Urban Decay cosmetics

As an urban sociologist, I am always interested to examine popular depictions of cities and suburbs. So I was intrigued when I found this advertisement for Urban Decay in the Sunday newspaper:

According to the ad, this line of cosmetics includes products like “Sin Eyeshadow Primer Potion” and “All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray.”

Here is the story of Urban Decay:

Our story opens 15 years ago, when pink, red, and beige enslaved the prestige beauty market. Heaven forbid you wanted purple or green nails, because you’d either have to whip out a marker, or risk life and limb with that back alley drugstore junk. Flying in the face of this monopoly, Sandy Lerner (cofounder of Cisco Systems) made a bold decision: if the cosmetic industry’s “big boys” couldn’t satisfy her alternative makeup tastes, she’d satisfy them herself.

Fatefully, Sandy’s business manager, David Soward, introduced her to fellow visionary Wende Zomnir. A creative businesswoman (and makeup addict almost since birth), Wende also recognized the color void and determined a shake-up was in order. Over high tea, the two forged a pact that led to renegade nail polish mixing sessions in Wende’s Laguna Beach bungalow. Sandy, David and Wende unleashed Urban Decay in January of 1996 with a line of 10 lipsticks and 12 nail enamels. Inspired by seedier facets of the urban landscape, they bore groundbreaking names like Roach, Smog, Rust, Oil Slick and Acid Rain. The first magazine ad queried “Does Pink Make You Puke?,” fueling the revolution as cosmetics industry executives scrambled to keep up…

Our ever-expanding global presence proves what Wende and Sandy always knew – makeup wearers everywhere crave alternatives, hence our longevity well past the death of 90s grunge. In the US, hundreds of UD products now fill purple shelves at Sephora, Ulta and Macy’s, as well as the virtual pages of Beauty.com. Growing numbers of retailers in Canada, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Singapore and the Middle East stock our line, too. And although UD fans around the world might approach our products in wildly different ways, we’ve noticed they share an independent spirit that unites them…

We’ve now become the largest independently owned color cosmetic company in the United States. Our moms are proud. “Urban Decay” is no longer such a crazy name for a makeup company. And young women today have never known a world where they couldn’t get purple nail polish over the counter. Mission accomplished.

What is interesting to me is the commodification of a particular location and style. The name brings back images from the mid-twentieth century as many Americans fled large cities for the cleaner, greener, and safer suburbs. Governments responded by clearing urban blight and instituting programs of urban renewal. Today, urban decay is more fashionable. It seems gritty and authentic – see the passages above about the banality of pink and how darker colors subvert these ideas. It brings to mind ideas of adventure, being a renegade, standing out from the crowd. Perhaps it is tied to ideas of gentrification and finding the exciting yet improving parts of cities. Think of places like Times Square that just a few decades ago were seedy locations and even with the glitz and glamor of today still retain some of this urban excitement that simply can’t be replicated in the shopping mall or on Facebook. And, of course, you can have all of these ideas if you are simply willing to spend a little money on a line of cosmetics.

Is there a suburban alternative to this, something like Suburban Passion or Desperate Suburbs?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s