Online Exclusive: Fifty Shades of Red

The fight is now on to take ownership of color in ever-more daring and inventive ways.

By Sophie Maxwell, Pearlfisher

We have come a long way from the classic red lipstick of the ’40s with a cosmetic counter today that

Sophie Maxwell, Pearlfisher
embraces every nuance of the color spectrum from neon to nude for lips, as well as for nails, eyes and cheeks. Color is an increasingly competitive business – and the fight is now on to take ownership of color in ever-more daring and inventive ways.

Historically, the marketing of color has been dominated by naming strategies. But just how many descriptive permutations can you devise? Nars marked itself out by taking a bold and more left field route with its now infamous – and bestselling - shade of blush in “Orgasm.” And now brands such as Hourglass are striving to go one better with names that relate in no way to the color – with their new Trace Lip Liner in “Voice.”

And it’s not just with the obvious lip, cheek and nail choices that we are seeing radical developments and a repositioning of color. As more brands offer a “true match” foundation option with products blended to match each and every skin tone, Nars is once again leading the pack – and tapping into the globalization trend – with a new range of sheer glow foundations “inspired” by locations from Fiji to Punjab. While YSL is bowing to demand to extend its offer by catering for ethnic skin tones with Touche Eclat, Nars is truly celebrating cultural difference with an offer open to any and all of its global band of sisters.

And this contrast seems to be indicative of the machinations of the whole industry. The high end seems to be playing safe with a focus on more natural beauty and fashion collaboration and a

Makeup palettes by Karl Lagerfeld for shu uemura.
swapping of color inspiration as highlighted by the much-awaited advent of the Karl Lagerfeld and Shu Uemura Mon Shu Girl campaign for Fall 2012. And while the resulting products are no less beautiful – to me this approach in no way matches the truly experimental (and exciting) mixing and marketing of color that the mass end of the beauty market is indulging in.

Sephora collaborates with Pantone to launch a "color of the year" collection, and uses the Pantone chart as a part of the package design.
The best move so far this year has undoubtedly been the collaboration between Sephora and Pantone Universe - combining their expertise to become beauty’s leading authority on color: denoting a chosen Color of the Year with its “Tangerine Tango.” And using the Pantone chart as an integral part of the brand design.

Aside from cosmetics, it is interesting to look at how other beauty sectors are representing color. For the mass market, hair color has a particularly dated expression with box after box showing dated photo fit pictures of its shades. Color Mask from Finland – a tinting and repairing conditioner for colored hair—defies the rules. The color is, of course the most important thing and the packages beautifully and clearly show the color they’re all about.

The opportunity to own color is truly groundbreaking. And all of the brands mentioned here have incorporated an ownership of color into their actual brand design in inspirational new ways. But—with Cadbury winning ownership of Pantone 2685C purple—it will be interesting to see just how far this fight for ownership can extend into the crazy cosmetic world of color.

About the author:
Sophie Maxwell is insight director at Pearlfisher;;