Face Time at the 'Makeup Bar'
More Women Value Professional Application— With a Glass of Wine
By ELIZABETH HOLMES
Makeup bars want women to see the value in getting makeup done for meetings, a dinner party or a big date. And as Blushington's Allison Conrad and WSJ's Elizabeth Holmes explain on Lunch Break, these bars don't push a particular brand or product line. Photo: Michal Czerwonka for The Wall Street Journal.
When Amelia Alvarez wants to look really good, she has a special technique for putting on her makeup: The 31-year-old, who lives in Los Angeles, Calif., books an appointment with a makeup bar and pays a professional to do it.
Makeup bars are cropping up in big cities and offering an appealing business proposition to time-starved, image-conscious woman. For a flat fee of about $40, a professional makeup artist will apply a full face of makeup and have her on her way in about 45 minutes. Special services, like eyelash extensions and airbrush application of foundation, are available for an extra cost.
Los Angeles-area makeup bars including Blushington Makeup & Beauty Lounge and Makeup & Go serve the needs of women in the entertainment industry. Blushbaby Makeup Studio in Atlanta specializes in eyelash extensions. Wink Eyelash Bar and Makeup Studio is popular with brides around New Orleans.
On the heels of blow-dry bars, nail salons and other quick-service beauty concepts, makeup bars might seem, at first blush, to be selling an unnecessary service. Why pay a makeup artist when you can put makeup on yourself? But while most women have some inkling of how to apply mascara, eyeliner and other cosmetics, few can do it as well as a professional can.
Ms. Alvarez, who works as an actress, says although she rarely wears more makeup than lip balm and blush, she has visited Blushington three times, including once before a big meeting. "When you walk out of there, you feel like you've been given something you couldn't do yourself," she says. "It is for when you want to look your absolute best."
Makeup bars are selling an upgrade of the way many women, somewhat begrudgingly, used to get their makeup done—by visiting a department-store beauty counter. There, makeup artists working for the cosmetics brand and the retailer offer makeovers and demonstrate the latest products. Although the makeup application is often free, many women say they feel obligated to buy something.
(Several department stores, though, said there is no purchase expectation, and the emphasis is on educating shoppers. "If they do choose to purchase the product, when they go home they can achieve that same look," says a spokeswoman for Bloomingdale's.)
Culturally, makeup bars seem to have good timing. Women, more than ever, feel the need to be camera-ready at all times, thanks mainly to cellphone cameras. Sales of high-end "prestige" makeup sold in department stores and high-end specialty stores are chugging along, up 8% to $3.7 billion for the year ended in September, according to market research firm NPD Group.
Social media also is feeding a subculture of "getting ready," sometimes known as "pre-gaming," where dressing and primping before a big event can sometimes overshadow the event itself. Many makeup bars offer a complimentary glass of wine.
Cities with vibrant social scenes, including Los Angeles and Atlanta, are home to the first wave of makeup bars. "You have to be in a demographic where women care about makeup and care about their looks and care about the whole package," says Allison Conrad, president of Blushington, which opened late last year in West Hollywood, Calif. and plans to open a second location later this year in Dallas. The company is weighing new locations in cities like New York City, Miami and Las Vegas.
An important customer for makeup bars is the young professional woman who, perhaps more than in previous generations, expends time and money cultivating her image. Khadija DeShong, co-founder of Blushbaby Makeup Studio in Atlanta, says she also sees a lot of women in their 40s and 50s who find they have more time to spend on themselves. "We have everyone from doctors to lawyers to business owners to CEOs to moms," Ms. DeShong says.
Makeup has long been available at full-service beauty salons and day spas, but typically at much higher prices than what makeup bars charge. The full-service treatment also usually requires a bigger investment of time.
Weddings and proms established themselves long ago as occasions calling for professional makeup. Makeup bars want to cultivate acceptance of professional makeup for lesser occasions, like birthday parties or business meetings. "We're trying to make this an affordable luxury," Ms. Conrad says.
Many makeup bars are opening up next door to blow-dry bars—hair salons where women pay a flat fee of $35 to $40 to have their hair washed, dried and styled. When these adjacent locations exist, they offer women an opportunity for one-stop primping at a combined cost of less than $100.
In May 2010, Lori Sale opened Makeup & Go makeup bar in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, along with a blow-dry bar, Bubble Blow Dry, next door. She got the makeup-bar idea several years ago when she found she couldn't get a salon appointment to have her makeup done before an Academy Awards party. Reluctantly, she recalls, she headed to a department store and left a little while later looking pretty and carrying "a tiny little bag with $300 of makeup that I didn't need."
The experience wasn't satisfying in other ways, she says. "They're putting the latest color palette on you," she says. "If that's not your color palette, you walk out of there looking like Bozo the Clown."
Ms. Sale, at the time retired but now working again as a talent agent, says she had no difficulty recruiting makeup artists from TV and film who were looking for a steadier paycheck. The entertainment industry also provided her client base. Celebrities making promotional appearances often have makeup provided by a studio, Ms. Sale says, but for events like business meetings, they are on their own. Many like the $35 price tag at Makeup & Go, Ms. Sale says.
Among Makeup & Go's regular clients is Emily Gaspers, who works with her husband's construction business in Santa Monica. Ms. Gaspers, 45, has her makeup and hair done twice a week, often after working out at a nearby exercise studio.
"I'm dressed and look good for the day," Ms. Gaspers says. "I can meet clients and go out to dinner with my husband." Instead of heavy makeup, Ms. Gaspers prefers something "sun-kissed" and "dewy"—and especially likes the "flawless" look of airbrushed foundation.
Most appointments begin with the makeup artist asking the customer to tell about the event she is attending, what she will wear and especially what color. Some studios have image books of standard makeup looks, such as a smoky eye or a bold lip, to get the conversation started.
The usual routine is first to cleanse the customer's face, followed by foundation, powder, eyes and lips. Eyes are typically a focal point, says Natashia Paul, senior makeup artist at Wink Eyelash Bar and Makeup Studio in Metairie, La. They are the most intimidating area for a woman to do herself. The range of shades and techniques involved, especially in eye shadow and eyeliner, is overwhelming, she says.
The most common request is for the "natural look," Ms. Paul says. What that usually means is that the customer wants to look her best and accentuate her favorite features. "You've got to read between the lines," Ms. Paul says, with a laugh. (wsj.com)
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