Business News

M.A.C. Cosmetics: Making more than a pretty face

Now, you can wear makeup just like TV people!

The Uptown M.A.C. Cosmetics store, 2922 Hennepin Ave., is a glamour-focused habitat previously unknown to Southwest. The store's atmosphere seems more playful than business.

Women dressed in black, armed with a make-up tool belt full of brushes and applicators, buzz around the illuminated store, which is thumping with music, prepared to help anyone who comes through the door to look marvelous.

Even someone inept in the ways of proper make-up application (ahem) had a ball during a M.A.C. makeover, where one of their make-up artists demonstrated her talents on my face, with showy false eyelashes and dramatic purple eye shadow.

M.A.C., which stands for Make-up Art Cosmetics, touts its reputation for professional make-up used by models, actors and TV personalities.

But it's more than celebrity customers that make M.A.C. stand out from other retailers: the company also contributes heavily to local AIDS charities and has an aggressive recycling program for product packaging.

The international company's new store in the heart of Uptown is Southwest's only retail store focused solely on make-up.

Company background Regional Manager Lori Frank-Bretwisch said a photographer and a make-up artist frustrated with make-up choices available for their models started the company in Toronto in 1985, so they made his or her own lipstick for their subjects. "It's the classic story of rags to riches," she said.

Frank-Bretwisch said models began using M.A.C., and it gained popularity in the professional world. With some funding help from an already established make-up empire, Este Lauder, which now owns the M.A.C. company, she said they began sprouting stores throughout the world.

Because M.A.C. began on the professional side, much of their sales remain focused on people who must use make-up for their jobs. Frank-Bretwisch said local clients include the Hey City Theater, Marshall Field's events and Circus Juventas, a St. Paul school that trains youth in circus arts.

M.A.C. customer Tracey Sayed is from Los Angeles and visiting a friend in Southwest and made a special trip to Uptown just to visit the M.A.C. store. She said she's a loyal customer because the products are better and everything is available for shoppers to try on.

"There's a ton of variety and their products are high quality and reasonably priced," Sayed said.

While most M.A.C. stores are in department stores such Marshall Field's and Nordstrom, Frank-Bretwisch said a stand-alone store was needed in Minneapolis to accommodate the large theater and film industry in town.

Although the Southwest store just opened in June (in the Uptown corner spot that used to house a Caribou Coffee), she said its sales are matching other locations; however, Frank-Bretwisch would not release sales figure information.

Sayed and her friend and shopping companion Mindy Brunmaier, a Windom resident, have only one criticism of the new store: they wish it were larger. "I love M.A.C." Sayed exclaimed.

Make-up specialties Because clients include male and female TV personalities, models, actors, drag queens and thespians, Frank-Bretwisch said their make-up is developed differently for different uses.

She said they have foundations made especially for TV use, so in bright lights, it filters nicely through a camera lens.

Assistant Store Manager and Make-up Artist Malika said there are also stronger color pigments used on people appearing in print photos, so the color will show up better on paper.

In addition to stronger pigments, M.A.C. Cosmetics is known for color variety. "If you wanted a blue, you'd get 15 different shades," Frank-Bretwisch said, whereas at some places, you'd just have a handful of blues from which to choose.

Brunmaier, said the color variety -- especially her favorite color, tangerine -- keeps her coming back to M.A.C. "They have shades you can't find anywhere else," she said.

The store has more than 150 eye shadows on display.

Because M.A.C. emphasizes professional use, Malika said the company requires that store staff be trained make-up artists with a portfolio of work. Frank-Bretwisch said because of the requirement, employees often work at M.A.C. fashion shows and events such as Marshall Field's Glamorama gala.

Malika said she has been a make-up artist for seven years and has worked for M.A.C. for two years. She said while the focus on professional use is fun, dealing with regular people in the retail setting offers different emotional satisfaction.

"Make-up is supposed to make you feel better about yourself," Malika said. "I love to make people very happy and appreciate how they look."

Southwest store Manager Cara Venne said the emotional satisfaction is also what drew her to work with make-up. "Plus, it's fun," she said.

Venne said customers have fun, too, stating she's gotten many requests for make-up similar to movie stars Jennifer Lopez and Jennifer Aniston. She said because some celebrities use M.A.C., she can easily point customers to the exact shades they seek.

Community programs Aside from professional make-up, another M.A.C. distinguishing characteristic is its contributions to AIDS organizations locally and internationally. Malika said such giving makes her proud to work there.

Frank-Bretwisch said because the company's founders had close friends die in the AIDS epidemic, the company gives to each store's local AIDS-related organizations.

She said the store sells four VIVA GLAM

lipsticks for $14 each, and the proceeds go to

Minneapolis organizations such as Clare Housing, Agape Dos, Camp Heartland and AIDS Care

Partners.

The company advertisements tout that they've raised internationally more than $27 million since incorporating the VIVA program in 1994.

Frank-Bretwisch said that locally, M.A.C. has donated between $50,000 and $80,000 yearly to Minneapolis organizations.

John Whalen, executive director of AIDS Care Partners, a nonprofit organization that provides supportive housing for people with AIDS said his group linked onto M.A.C.'s program three or four years ago, and it's been a tremendous help in a time when nonprofits are struggling financially. "This is so helpful -- we barely scrape by," he said.

He said his group currently has four houses in Minneapolis, one across the highway from the Kingfield neighborhood, each with four residents and one 24-hour caregiver per house.

Whalen said M.A.C.'s involvement with the AIDS issue has been more far-reaching. "They raise awareness about AIDS in the general community through education and advertising," he said.

As a result of this program, Frank-Bretwisch said, M.A.C. has been able to rally big-name celebrity spokespeople including musicians Elton John and Mary J. Blige.

M.A.C. also has programming to help the environment. For every six empty M.A.C. plastic make-up containers returned to their store

for recycling, each customer receives his or her choice of free lipstick -- excluding the AIDS

benefit lipsticks.

For more information about M.A.C., cosmetics visit www.maccosmetics.com.