One of the perks of covering fashion is that cosmetic brands send me samples of the latest and greatest. Over the years I've fallen in love with creamy eye shadows, realized there is no such thing as a truly smudge-proof mascara (at least for this eye-rubber), and discovered that a dusting of coral below my cheekbones results in a rosy, yet bronzy blush.
But for every no-name lipliner that sits unopened on my desk, I always feel a little bit of Christmas when a Make Up For Ever box appears. Nondescript black packaging and simple font aside, this brand has the best eyeliners - bar none.
That, however, is all I knew about the company. Until now.
As part of a seven-store expansion, Make Up For Ever opened its fifth boutique Friday in the Plaza at King of Prussia mall, between Spanx and Kiehl's.
Packed in the 800-square-foot space are 1,600 color cosmetics. We are talking an endless supply of high-definition foundation, packs of eyelashes - some with peacock feathers - and yes, my fave Aqua eyeliner, developed so underwater athletes could keep their makeup intact.
The products are all pigment-heavy - as in perfect for today's super-red-lipped '40s kind of face - but the technology is very now, as in the liquid lipstick is creamy and features a velvety matte finish. Gloss optional.
Like Bobbi Brown was in the 1990s, Make Up For Ever is a favorite of professional artists. Everything is formulated to glow, whether you are under high-definition lights or taking a selfie with an iPhone. And we know how brutal both can be.
Not only do experts at the King of Prussia boutique offer lessons ($50 to $100) on how to put on makeup, the store also features a recording studio for women to document their makeup school experience. (Did she use the pink eye shadow first, or the blue?) Of course, these $15 videos can be uploaded to Facebook and YouTube, too.
Make Up For Ever was created by French painter and sculptor Dany Sanz. Sanz worked in theater in the 1980s painting actors' bodies, and became frustrated that the market didn't offer enough color variety - the pigments were lacking when it came to exactly matching skin tones. So she developed her own product line and launched it in 1984. It became a favorite of France's tight-knit makeup community, and eventually was used by artists in the international television and film industry.
In 1999 LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton purchased the controlling shares of Make Up For Ever for an undisclosed amount. Sanz and her business partner, Jacques Waneph, stayed on board, and sales at the time were $10 million annually.
In 2001, Make Up For Ever was picked up by Sephora, where it's still available, and those of us with a penchant for pouty lips took notice, even while we were MAC-obsessed.
The brand doesn't have any celebrity spokesbeauties - although in time I think that will change. And because so many actresses have deals with major cosmetics companies, the brand won't officially say in what famous makeup bags it's found - except that the brand collaborated with Madonna's makeup artist, Gina Brooke, to create its iconic Aqua Rouge 8 lip color. And the shade is also a favorite of Taylor Swift. And makeup artists on True Blood and CSI use it.
As big brands realize the value in staying boutique-sized, Make Up For Ever is enjoying a small, calculated expansion. By year's end, a total of seven U.S. stores - including KOP's, the only one in Pennsylvania - will be open in Texas, California and New Jersey. Its flagship studio is in New York.
It had been a while since I had a makeup lesson, so I sat in one of the high-backed director's chairs and allowed artist Alexis Reyes to show me how to apply the golden creamy eye shadow to my lids, fill in my brows, and apply satin fuchsia lipstick the right way - with a teeny, tiny brush, of course. What was left over on the palette, she blended into my cheekbones, and I liked it.
But as fresh-faced as I looked, I wasn't going to upload the lesson to my Facebook page.
The star of my own reality show I'm so not ready to be.
Make Up For Ever: The Plaza at King of Prussia; 484-679-4631.
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.