Au Naturel? Au Contraire

Shopping for makeup on Chicago's Michigan Avenue, Sebrena Coleman gives her usual dark-brown lipstick the go-by. This May afternoon, she wants a brighter, redder lipstick and blush, plus a new foundation. "I'm tired of the same old look," says the fortyish Coleman, who is on a business trip for the Louisiana Dept. of Revenue. "I've always been a blend-in person. Now I'm willing to make a statement."

Amen to that, say cosmetic companies. Makeup sales have been drab since 1989, when the natural look came to the fore. Now, many fashion executives say, a glamorous, more colorful look is making a comeback. Reds and coral shades are in; browns and taupes are becoming passe. Some forecasters even predict baby-blue eye shadow could become popular again. "There's definitely a return to pretty, clear colors," says Kat James, a model and makeup specialist for Maybelline Inc. "We've missed color for so long it's something that is going to endure several seasons."

MASS APPEAL. The net result: Makeup sales are definitely picking up. Mass-market cosmetic sales rose 3% through Apr. 15 vs. a 5% increase for all of 1994. Colorful items are doing even better: Lipstick and eye shadow sales have each jumped 5%, according to A.C. Nielsen Co. Bonita Austin, a Prudential Securities Inc. analyst, predicts that mass-market makeup companies, including Maybelline, Revlon, and L'Oreal, as well as Procter & Gamble Co.'s Cover Girl and Max Factor lines, will get a sales boost.

Why the switch? The natural look has been around for five years--eternity in the fashion world. Also, Hollywood actresses such as Sharon Stone are reviving the glamorous "starlet" image. "The 1990s have been duller than dishwater," says Allan Mottus, publisher of The Informationist, a beauty biz newsletter. "People are looking for something that will bounce out at them."

The new look likely won't go as far as the stark color contrasts of Hedy Lamarr and other 1940s icons of glamour. Improved milling technology has made blushes and eye shadows more translucent than they were then, so women can use more color without looking too made up, says Maybelline Executive Vice-President Cathy Wills. Better tell Madonna.

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