Brand Builders: Pout

Kylie's lip-gloss makers are putting the fun back into the white-coated world of cosmetics.

Women lick their lips as they enter Pout's flagship store in London's Covent Garden. It's not clear whether this is the salivating effect of entering a girly equivalent of a sweet shop, or just because they suddenly wonder whether they're wearing enough lip-gloss.

Pout has carved itself an enviable niche in the world of premium-priced, offbeat cosmetic brands. Built on PR, the brand aims to avoid the pristine world of high-end cosmetics, favouring a fun approach. This means Pout is one of the only places one can buy cosmetics without feeling intimidated by slick, over-made-up women. It's almost certainly the only place one can buy pink pants with their own lip-gloss pocket.

Pout's staff are the brand. They have a genuinely pleasant and helpful manner that is absent from their white-suited department store peers.

Assistants mix casually, making suggestions to customers, but without the aggressive sell.

Customers respond to this down-to-earth attitude, leaning into mirrors as they try out testers. And if you don't get a sense of play from the environment, product names such as Dirty Gertie and Suck my Candy leave you in no doubt. The interactive style is aided by the manicure bar, where customers are given, in Pout-speak, a Heavy Duty Hand Job.

The store (christened 'Poutlet') displays its brightly coloured products on customised dressing tables for that full-on pink boudoir look, a style replicated in each of Pout's concessions.

Former Planet Hollywood marketing and PR director Emily Cohen and her co-founders Chantal Laren and Anna Singh started the firm in 2001 by re-mortgaging their houses.

Cohen says the idea was to bring the 'play' aspect back into cosmetics.

'We're talking about painting your face - it shouldn't be taken too seriously. We wanted to create an environment that felt less like a lab and more like a pyjama party in your mate's bedroom.'

Fast-talking Cohen, 34, is the driving force behind the brand's development, while Laren designs Pout's stores and packaging and Singh handles product development. Cohen's marketing background means she is the one who strikes distribution deals and manages the brand's publicity. She has also been driving international development, recently promoting two of Pout's American store assistants to regional managers.

Packaging and store visuals have been created to reflect the brand's slogan, 'The underwear of make-up', using lacy designs. 'We wanted the packaging to be beautiful,' says Cohen, 'the sort of thing you'd pull out to use in the toilets and that other women would admire.'

Word of mouth has been the primary driver behind the growth of Pout, fuelled by a proactive courting of women's glossies. Cohen and her partners scored a significant early hit when they hired Kylie Minogue's make-up artist Caroline Barnes to help recruit. Barnes told Kylie about the brand, and the singer wore Pout's lip-gloss in the video for Can't Get You Out Of My Head. Cue vast amounts of publicity - customers still ask for 'Kylie's lip-gloss' three years later.

When the trio started Pout, they sought cosmetic brands to sell alongside their own (made by Swallowfields, which produces Marks & Spencer's cosmetics).

But contracts with cult foreign brands such as Du Wop, Cargo and Bloom were dropped because margins were too low. Now a refit of the Covent Garden store in August will put a lot more emphasis on Pout's own branding.

This summer marks a period of international growth for Pout, with Poutlets opening in 10 Victoria's Secret lingerie stores in the US this month.

The brand is also available in France (thanks to a deal with Sephora) and Australia.

All this frenzied growth means that Cohen is virtually living on a plane.

She looks remarkably perky considering, proclaiming that 'You've got to keep going. It's all about volume in the cosmetics and we're on a roll right now.'

And with that she's off to her office above the store. Her customers plot a far more leisurely course across the shop, gently swaying to the sounds of the Dirty Dancing soundtrack.


Jun 2001: Launches in prime spot just off Neal Street in London's Covent Garden.

Oct 2001: Kylie Minogue wears Pout's Pop my bubble lip-gloss in the video for her single Can't Get You Out Of My Head, giving the brand an immediate PR hit.

Dec 2001: Employs retail specialist Sarah Hatch as managing director.

Sep 2002: Opens first concession, in Edinburgh's Harvey Nichols.

Feb 2003: Launches in the US, with a presence in New York store Henri Bendel.

Apr 2004: Enters Australia through a deal with three department stores in Sydney and Melbourne.

May 2004: Poutlets open in 10 Victoria's Secret stores across the US, the first external brand to be housed in the lingerie retailer.


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