Bésame Cosmetics is ready for its close-up.
The vintage-inspired cosmetics company couldn’t have asked for a more authentic platform to display its products. They are in full view, displayed on a vanity table in “The Artist,” a film that was recently voted this year’s best movie by the New York Film Critics Circle and by many accounts is on the fast-track to an Oscar nomination.
“It was an authentic vanity, and our products looked like they belonged there,” said Bésame Cosmetics CEO Gabriela Hernandez. She said the movie’s props manager, who knew about Bésame , had approached her for products and historical information during the production of the film and decided to use her products in a scene. The film is set in 1927 Hollywood.
It was the products’ authentic packaging that helped seal the deal to get her products in the film, which have also been featured in the 2006 Matt Damon film “The Good Shepherd,” set in the post-World War II era; and in the first season of “Mad Men,” which depicts life on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s. That show’s set designer has requested more products for the current season, now in production.
Hernandez designed Bésame’s red-and-gold containers, which are made of gold-plated nickel Each container, a stylized throwback to another era, takes between six months to a year of iterations before she is happy with the finished product.
“I knew that for our brand to succeed we’d need to transport women to another time,” said Hernandez, who co-founded the company in late 2004 with her husband and chief financial officer, Fergus Hernandez. “Our packaging is just as important as the product.”
In 2011, Bésame’s revenues reached the low seven figures, double last year’s revenues. In 2012 it anticipates double-digit growth as it increases its distribution from 14 countries — including Thailand and Dubai — to 30, re-releases its cream foundation and loose powder with new formulations, and introduces a new compact design.
As a child growing up in Buenos Aires in the early 1970s, Hernandez, who now lives in Los Angeles, was inspired watching her grandmother and mother carefully apply their makeup. “Those women were very proprietary about the way they put themselves together,” she said. “Their lipsticks were warmer, darker reds, like rich wines. It was very fashionable to me, and I want to preserve the idea of makeup as ritual.”
Hernandez spent nearly two years developing her concept before launching Bésame. She was a professional photographer and designer by training, and her artist’s eye was captivated by the early-era compacts and lipstick containers she found — some with actual bits of the real products still left in them. With these artifacts in hand, she hunkered down to do research.
“The formulas of lipsticks from those early eras were very different,” said Hernandez, who also wrote a book, “Classic Beauty: The History of Makeup,” about how cosmetics have changed throughout the years.
“The stains were very waxy and the product was meant to be put on and blotted off almost completely, and then reapplied. Ideally you looked as though you had no makeup on, only color. Cream rouge also had a special way of being applied.”
Eventually she found a cosmetics laboratory willing to work with her to analyze formulas to make sure the colors didn’t bleed, which is often a problem with shades of red.
Bésame’s products are sold in apothecaries, specialty and vintage stores and online; her line includes 12 shades of lipstick, face powder, powder rouge, eye liner, lip pencils, mascara and the new crimson rouge, which is a cream rouge that comes in one color and retails in the U.S for about $22.
The cream rouge has been a big hit abroad. “Customers have gone crazy for it here,” said Katie Thomas, who distributes Bésame Cosmetics in the U.K. and western Europe. She is also the founder and CEO of What Katie Did , a London-based faux-vintage company that manufactures lingerie inspired by the styles of the 1940s and 1950s.
“A lot of people initially bought crimson rouge because of the packaging, and then were pleasantly surprised with the quality,” she said. “It comes in a big tin, so it’s good value, and because it comes in just one color it’s easy to buy.”
This is one industry where customers are judging a product by how it’s packaged.
“We’re seeing more cosmetic companies creating products based not only on vintage packaging but also on the variety of bright reds that were popular in the ’30s, ’40s and ’50s,” said Ian Ginsberg, owner and president of C. O. Bigelow Apothecaries in New York, and chairman of the board of Independent Cosmetic Manufacturers and Distributors.
Alexandra Smith, consumer trends analyst for market research company Mintel International, sees the popularity of vintage tied to fashion-minded men and women wanting a more polished look. “They’re paying more attention to the details and being more restrained, doing without a lot of bling. But if they do splurge on a mini-indulgence, like lipstick, they will gravitate to the prettiest packaging.”
And that means, at least for Bésame, that their products can steal the scene, both on-screen and off.