An Urban Decay makeup product, part of the “naked” palette trend, in New York, Sept. 12, 2013. When a makeup or skin product becomes trendy, imitations aren’t far behind. (Tony Cenicola/The New York Times)

Tony Cenicola • New York Times,

Cosmetics from Urban Decay, left, and Physicians Formula are popular “naked” pallettes.

New York Times,

Success breeds copycats in the makeup industry

  • Article by: ALIX STRAUSS
  • New York Times
  • October 30, 2013 - 4:42 PM

“I grew up in Iowa: When your entire world is drugstore makeup, you don’t know the difference between a knockoff and the original,” said Dagny Heimisdottir, 23, an administrative assistant who now lives in Minneapolis and can spot copycat cosmetics immediately, and often writes about them on her beauty blog.

“Two similar products come out and you need to compare and categorize them,” Heimisdottir said. “I want to tell others if the more affordable version is worth buying, or if you should invest in the original.”

As with fashion, imitation has become rampant in the cosmetics industry. For a while it seemed as if every company was coming out with loose mineral blushers and powders, in the mold (or not) of the popular line Bare Escentuals. Now “baked” makeup is all the rage.

“When you have a popular item, everyone knows about it and wants a piece of the action,” said Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty analyst of the NPD Marketing Group, which conducts industry research.

Temptalia, a popular reference website about beauty products, has for three years offered a “Dupe List” that uses reader feedback to compile a percentage similarity of, say, NARS Super Orgasm to Lancome’s Shimmer Pink Pool (95 percent, according to its users). In December of 2011, a budget beauty blog called Nouveau Cheap posted an examination of Urban Decay Naked Palette and a look-alike, Physicians Formula Shimmer Strips, that was so detailed it might have been conducted by a CSI unit.

Hail the copycats

Naked Palette, a bestseller at Sephora and elsewhere since 2010, is one of the most widely copied products on the market, according to a founding partner and the chief creative officer of Urban Decay, Wende Zomnir, who named Victoria’s Secret as an offender. “It had the same font and was called Naked Eye Kit instead of Naked,” Zomnir recalled of their version. “Copycatting takes business away from a company.”

But there may be little new under the sun, at least where makeup is concerned.

“The Nakeds trend began in 1984 at Revlon when Kevyn Aucoin was a consultant there,” said Ingrid Jackel, chief executive of Physicians Formula, referring to a line put out by Ultima II, then a subsidiary of Revlon. She said that there was little similarity between her company’s Shimmer Strips and Urban Decay’s product.

“When we launch a new concept and other companies copy us, they put a lot of money into advertising their product,” she said. “That creates excitement and brings consumers to the shelves. If I can use their advertising dollars, why not?”

Where credit is due

Bobbi Brown, herself no stranger to “naked” shades, might feel differently. “We were first to market with our Gel Liner,” she said. “Then every brand created one in the exact same packaging. I bought and tried them all. Some were less money, some won awards, which is always funny when someone gets an award for a product I know I created.”

Indeed, Maybelline offers a very similar product, at $10, less than half the price of Brown’s ($23).

“It’s hard to tell if anyone owns anything in this industry,” Jackel said. “We all consult the same trend books. We all come across the same raw material and technology, and everyone gives it their own little twist.”

Said Brown: “The only way to protect yourself in the world of cosmetics is to look forward, think of new things and make whatever you make the best thing out there.”

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