Here’s a question: It’s 2006. Queen Latifah shills for Cover Girl; Halle Berry, for Revlon.*** But has the cosmetics industry really come to recognize women of color as a target audience? Somehow, it’s hard to erase the high school memory of my East Asian and South Indian friends diving for one of those this-fits-all-brownies lipstick shades—Revlon’s Toast of New York, anyone?—as though it were manna in the drugstore desert. But in an business where technological “breakthroughs” in blush and liquid foundation seem to occur every five minutes, perhaps progress has been made since then. How ‘bout that IMAN cosmetics line, sold at Sephora for a while? Or the thriving cosmetics company Prescriptives: “Designed for all skins, all women”?
Curious for an expert opinion, we look to celebrity makeup artist Sam Fine, Cover Girl’s and Revlon’s first African American spokesperson, who counts Naomi Campbell, Halle Berry, and Oprah Winfrey among his clients; and AJ Crimson, makeup artist for music artists Christina Milian and Amerie.
Voice: Are cosmetics companies getting anywhere with developing makeup for women of color?
Fine: I believe the industry hasn’t begun to tap into the vast cosmetic opportunities. Many brands have added a model of color to represent the brand, but have failed to create colors, formulas, or marketing initiatives that are targeted at these women. Additionally, when you review the offerings in the department-store arena, there are very few companies that speak directly to the needs of women of color. Excluding Fashion Fair, there are no brands that are exclusively dedicated to their cosmetic needs.
Voice: What products—foundation, shadow, lipstick—are lacking?
Crimson: The problem is not with color cosmetics, it’s with foundation. MAC as a whole markets for all sexes, all ages, all races. But when you get into certain darker skin tones within Studio Fix [a line of MAC foundation], they tend to come up green or change colors. With black women, even some Indian women, they’re coming up ashy, the wrong skin tone, mask-like.
Fine: Many companies are attempting to add darker shades of foundation/powder, yet you can’t simply “darken” an existing shade, expecting it to contain the correct undertone. Another common mistake is formula. Because women of color scar more easily, they crave products that possess greater coverage—fundamental formula differences that aren’t found in core cosmetic development.
Most companies fall short in all areas. Having worked for virtually every major cosmetic brand, I’ve realized that satisfying the cosmetic needs of women of color is not a priority.
Voice: Why has it taken the industry so long to respond?
Fine: Many companies have attempted to meet the cosmetic needs of women of color, although very few have made an effort to invest long-term.
Crimson: Maybe they just didn’t feel like it was that important, but now they’re finding that it is, especially considering how much women of color spend per year in luxury goods. These women are taking more powerful roles in the workplace, and as they move up in their careers, they want a quality brand.
Voice: Are there any products you recommend?
Fine: I favor brands that were created to satisfy the needs of women of color, not brands that speak to women of color as an afterthought. Those brands possess a rich heritage and continue to thrive in mass: Black Opal, Posner, Black Radiance. In addition, there are mainstream lines that have increased their offerings and provide select products for women of color: Bobbi Brown, Prescriptives, and MAC.
Crimson: A brand I stand by is Makeup For Ever; I can use their liquid foundations on a client like Fergie, to Christina Milian, to Amerie. IMAN is a really great product—it’s been the closet to achieving skin tones for women of color specifically. But it’s not a prestige brand, so I have to search for it. It’s not even in Sephora anymore. Why is a product like that not in Bloomingdales?
Voice: Do women have it better now than, say, 10 years ago?
Crimson: You have a product called Fashion Fair—it’s been around forever, since my mother was a little girl. That was one of the first products for women of color, and they still sell it today. But there’s a stigma attached to it. It’s a little red, a little orange.
I’m big on packaging and the perception of the product. When I look at Fashion Fair, I’m upset by it. The style in which they promote it—it’s a little dated. It’s a product that’s been servicing black women for years. But why is it that when it comes to selling a product to a black woman or another woman of color, there is not the same quality in marketing or presentation? The marketing would never look as unappealing if Chanel did it. They want us to buy it, but they don’t have the same respect. If there’s a company that would give it the same flare, it would do amazingly well. Hands down, more women would flock to that. It would step the game up.
It’s one of those things, that when you’ve been offered this dirty glass of water for years, you’re like, “Oh this is the best I can get.” Then when you’re introduced to a fresh glass of water, you’re like, “I’ve been drinking that dirty water all this time?”
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 23, 2006