Indie beauty lines ready for comeback

Vincent Longo and Paula Dorf are looking to make a comeback. The two entrepreneurs, who both had started makeup lines more than 15 years ago and seen them shore up, are now planning to rekindle interest in their makeup artists brands. And considering that consumers have started to spend larger amounts on beauty gear in general, they might just be able to.

It used to be that niche brands were flying off the shelves, and retailers hungered after the lines and their originators. Fast forward a couple of recessions, and stores have learned to be more cautious of jumping on board with any new concept that comes their way.

“The consumer is still behind these products. They still see a lot of viability behind them,” said Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst at The NPD Group, to WWD. “One of the challenges retailers have had in the past was delivery. Out-of-stock issues made it difficult for retailers to continue selling some of these lines.”

The beauty industry seems to be getting on its feet again. Last year, prestige makeup sales rose 3 percent, and sales of makeup artists’ brands hiked up 9 percent.

But what really drives sales, said research and brand marketer Judy Galloway, managing partner of G-group, is an original approach.

“The consumer is typically interested in brands that solve problems, so you have to have a continued dialogue with your customer to discover what’s missing,” Galloway said to WWD. “It’s going after a small brand opportunity and blowing it out of the water.”

Longo, a member of the indie makeup artist product trend during the ‘90s, founded Water Canvas Creme-to-Powder Foundation. After the line launched in Barneys New York in 1996, Longo enjoyed 15 years of spinoff success, with his products making the rounds to Sephora, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, among others. Times were good: Sales hauled in around $10 million to $12 million per year for Vincent Longo Inc.

Then the economy hit his business hard, leaving it on the rocks.

He did what he could – closed the Manhattan office, pulled out of Sephora, trimmed his staff – but his company veered toward financial disaster. What in the end saved him was his loyal customer base.

“Since I had no brick-and-mortar, my website business took off. I had 30 percent to 40 percent growth comps month over month,” Longo said.

The next bit of news was Longo’s introduction to Peter Wagner, an executive interested in financially backing Longo’s company, who wound up investing between $3 million and $5 million. This proved to be enough to revamp the line with new ingredients and new items, such as liquid concealers, lip glosses and eye shadows, priced in the $20 range. In fact, the company is overhauling everything but the complexion products. He is expected to rebound to sales of around $3 million.

Longo is back.

He is particularly proud of the Liquid Concealer, which wards off dark circles under the eyes, and, according to Longo, blends so seamlessly into the skin that powder is unnecessary. His Perfect Shine V Gloss has a pearl shine and tripeptide complex that temporarily plumps up lips. Check out more of his products at

He is not the only one. Paula Dorf, aided by a new financial sponsor, is relaunching her cosmetics brand, which had gone bankrupt August 2009. Back in the day, her Paula Dorf Cosmetics was sold in major stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Sephora.

Then she ran into difficulty with a supplier, causing the company to suspend shipping for a time and substantially trimming cash flow as manufacturing became nonexistent. The partners looked up to see a number of retail accounts had been pulled.

Now a new business partner may be turning things around. Dorf’s hopes are to double distribution during the next year and retake major department stores. The label is already up to being sold in 275 locales.

Dorf’s company spun off her beginning selling makeup brushes to spas and boutiques. Within four years, she was able to create her own makeup line, which featured the tag “Become Your Own Makeup Artist.”

Her products, crafted to help women solve their makeup issues, include Perfect Primer and Transformer, a liquid solution that transforms shadow into liner. And new items are on the way; check her website at

Things seem to be looking up.

Tagged in: makeup, cosmetics, beauty, retail, niche, vincent longo, paula dorf, indie, makeup artist brand,



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