E’steem gets the door for me as I march down the steps of the Brooks Brothers flagship store carrying shopping bags and a garment bag. This new suit, heels, and blouse I just bought are going to leave a powerful first impression on Professor Saunders when I go to interview with him this Friday.
We’re headed down Madison Avenue when E’steem stops and stares in the tall glass window of a small designer boutique on the corner of 46th Street. I peer up at the brown and beige striped awning and wonder what’s so special about Sepia.
“What’s got you like a kid in a candy store?” I inquire.
“Make-up made up for us.” E’steem replies.
“Wow, I never thought I’d see a designer make-up store for Black people on Madison Avenue.”
E’steem’s brown eyes light up as they meet mine. “Shows us how far we’ve come as a people. If you really want to make a lasting impression at that interview you have to wear this make-up.”
If Sepia’s beauty products can make a satisfied customer out of someone as attractive as E’steem then maybe it wouldn’t hurt for a plain Jane like me to take a look.
E’steem gives me an eager smile as she opens the tall glass door of the upscale boutique. As we walk onto the sales floor, an antiseptic smell hits me in the face and bright fluorescent lights are hard on my eyes. The stark white décor of the store’s layout are a harsh contrast to the colorful packaging of the make-up and perfume on display. Is this a make-up store or a hospital?
“Should I page Dr. Welby?” I inquire.
My question is answered by an eager salesgirl who approaches us. The tall attractive Latina dressed in blue medical scrubs, white sneakers, and clear goggles smiles at us before going into her sales pitch. “Well, we take a scientific approach to cosmetics here at Sepia.” She tells us.
I guess one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to make-up anymore. I didn’t know there was so much complexity to modern cosmetics. I glance at the girl’s plastic nametag and find out how much the world of beauty has changed over the last thousand years.
“Well, why don’t you tell me about Sepia’s scientific approach to cosmetics Melinda.”
On hearing her name, Melinda’s eager to show me what she’s learned during her day of on-the-job training. “Sepia’s cosmetics are designed by Dr. Raheema Sanders to specifically deal with the skin issues of African-Americans and to accentuate the colors of the distinct skin tones of women of color like yourself.”
“And what would those issues be?”
“The skin of women of color, especially Black women is much more sensitive than those of other races.” Melinda continues. “So we’re more susceptible to skin issues such as acne, blotching and blackheads.”
Thankfully, I’ve never had those issues in the past two thousand years. Then again, I don’t use that much make up. All I’ve ever used over the past six decades is lipstick. Revlon’s Crimson Scarlet is all I’ve ever needed to add some color to my face these days.
“And your cosmetics are supposed to help with those issues?” I ask.
“Customers who use our products report a significant reduction of skin issues. Would you like to watch some testimonials?”
“We’re just gonna look around.” E’steem says.
“Okay. If you need any help I’m here.”
E’steem and I peruse the shelves. While she scans the colors of the lipstick selection, I flinch looking at the price tag on one of the tubes I pick up. I don’t think I could pay that much for a stick of red colored grease and wax.
E’steem smiles slyly as she catches the reflection of my grimace in the mirror of the lipstick display. “I’m guessing that’s not your color?”
“It’s not my price.” I answer. “Seventy-five bucks for a tube of lipstick?”
“It’s not that much.” E’steem dismisses.
“Only if you make a hundred million dollars a year.”
“Or if your boss gives you an expense account.” E’steem quips.
I doubt I’d have one of those as a lowly Columbia adjunct. “And as the assistant to a CEO you have to leave a strong first impression on international clients. Don’t you feel it’s extravagant to spend this kind of money on make-up?” I continue.
“Hey, this is a Black-owned company. I’m just doing my part to give back to the community-”
At these prices I think Raheema is taking too much from our people. “You don’t have to give back so much. “I could never spend this kind of money on makeup-”
“What? You never liked stuff like perfume and make-up growing up?”
I wish. Being a slave I couldn’t afford those kinds of luxuries. “I didn’t get into that stuff until I left Nubia. Being a tomboy, I spent most of my childhood hanging out with the prince and his guards.”
“So you were just one of the guys?”
“Well, Osiris did want a son.”
E’steem laughs as Melinda approaches us again. “Ladies, are you finding your shopping experience at Sepia satisfactory?” she asks.
Man, she is pushy. “I’m enjoying myself Melinda.” E’steem says. “Do you have the new Sepia Sensations Amber Red lipstick?”
Melinda fishes through the sticks and hands her the tube. “Here it is. Would you like anything else?”
“I’m about done. Do you want anything Isis? My treat.”
After getting a sticker shock looking at seventy-five dollar lipsticks, I’m afraid to check the price of any of Sepia’s other merchandise. The medical staff here might need to wheel me out of here in on a stretcher. “I’m good.” I reply.
“Might I interest either of you in a BeautyScan?” Melinda asks.
“BeautyScan?” I inquire.
“It’s where we capture your facial features in our computer and it comes up with the colors that are best for your skintone. While Amber Red might look good on you, we may have other colors that may be more flattering.”
I’m up for seeing what I’d look like in Sepia cosmetics. Not like I’d buy any, but a BeautyScan sounds lot cleaner than trying on lipsticks someone previously smeared on their mouth. “I’ll give it a try.” I tell Melinda.
“I’m up for it.” E’steem replies.
Melinda leads us over to a pair chairs in a corner of the store. As we take our seats in the booth, she drops plastic bonnets over our faces and gives us instructions. “Now you’ll just feel a little warmth from the LEDs of the scanner. It’s nothing to worry about. Just give us a smile and I’ll be able to show the best products for your skin color.”
Melinda presses a button on the computer station next to me. In a few seconds an array of warm red lights shines on our faces. When the stream of lights end, Melinda strolls over and eases the bonnets off our heads.
“It’ll just take a few minutes to get your information in the computer.” Melinda tells us.
We hop out of the BeautyScan chairs and head over to the monitors next to the BeautyScan station. The screens show images of our smiling faces. “Before I go any further and show you the cosmetics that would be best for your skin colors could I have your names?”
“Like the Egyptian goddess?” Melinda asks.
“You could say that.”
“And I’m E’steem.”
“As in self-esteem?”
“You could say I have a healthy self-confidence.”
“You have to in order to take a BeautyScan.”
Melinda runs the pointer over E’steem’s picture and clicks the red bar under it. With the exception of eye shadow, the photograph doesn’t change.
“Well, E’steem the computer says that the best colors for your face are our Amber Red lipstick, our Almond Bronze foundation and some Egyptian Kohl eye shadow. But it looks like you already use the Almond Bronze foundation.”
E’steem smiles at Melinda. “I don’t use any foundation.”
“Then you must have flawless skin. I could have sworn you used our Almond Bronze.”
“Lipstick is all I use.”
Melinda turns to me. “Well Isis, it’s your turn.”
Melinda clicks the red bar under my picture. My face is shown wearing foundation, eye shadow and lipstick that makes me look like a clown. “Isis, the computer says that the best colors for your face are our golden Bronze foundation, Coral Red lipstick, Nubian Green eye shadow, Kohl Black eyeliner and a glisten glow bronzer to bring out your cheekbones.”
That sounds like about five hundred dollars worth of merchandise. And from the looks of the finished results it doesn’t seem like their products are worth the price. I’ll stick with my old beauty routine.
On giving the sales pitch Melinda gives us eager looks. I think she has a big commission riding on it. “Would you like to try some of the suggested products?”
“Maybe another time.” I say.
“I’ll just take the lipstick.” E’steem replies. Are you sure you don’t want anything Isis?”
I’m not really into this makeup, but I’ll just buy something so we can get out of here. “You can get me a Coral Red.” I sigh.
“Changed your mind?” E’steem asks.
“Your treat remember?” I retort.
Melinda grabs the Coral Red lipstick from the display, takes the lipstick from E’steem and walks around the sales counter. Before she rings us up she makes one last pitch.
“Would you like to get on our mailing list?” She asks. “It’s the best way to learn about all our new products. Plus we offer a chance to win a one hundred dollar gift card every month in our Sepia Royal Raffle.”
I need more junk mail in my life. Besides, it’ll be fun to see if I win the raffle. That’s probably the only way I’d be willing to buy another tube of their lipstick when this one runs out.
“Where do I sign up?” I ask.
Isis: The Beauty Myth in paperback
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