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Designer nail polishes bring color back into fashion

Marketplace Staff Jul 6, 2011
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Kai Ryssdal: Shorts and sandals. Women in sundresses. Yes, it’s summertime. And after a couple years of recession-induced belt tightening, women are starting to put a little color back on themselves.

We turn to Kate Betts from time to time when we want to know what to wear. Or in this case, what to put on our nails. Hey Kate, how are you?

Kate Betts: I’m good, Kai, how are you?

Ryssdal: I’m good, I’m getting by. But here’s the thing: as happens most times that we talk, I am out of my depth, because this whole nail polish thing, it’s got me a little confused. I thought lipstick was the luxury that sort of accessorized everything.

Betts: Well, no, not anymore. Apparently nail polish has completely triumphed over lipstick. This is a way that people can do something different and kind of fun in a basically inexpensive way. One of the reasons that nail polish is taking off is the color, and there are all sorts of colors out there. This season, the popular colors are bright blue and neon orange.

Ryssdal: Wow. Whatever happened to like pinks and reds?

Betts: Pinks and reds are very passe, Kai — I mean, where have you been?

Ryssdal: You know, I was known in my youth to dapple in a little bit of nail polish, and you know, I’ve got a seven-year-old who likes to have his nails painted every now and then. But the point being, I suppose, is it a moneymaker? What does a bottle of nail polish sell for, a couple of bucks, probably right?

Betts: Yeah. It depends. Essie is a company that was recently sold to L’Oreal for a lot of money, and they sell their nail polish bottles for $7. But Chanel, for example, which is a prestige brand, sells for a little bit more, more along the lines of $25.

Ryssdal: No! Oh my goodness, really?

Betts: Yeah. And by the way, the business has been growing very rapidly. I think in 2009, it was up 11 percent in this country: $462 million business.

Ryssdal: You mentioned Chanel and you mentioned Essie. Is this a big brand thing or are there boutique markets? How does it break down?

Betts: There are a lot of boutique brands. There’s obviously a lot of mass-market brands, like Revlon, things that you can buy in a pharmacy or a Duane Reade. But then there’s smaller brands like OPI, based out of Los Angeles. Then there are the more boutique ones, like Deborah Lippmann, who’s a celebrity manicurist. There’s even a nail polish company called Uslu, which is a Swedish airline company that makes nail polish, and all of their colors are named after airport abbreviations, like those three-letter abbreviations.

Ryssdal: We are so totally doing a Marketplace nail polish thing. We’re going to come out with a whole line.

Betts: You should. Let me know if you need any naming help. That’s the big thing with nail polish.

Ryssdal: Kate Betts, her book is called Everyday Icon: Michelle Obama and the Power of Style. Kate, as always, thanks a lot.

Betts: Thank you.

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