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‘Nonsmearing’ Lipstick Makes a Vivid Imprint on Revlon

November 16, 1995

Revlon’s ColorStay Lipcolor promises a miracle for women _ unsmeared lipstick all day long. It is certainly painting a long-lasting smile on Revlon and its owner Ronald Perelman.

Introduced in June last year, ColorStay has become the No. 1-selling lipstick in drugstores and other mass merchandisers, the company says. And the timing is just right for Revlon Inc., which is quietly preparing a much-awaited initial public offering _ a crucial step in Mr. Perelman’s drive to pare the company’s total debt of $2.2 billion. Revlon won’t comment on the IPO, but speculation on Wall Street has Revlon planning to file it as early as this week.

The stakes are high for Mr. Perelman and Revlon, whose rivals are crowding the $2.3 billion mass-market cosmetics industry with increasingly high-tech tricks. Mr. Perelman has already failed once before, in 1992, to take the company public. Investors weren’t impressed with Revlon’s performance, which had been plagued by a series of write-downs and losses.

It was about then that Revlon began seeking a new product that would give a push to sales. Revlon’s management team, led by chief executive Jerry Levin, set out to address a problem that has embarrassed millions of women since the dawn of cosmetics: smearing lipstick. And the rest is ColorStay history. ``They found a niche, and they’re hammering it through with consistent marketing,″ says Allan Mottus, an industry consultant.

The process that led to the creation of ColorStay tells much about how Revlon goes about its business in the 1990s. While keeping allure in the forefront, it used technological advances to address practical problems, venturing into areas dismissed by competitors.

The problem that had to be addressed to create ColorStay lay in the chemistry of lipstick: Most lipsticks use oils and other softeners to make them easy to apply and to give lips a glossy look. But that oil is also the culprit that makes lipstick smear and spread onto coffee cups, wine glasses, clothes, teeth and other people’s faces.

To cope with the oil problem, Revlon’s researchers came up with a substitute: oil-like ingredients that quickly evaporate from the lips’ surface. What’s left are tiny beads of color contained in a chemical film, which makes it harder for the color to come off. Revlon also wrapped each of the myriad separate color pigments in a lipstick with silicone coating, to make it even harder to rub off.

Revlon’s gamble was huge, considering that the basic technology had a big shortcoming: Without the oil, the lips turn dry and chapped.

But ColorStay became a hit. Despite the hefty $8 price tag for a skimpy 0.06-ounce tube _ nearly twice the cost of other Revlon lipsticks _ floods of women responded to coupons and an ad blitz that proclaimed: ``Won’t kiss off on your teeth, your glass, or him!″

To test _ unscientifically _ the product’s claims, Regina Gussie, a New Yorker in her 30s, recently put on ColorStay lipstick at The Wall Street Journal’s request after an 8 a.m. workout at a New York health club. The lipstick lasted longer than many others she had tried, she reported. But she also said that after munching on two crackers, she found that the shade _ Raisin _ had been reduced to an ``ever-so-light stain″ by lunchtime. The lipstick also smudged her coffee cup.

Meredith Wright, another New Yorker, also sampled ColorStay for the Journal and said the Blush shade withstood a breakfast of pretzels and coffee, plus a tuna-salad lunch _ a big improvement from her regular brand, which is usually wiped clean by 10 a.m. The only problem: ``My lips are very parched,″ Ms. Wright said.

But thanks to the recent popularity of nonglossy ``matte″ lipsticks, many women were accustomed to drier lipstick texture and made repeat purchases of ColorStay. Revlon officials even acknowledge the dryness issue and are using it as the marketing hook for a separate product: ColorStay Lip Condition. At $8.50 a pop, the product claims to increase moisture in the lips by 70 percent and retain the moisture all day.

Encouraged by ColorStay Lipcolor’s success, Revlon this fall introduced ColorStay foundation and eye shadow, which the company says don’t rub off, and a perfume _ called Lasting _ that purportedly stays fragrant for 10 hours. Revlon is backing the big launches with TV ads featuring model Cindy Crawford, who rubs her face against a man’s cheek to emphasize the foundation’s nontransferring properties.

In the year ended Aug. 27, Revlon’s U.S. cosmetics sales rose 19 percent, to $569 million, according to Information Resources Inc. ColorStay played a significant role, but Revlon was also helped by other factors, including competitors’ problems. When rival Maybelline Inc. ran into distribution trouble late last year rolling out its Revitalizing makeup for older women, Revlon snared market share by aggressively promoting its competitive product, Age Defying. Procter & Gamble Co., the leader in mass-market cosmetics, was also experiencing a sales slump with its big Max Factor brand, which competes directly with Revlon.

But the competition has hardly been standing still in the race for new lipstick technology. L’Oreal SA, Avon Products Inc., Shiseido Co. and Maybelline all have, or expect to launch, longer-lasting, transfer-resistant lipsticks similar to Revlon’s _ and all say they have solved the dryness problem with special processes.

And P&G is on Revlon’s trail with a longer-lasting foundation that leaves the skin moist. If P&G decides to put 100 percent effort behind Cover Girl and Max Factor, Revlon would have to watch out, warns William Steele, an analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds.

And then there are always plenty of low-tech alternatives to make cosmetics last longer. A few tips from Brigitte Reiss Andersen, a free-lance makeup artist who works in New York and Paris: Color in the lips first with lip pencil; blot the lips after applying lipstick; and if those steps aren’t enough, try dabbing your lips with face powder after the lipstick goes on.

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