver version complete with instructions and Next-Big-Thing singer Michal as the metamorphosing model.
“In a way this is good, because it makes it not so bizarre a concept,” Bonnet said in her heavily Swiss-accented English. “It hasn’t been always easy convincing retailers who are reluctant to give too much space to what is essentially five stockkeeping units.”
For Sephora and others, it took two developments in the nascent company’s evolution: a plastic silver case more salable than the inaugural black cardboard box, and the option of offering shadows, lip colors and brushes individually.
The singles category is set for Spring 2002. Consumers will be able to design their own look, in fact, by pairing up to six shiny chrome-like single squares in a case Bonnet was still finalizing at press time.
The expansion of distribution from boutiques to Sephora and product offerings marks the next level in Poole’s development. In coming months, the company will invade another 1,000 square feet of warehouse space to accommodate growth, bringing the total to 2,100.
Poole is currently available in 40 doors domestically, including Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Fred Segal on Melrose in Los Angeles, and available in some 10 internationally such as Harvey Nichols in London. Beautyspy.com and poolekit.com also offer the line. Sephora will boost availability initially with 10 stores, according to a buyer, including key doors in New York, San Francisco and Costa Mesa, Calif.
The Poole concept emerged after Bonnet visited a bookstore with her friend Alain Othenin-Girard, a former partner in L.A. Eyeworks. Bonnet shared Kevyn Aucoin’s book “Making Faces.” He was less than impressed at first. But Bonnet was inspired, wondering how she could’ve benefited if the looks were less theatrical, “less a disguise,” and the make up was enclosed with step-by-step instructions.
“I always liked kits,” she noted, recalling the pencil and painting kits she’d get as a child. “Even when I was doing drawings I liked doing diagrams that explained what everything was.”
She unveiled the idea to Othenin-Girard and her employer and friend Adam Silverman, co-owner of the edgy streetwear company X-Large and X-Girl. “They said, ‘This looks like such a good idea, you should do it right, because someone’s going to steal it.’ ” They agreed to back her and Poole was born in late 1998.
Silverman and Othenin-Girard consult on the infrastructure, leaving the creative aspects to Bonnet.
The thirtysomething Bonnet never imagined herself in beauty, let alone making a go of it in the United States. She relocated to Los Angeles in 1995 from her native Geneva, where she worked as a graphic illustrator in a co-op charged with progressive design projects. Her ticket stateside was as an au pair for Otenin-Girard and his family. Months later she left the nanny gig, but remained in L.A., in love with the city and a local she eventually married.
Admittedly naive to the process, Bonnet called Vogue to inquire about uber makeup artist Tom Pecheux, responsible for recent images at Gucci and Prada. “I thought he was maybe there,” she recalled, blushing, “hanging out around the office.”
Surprised, but undaunted, that a makeup artist would have an agent, she called and landed an appointment on one of his stops in Los Angeles. After hearing her out, Pecheux conceded. Emboldened by her success, Bonnet pursued auf de Maur, who had already enthusiastically lent her time and face to several Los Angeles avant-garde designers.
Pal and makeup artist Gucci Westman collaborated on the formulations, proposing how she and other pros wanted them to perform. The connections led to full-page coverage in Vogue before much of the first season landed in store displays.
While Bonnet wants reality, her tastes mingle with the fantasy of film, stage and fiction like any post-modern pop-culture fan. This season she samples inspiration from the suburban bourgeoisie of Lauren Hutton in “American Gigolo,” the “Addicted to Love” drama of Robert Palmer’s famed music video and from genuine diva, opera singer Maria Callas. “It’s not seasonal,” Bonnet says about the color choices. “It’s really just what I want for myself. Women see images from magazines and movies. They relate to those women, those characters.”
Bonnet also wants more of the public to buy Poole, although not at the expense of the line’s boutique status. While she’s kept the kits at an affordable $45 to $55 at retail, she’s not looking to be everywhere. An elitist factor remains, particularly in a market flooded with cutesy products targeting the “girlie” niche.
There’s something to that attitude in the name’s origins, which has been misreported as everything from “a pool of ideas” to someone she knows.
Poole, she finally admitted, is a butler from a Merchant-Ivory production she can’t quite recall. “I really didn’t want something that meant anything,” she sheepishly said. “It’s so unglamorous, my name anyway. Graphically, with the circles, ‘Poole’ worked out great.”