Musings on the culture of keeping up appearances

All the Rage

« Previous Post | All The Rage Home | Next Post »

Venerable cosmetics company Merle Norman gets a makeover

Merle Norman, the venerable Los Angeles brand that in 1931 pioneered the idea of the makeover, is going through a makeover of its own.

In commemoration of its 80th birthday, the company — which remains family-owned — recently unveiled a new look and packaging, as well as more than 20 new products and 100-plus makeup shades that will roll out to customers over the next six months.

“It was time,” said Jack Nethercutt II, Merle Norman’s chief executive — and the founder’s nephew — about the overhaul. It was three years in the making and the biggest in the company’s history.

“The packaging had a very old lady look to it. We needed to bring the company into the 21st century,” Nethercutt said. “We think we’ve done it.”

Amerlenorman Norman, who died in 1972, was a contemporary of cosmetics legends Helena Rubenstein and Max Factor. She encouraged women to found their own franchise businesses — still called Merle Norman Studios — where customers could enjoy free makeovers and try products liberally before buying them.

Security was tight around the ballroom of the JW Marriott at L.A. Live alast week when the re-imagined line was officially introduced to more than 1,000 studio owners, who were greeted with a USC marching band.

Nethercutt enlisted the help of designer Marc Atlan, who has worked on packaging and branding for Yves Saint Laurent, Prada and Comme des Garcons beauty and fragrance lines. The updated look uses pearlized white packaging with a clean metallic font.

Beyond packaging, the new products in the line are modern and right on trend. Upcoming launches include an anti-aging complex emulsion and eye cream, a luxe foundation primer and lip conditioner. Shades for fall run to cobalt and cranberry, and a copper undertone for lips.

Integral to the relaunch is its Hussy (pronounced huzzy) line, named after a 1934 Packard LeBaron Sport Phaeton classic car owned by the Nethercutt family and kept in its Sylmar museum. A collection of lip and nail products in the opalescent red of the vehicle, plus a fragrance, will be available starting in September.

There are some 1,500 Merle Norman studios around the world, mostly concentrated in North America, although Nethercutt said the relaunch would fuel international growth; the brand recently bowed in Dubai.

Atlan said that the revamp was “a gigantic task."

“The name is larger than life,” he said. “I really respect the heritage of the brand, and its beautiful art deco feel. I wanted to make it luxurious and sophisticated without losing that sense of history.”

Nethercutt said that the new look and line will help bring in a new generation of customers.

“The Merle Norman customer has always been very loyal,” he said. “But now, we hope to appeal to younger women as well.”

-- Kavita Daswani

Photos, from top: Merle Norman's sleek new packaging features pearlized white with metallic lettering; company founder Merle Norman. Both from Merle Norman. At bottom, the Packard LeBaron for which the new Hussy line is named. Photo by Todd Kamp.


Comments () | Archives (4)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Revamping your packaging and products does not take a company into the 21st Century. Bring this company into the present and offer online ordering! Opening that ordering platform up will see a much greater return on investment than any new packaging or branding ever could. Until then, this company will continue to be stuck in park.

Made in the USA. A great company dedicated to the success of their franchise owners and not interested in undercutting franchisees by offering online sales. Try before you buy and the free makeover is the pioneering idea behind this brand. If you want to buy cheap makeup over the internet just visit other brands shipping jobs out of this country or better yet your local walmart....

Thank you, Jeremy!

The best thing about Merle Norman is the "try before you buy" philosophy that Merle herself invented. The only way we (as business owners and beauty advisors) make money is having our local and loyal customers come into the studio, sit down with their beauty advisor, and have every one of their needs and concerns addressed. An online order form cannot suggest a proper skin care routine or a correct foundation shade for all the different skin types and tones out there. I am a huge online shopper, but even I know there are things that you should not buy over the internet.

On a side note, the insinuation that this company is "stuck in park" is absurd. While most companies were suffering in this economy for the last couple of years--cutting major corners and laying off countless employees--Merle Norman has invested millions of dollars in this new modern packaging and products, and most studio owners have posted increases in business, some as much as 45% from 2009! Sounds to me like we're stuck in Overdrive.. definitely not in Park.

Offering online ordering would destroy the framework of this great American company. Thousands of women and men have worked tirelessly as independent business owners in the Merle Norman franchise system. Who really wants to take that local, personal aspect away (not to mention taking thousands of jobs away) and replace it with a computer screen?

yes naming a sexy red color after a 1930's car that nobody born in the last 50 years knows of is a great way to attract a younger generation...

I'm not loving the concept but I think the color itself will carry the product.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...


Tweets and retweets from L.A. Times staff writers.