The Beauty Face-Off

Stylish independent companies are giving the cosmetic giants a run for their mascara

A leather high chair framed by a white umbrella and chrome mirrors stands empty at Sephora, the hippest cosmetics store in New York City. A sign discreetly advises, SEPHORA MAKEUP ARTISTS ARE ALWAYS AVAILABLE FOR COMPLIMENTARY CONSULTATIONS, but the customers prefer to play in the aisles. In this Art Deco universe, all cosmetics are created equal. Witness the beauty behemoth Estee Lauder occupying the same space as stylish newcomers like BeneFit and Urban Decay. And despite the abundance of salespeople in black pantsuits and single black gloves, supervision is minimal. "I know what I'm looking for, so this works for me,"...

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