In September 2009, Estée Lauder announced that it would be shutting down its Prescriptives brand, and by January, the deal was sealed: the brand’s retail counters vanished (though products remained available online), global distribution ceased, and a small but ardent population of fans took to the message boards. Many of them mourned the loss of the company’s Custom Blend program, which had been mixing individualized foundation recipes for more than twenty-five years. “I am gutted,” wrote one woman; another posted about having a “mental breakdown” upon hearing the news. More than one commenter suggested boycotting all other Estée Lauder products out of revenge.
In a welcome (but belated) response, Lauder refreshed the brand's website in 2011, and rebooted Custom Blend in November 2012, but in its current online-only format. It works like this: you sign in on the Prescriptives websiteand video-chat with a beauty expert (or “PX Beauty Genius'), who then emails you your custom recipe a few hours later. You can buy a powder ($48) or a liquid foundation ($65) if you want, but you’re not obligated to purchase anything. It’s exactly like wandering up to a beauty counter in real life, except that you don’t have to deal with Bruno Mars remixes and clouds of competing perfume. I booked an appointment.
Fast-forward a few days. Upon signing into the company's website, I’m hooked into a chat with my appointed beauty expert, Nikki Galante [photo 2]. Nikki, who has been with Estée Lauder/Prescriptives for eight years, looks like a beautiful ski instructor and immediately cops to buying fifty or sixty foundations per year, just to see what’s out there. “I’m always looking for the perfect foundation,” she says. “It’s like the way some people are with diets.”
I am in good hands.
First, she asks me to upload a photo of my face into the chat window. It pops onscreen in seconds, gigantic and sideways. Nikki scrutinizes the photograph. “You have fair skin but you're not completely pink,” she decides. Questions follow: Do I have dry skin? What foundations do I like? What sort of finish am I looking for—luminous or natural? Nikki takes notes. The process takes 20 minutes, and by the time we finish, she has my formula ready to go. With clients, Nikki says she nails the color on the first try about 85% of the time. How, I ask, is this possible?
Well. Custom formulas, Nikki explains, are based on a dizzying number of variables: base shade, coverage level, finish options, skincare options (moisturize, oil-control, firm and lift), plus the color itself, which is created by adding up to 99 pumps of foundation substance in any color in the spectrum. When I ask her to calculate how many different formulas are possible, she laughs in an oh, child way. “I’m good at math, but I’m not that good.”
My personal recipe is 7 scoops white, 2 scoops green, 2 scoops blue, 3 scoops pink, and 2 scoops yellow.
A week later, I receive a package at my office, containing my Custom Blend. Despite a vague taboo against applying makeup in the workplace bathroom, I make a beeline and start rubbing the stuff all over my face. My coworker Colleen enters mid-rub and I excitedly explain what I’m doing. As soon as the words “custom foundation” exit my mouth, two other women who’ve entered the bathroom perk up like prairie dogs and start ooh-ing. This is fun! I feel like I’m showing off a new birthday toy. Is this how new moms feel when strangers coo over their babies?
The color, if you’re curious, is perfect.
Check out the Custom Blend program here.