High Definition Makeup

Revlon founder Charles Revson’s once said: “In the factories we make cosmetics, in the stores we sell hope.” Revson would have enjoyed this week’s press coverage of “high definition” makeup, which ignited the media as if someone had tossed a compact filled with pressed gunpowder in the newsroom of the Associated Press and The Wall Street Journal.

Still, you couldn’t ask for a more outstanding example of the influence of the Digital Lifestyle Ubertrend on our voracious consumer culture. High definition has captured the consumer’s fancy because it delivers faces good enough to withstand the microscopic scrutiny of high-definition television.

Understandably, this trend starts with the celebrity set, which has entrusted its countenance to the expert hands of makeup artists who have been using airbrush guns for years. Now the airbrushed look has a host of hi-def makeup suppliers, including Cargo, Christian Dior, Kett, Makeup Forever, Obsessive Compulsive, Smashbox Studios and Temptu.

The business was propelled by Dina Ousely, whose role in Shampoo opposite Warren Beatty helped launch her career as “the original airbrush makeup artist to the stars” in 1981. While the movie industry has been using airbush systems since the days of MGM’s movie classic Ben Hur, Ousley’s company, Dinair, mainstreamed the technique.

Japanese eyelashesDramatic, smoky eyes combined with nude lips was the “mod” look that dominated the trendy visage of fashionistas worldwide. But the Generation X-tasy Ubertrend continues to push the makeup envelope, as exemplified by the Japanese “eye wig” phenomenon.

But it was HDTV and its revealing 1080i resolution that pushed airbrush makeup into the limelight. Now consumers are lining up at department store counters worldwide to lay their hands on a tube of high-definition primer or bottle of HD foundation.

The high-definition phenomenon has floated the boat of the cosmetics industry, helping maintain sales momentum despite a soft economy. Deutsche Bank analyst Bill Schmitz Jr. reported in a note to investors that sales of color cosmetics rose 1.2% year-over-year for the four-week period ending August 10.

According to Euromonitor, global color cosmetics sales reached $37 billion in 2007, up 5% over 2006. Despite the rise, color cosmetics lag the industry, with only the commoditized bath and shower category and depilatories recording lower growth in 2007.

One promising area is makeup containing natural ingredients. In 2007, global sales of natural and organic cosmetics were estimated at $7 billion, driven chiefly by North America and Europe, which accounted for most of the $1 billion sales increase last year.

While lagging in growth, color cosmetics remains the most fashion-forward sector of the beauty industry, influencing the consumer market through extensive catwalk exposure. Eye makeup, at $10 billion the largest color cosmetics segment, enjoyed another year of category-leading growth at 6% in 2007, according to Euromonitor.

Factors that positively influence the cosmetics market, such as high-tech ingredients for professional results or faster and improved application, a growing priority for time-compressed consumers, bodes well for the color cosmetics market, particularly its high-definition niche.

Cargo blu_rayCanadian makeup company Cargo has launched a high-definition product line, called blu_ray, that borrows a page from the HDTV market. A one-ounce bottle of Cargo’s Hi-Def S/B makeup, which can be applied by airbrush or hand, costs $25, not much more than Clinique’s Perfectly Real foundation ($23). Shown: blu_ray High Definition Mattifier ($26).

As consumers connect high definition with best-performing makeup, category sales will surge. The airbrush home appliance looks very promising based on developments in related categories. Already, airbrush technology has spilled over to tanning devices, like GlowFusion.

At Amazon.com, buyers report glowing results from using a Clarisonic ($160) power cleaning device that earned a “Best of Sephora 2008” award. Neutrogena recently joined the fray with the Wave Power Cleanser ($15).

Uslu Air(o)pakThe Uslu Airlines Air(o)pak 2.0 (€533; $757) is an elegant, second-generation portable airbrush system that shows the direction of future makeup appliances, albeit at a much lower cost of course.

In 2010, global cosmetics and toiletry sales will top $300 billion, predicts Euromonitor. Of this figure more than half will be generated by the fastest-growing sectors, cosmetics and personal care. Driven by the Fountain of Youth Ubertrend, skin care will top $35 billion that year. And the widespread acceptance of HD makeup among the Hollywood and fashionista crowd will continue to fuel cosmetics sales growth, which is a beautiful thing to see.