Mass retailers like Target and Walmart have been rethinking their beauty offerings over the last few years, looking beyond the Big Four brands -- Maybelline, L'Oreal, Covergirl and Revlon -- and introducing their own exclusive cosmetics labels. Sonia Kashuk kickstarted the movement with a makeup line for Target 15 years ago, and today Drew Barrymore designs her Flower range exclusively for Walmart, while Salma Hayek retails her own line, Nuance, at CVS. Now Walgreens, having recently upgraded the beauty departments at its Duane Reade locations, is ready to up the ante at its namesake stores.
In addition to a cosmetics line called Circa Beauty by Eva Mendes (which she announced in her first-ever Instagram post last week), Walgreens just launched a full color cosmetics range called Nonie Creme Colour Prevails. Conceptualized by the former founding creative director of Butter London, Nonie Creme, the line is a colorful, fun, arty range. Nothing in the line is over $20 -- the most expensive item is an eye shadow palette which costs $19. Nail polish costs $8, and a lipstick/lip gloss duo is $14. Semi-permanent hair color is coming soon.
While not a celebrity in the traditional sense, Creme is nonetheless very well known in certain circles -- namely, the London beauty and fashion scene. Creme, an American, moved to London after "running away from home to follow a boy," she told me at an event last week. Creme decided to learn how to do nails to make a living, which she parlayed into session work with the likes of Pat McGrath and Mario Testino in the '90s. Butter London was born in 2005. After she left the popular nail polish brand, she took two years off to plot her next venture.
Creme found an investor in NYC-based TPR Holdings, and when she told her backer she wanted to approach Walgreens with her line, she says his reaction was, "Huh. Okay." Fortunately, he heard her out.
"If you look at the beauty arena, it’s pretty crowded. It’s pretty noisy. Niche prestige brands? Too crowded," Creme says. "As a business person I can see that there’s money on the table in the drugstore. I’m in my drugstore five times a week."
When she approached Walgreens with the idea, the retailer hopped on board within 3o minutes and gave her a long leash to create her line, which definitely looks like nothing else you'll see at its stores.
When she was making her mood boards, Creme says they all featured Vivienne Westwood, the Sex Pistols and Alexander McQueen. She was particularly influenced by Alexander McQueen's spring/summer 2001 runway show, "VOSS," which featured a naked woman in a box surrounded by moths. That led her to start researching moths and butterflies, which led her to a microscope image of a butterfly wing. That later became the collection's main motif, which is "more palatable for middle America" than perhaps a bunch of dark moths would be, Creme points out.
In addition to the packaging, the range also offers something in the way of innovation. Creme is particularly proud of the ergonomic handles on her nail polish bottles, which allow you to hold the brushes more comfortably. "There’s so much nail polish in the world, why the hell is anybody going to buy another bottle of my nail polish?" she says. "I thought about formulation and that was a given. I started playing around with grips. She needs to be able to paint better. If I can guarantee that you can paint better and I can make it look pretty and I can sell it for $8, done!" She made prototype handles using her daughter's Play-Doh, which she plopped onto brushes, hardened them, and then sent to her product development team. (See her Instagram below.) The polishes all have witty and clever color names, but there were two names that didn't pass muster with Walgreens brass, according to Creme: "Walk of Shame" and "Facebook Stalker." (Apparently one night stands and social media creepiness are not allowed in family drugstores.)
Creme also thinks her Mannequin Hands CC Creme for nails, a full-coverage nude base coat that was a favorite of designers backstage at NYFW this past season, will be a strong seller. Almost all of the other makeup products are dual-purpose. Think a blush/bronzer, an ombre mascara wand featuring two colors and a lip liner/sheer lip color.
Will the tampon-buying, prescription-retrieving customer buy a butterfly-themed lipgloss? Creme certainly thinks so. "My hope is that [Colour Prevails] will be like this jewel box, this moment when you walk in and you’ll see these things that look like they belong in an expensive retail setting and say, 'How is this here?'”