Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Suburban Sarah and Urban Decay

As the 1990s glowed in the USA, with a booming economy, alternative music, colorful subcultures, and green consciousness, we saw a proliferation of unconventional beauty brands. That's how I remember it, anyway.

My awareness of this fantasian world beyond drugstores and department store counters came with the first thick Body Shop catalogue I received in the mail. It must have been 1992. The Body Shop was born in England in 1976, but only in the 90s did it start to spread across the USA. I still have that texty recycled paper catalogue, with my favorite Dewberry Shampoo, Orange Cream Bath Oil, and delicately tinted artwork.

I quested for other intriguing offbeat cosmetics companies. I found a few via Sassy magazine and high technology. In January of 1996 I was sitting in my sophomore dorm room, surfing the 'net through my text-based Lynx browser. And I found a glowing link to Urban Decay.

I hadn't met Mosaic or Netscape yet. I didn't know one might see pictures online. There weren't many to see anyway, and most companies didn't comprehend the marketing potential of the internet. But there, in neon ASCII, was Urban Decay -- bold brainchild of Cisco Systems founder Sandy Lerner. No wonder a makeup company had an internet presence so early.

According to their text, Urban Decay offered the unheard-of: shimmering indigo lipstick, or corpselike grey if it pleases you! Olive green nail enamel, and gunmetal, and the most vampiric blood maroon!

I submitted a request for their snail mail brochure. I had to see these hues for myself. I was sure I wouldn't have a use for such odd shades, but I fell in love with the brochure. I began to save spare dollars for a few refreshingly weird things.

Urban Decay Brochure I

I still have that piece of 90s ephemera. Eighteen years later I'm sharing it with you. "Does pink make you puke?" It hasn't made Urban Decay puke in years, of course. They offer all shades of pink now -- dirtied up psychologically if not visually with names like Anarchy, Catfight, Heartless, Burnout, Trashed, and Jilted. But here is UD at its most rebellious:

Urban Decay Brochure II

Urban Decay Brochure III

Urban Decay Brochure IV

Urban Decay Brochure V

Urban Decay Brochure VI

My first items were the Bruise and Uzi nail enamels. UD's text site told me I could find their products at a certain surf shop in Muskegon, and so I did after a visit to my grandmother. Ah, Internet.

"But Lerner says she's already bored. 'I guess the things that were bugging me are not bugging me anymore,' she says. 'Blue-green nail polish is really mainstream now.'" --Forbes, "Does pink make you puke?" August 25, 1997

By 2013, both The Body Shop and Urban Decay had been acquired by the L'Oréal Group. Le sigh.

Do you remember UD from back in the day? Did you make any memorable beauty discoveries in the 1990s?

Have a beautiful 2014!


  1. I remember Urban Decay in the 90s. I also remember discovering Make Up Forever, they also had unusual shades. I can not believe you not only kept that 90s memorabilia, but that you knew where to find it! I am surprised how many original UD colors are still around. Roach was a favorite of mine for a long time.

    1. Make Up Forever! Yes -- I began hearing about that on around 1998, but I don't think I ever bought any. I did invest in another agf favorite, Smashbox's cream eyeliner in Caviar, and their cream eyeliner brush. I still have them, they're still functional, and they're good for a soft but intense upper lid line.

      Oh, I am a great keeper of interesting bits of paper information. Tall file cabinet and lots of manila folders. I kept the UD brochure in my "Goth" file folder. ;-) I should see what else is in there...

  2. I do remember Urban Decay and although I never bought anything I liked it's fresh attitude - it inspired me to try dark indigo nail polish (but by a cheaper brand!)

    1. :-) I did a similar thing about UD's Frostbite lipstick. I could not excuse $12 for such an impractical lipstick, but I certainly copied the effect with inexpensive blue-black eyeliner under a layer of cheap cobalt pearl Hallowe'en lipstick.