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Venerable cosmetics company Merle Norman gets a makeover

May 3, 2011 |  7:30 am

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.