In my first five years as a beauty editor, I learned many important things from Linda Wells. She taught me that eyes never “pop” and that hair cannot be "given movement." She taught me the importance of utilizing unexpected verbs and cutting back on exclamation points (plus the benefits of a well-edited wardrobe). And she taught me that "flesh" is not just one color — a lesson that the founding editor in chief of Allure and current chief creative officer at Revlon is now trying to teach the world with the launch of her own makeup line, Flesh Beauty, which is newly available on ulta.com.
This is the first prestige brand for Revlon, which also owns Almay, CND, and Sinful Colors. But don't expect to see any similarities between Flesh and its drugstore counterparts. "Think of us like an indie brand within the company," says Wells, who worked with separate vendors and a makeup artist of her choosing to develop the line. There was also nothing corporate about the time line: "We decided in July  that we would launch a prestige line," she explains. "And by the end of September, I had the name, product assortment, packaging, and logo." That's less than three months. And in that short amount of time, Wells came up with 12 products and an impressive 96 SKUs.
So why call it Flesh Beauty? It's a name that some people may find a tad off-putting. "When I first put the news on Instagram, some people commented that it's the grossest name ever," Wells says, laughing. But it all goes back to her editing days — and one highly controversial crayon. "Sometimes a writer would describe something as 'flesh color' in a story and we'd have to say, 'No no no, you can't say flesh or nude and have it be interpreted as one color,'" says Wells. "You think about that crayon that was called Flesh [editor's note: Crayola renamed the orange-beige crayon Peach in 1962 because duh], or you think about paint. If you can believe it, there are still paint colors and other things out there that are identified as 'flesh' or identified as 'nude' and they're a peachy beige, and that's just not acceptable. So this is the idea of flesh color being every color of skin — the color of your skin. We want to change that idea by changing the whole color assortment of Flesh."
Which brings us to the most import product in the line and quite literally the foundation of the brand: the Firm Flesh Thickstick Foundation ($18). It's a medium-coverage, dewy-finish stick foundation that comes in 40 shades, "from the palest pale to the darkest dark," says Wells. And while, yes, it seems like every brand on the planet is out to hit Rihanna's industry-disrupting Fenty shade count, Wells wasn't so focused on the exact number, but rather the quality and clarity. "The problem is that people say they have 40 shades, but they don't all necessarily look good," she explains (something a few makeup brands had to learn the hard way this year). And the fact that Wells wanted a foundation in stick form made it even trickier. "I love a stick [foundation]. I love the portability of it and that you can use your fingers [to apply it]," she says, "but sticks often look really cakey and really thick. On pale skin tones they can turn gray, and on dark skin it's even more of a problem." Wells worked tirelessly to ensure that no shade would wind up looking ashy, continually sending samples back to the lab to be tweaked. "We ended up getting a different formula for the darker shades to make sure they looked perfect."
Wells and her team got a chance to put the Thickstick formula to the test the day they shot the campaign when one of the models, Ajak Deng, who is originally from southern Senegal, sat down in the makeup chair. Deng has become so used to makeup artists not having a shade dark enough for her that she had brought her own base to the photo shoot. "We were all a bit nervous because this was the real test. But our darkest shade of the foundation stick worked perfectly on her. That was a really good moment for us," Wells recalls.
The foundation isn't the whole story of Flesh Beauty, however. There are 11 other products in the range. And since the focus for this initial launch was mainly about skin, many of those products are meant to enhance it. "The idea behind Flesh is makeup that honors the integrity of your skin to highlight your best individual self," Wells writes in the press release for the brand.
To do that, there's the Fresh Face Illuminating Primer ($32), which contains pro-vitamin B5, glycerin, and blue and purple photo-reflecting agents that make your skin look bright and glowy. And there are three (yes, three) luminizers: Touch Flesh Highlighting Balm ($18), which is a cream highlighting stick available in four shades; Ripe Flesh Glisten Drops ($28), a liquid highlighter, also available in four shades that can go directly on skin or be mixed into the primer or foundation; and finally, the Flesh to Flesh Highlighting Powder ($28), available in six shades for those who prefer to get their glow on with a powder or who like to layer various shimmery textures for an intense shine.
Rounding out the base products are the Tender Flesh Blush ($26), a powder blush available in eight shades, and the Fleshpot Eye & Cheek Gloss, which is a peach gloss flecked with pink and gold pigments and can be considered one of the standouts of the line. The product, which is oil- and fragrance-free, was inspired by Wells's stint doing backstage reporting during the fashion shows in New York, Milan, and Paris. (BTW, she basically invented backstage reporting, so that's pretty freakin' cool.) "All those years we spent backstage at the fashion shows, every makeup artist always used a gloss on the lids and they would use it on its own or use it over eye shadow to make it all smudgy and great," Wells says. "The only problem was that they were using things like petroleum jelly or skin salves that would melt, and then your mascara would go, and your makeup would go, and everything would be running down your face. That's fine if you're on a runway because you're only on there for a couple of minutes, but in real life that's a problem. So the Fleshpot Gloss does not melt, it's not sticky, and you can use it on both your eyes and your cheeks," she says.
Wells didn't want the line to be totally skin-focused, though. She also wanted to give people products they could have some fun with. "I know that we're all in a near-constant search for a new foundation or lipstick or highlighter that brings out an essential quality in ourselves. Something better. Something true. I tried to fulfill that promise to myself and to the millions of people I used to call readers."
So when it comes to color, there's the Fleshcolor Eye Shadow Palette ($38, and expect more of those to come in the following months), which features nine powder shadows in matte, satin, and metallic finishes. And there are quite a few lip offerings: Swipe Flesh Lip Color ($24) may look like a cream blush, but it's actually a lipstick in compact form, meant to be applied with your fingers (although feel free to use a brush — it's totally up to you). Available in seven shades, you could also say this product was inspired by Wells's backstage reporting as it's the perfect product to re-create the blurry-lip trend that originated at fashion shows — a favorite application trick of makeup artists like Pat McGrath, Tom Pecheux, and Val Garland.
There are also a couple of traditional lipsticks in the line. Fleshy Lips ($18) is a collection of creamy, sheer, nude lipsticks that have a traditional bullet shape. There are four shades now — all your-lips-but-exponentially-better colors. I especially like Hungry and Lick, one a little more pink, the other a little more beige, but expect more to come. Strong Flesh Lipstick is another bullet lipstick, but this formula is fully opaque, with an intense amount of pigment and a satin texture. It comes in nine shades, including a gorgeous crimson (Heart), an in-your-face fuchsia (Winner), a vampy, blackened-plum (Siren), and an electric-violet hue (Treasure) that had the entire Allure beauty team freaking out in a really good way. Wells intended each of the nine hues to work on every skin tone (hence all the pigment), a notion we put to the test this week — and I can tell you, mission accomplished.
And last but not least is the Proud Flesh Matte Liquid Lip ($20), because what makeup line these days would be complete without a matte liquid lipstick? Available in four bold shades, I can honestly say that after the foundation, this is my favorite product in the Flesh Beauty lineup. The formula is ridiculously pigmented, so much so that you can overdraw your lips without it looking obviously fake because you can't see your lip line underneath. The doe-foot applicator also makes it super easy to apply. I find the sides are slim enough to use like a lip liner and trace the outline of your mouth before filling it in. It dries down matte, but it's not so drying that it feels like shrink wrap. In fact, it's incredibly comfortable to wear.
My favorite shade is Brazen, which I'm wearing in the photo above. The intense red is that perfect, not-too-blue, not-too-orange crimson that doesn't bring out any redness in your skin, doesn't make you look sallow (in fact, it makes your overall complexion look brighter), and it makes blue and green eyes shockingly bluer and greener. If it weren't for Wells's admonition, I would say that it "makes your eyes pop," but I won't because every time I sit down at a computer to write a story, I remember everything she taught me when she was my boss. From now on, I'll carry her genius around in my makeup bag as well.
Flesh Beauty is available online at ulta.com and will hit shelves at 510 Ulta locations around the country on July 8.
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