Tracy Wells' quest to create perfectly colored foundation for the masses arose from personal frustration: Born to a blond, Irish-English-German mother and a Japanese father, "My skin tone has both yellow and pink undertones, so I could never find foundation to quite match my skin," she says.
Not that she didn't have the expertise. A graduate of the Fashion Institute for Design and Merchandising who majored in merchandise marketing, Wells worked for Chanel, Estée Lauder, Benefit Cosmetics, Shiseido and Mary Kay. She noticed that her customers, just like herself, would buy several colors of foundation and mix them together hoping to create a match — with less than perfect results.
Then, while she was listening to an exasperated customer two years ago, "a light bulb went on over my head," Wells says. She started thinking about the paint-mixing technology at Home Depot and Dunn-Edwards. Was it possible to create a luxury makeup line with foundation, concealer and tinted moisturizer customized to match the individual? She also wanted to customize texture and coverage — adjusting how thick, matte and moisturizing a foundation could be per a customer's predilections.
Wells talked over the idea with her dad, Larry Igarashi, a retired golf club manufacturer. He had the manufacturing, technology and international sales skills, combined with so much belief in his daughter's idea that he came out of retirement to help transform Wells' idea into a business, Sayuki Custom Cosmetics, based in Laguna Hills.
"But it wasn't easy," Igarashi says.
Making customized foundation that luxuriously and adeptly interacts with human skin ended up being more complicated than making wall paint. Igarashi turned to medical technology, engineering and computer experts for solutions, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on software alone. The result is the company's Skin Color Scanning Technology, Matching Color Blending Technology and Dispensing Technology, which they are using in a shop that opened last year at the Laguna Hills mall.
Here's how the Sayuki process works: You have a brief consultation with a Sayuki Custom Cosmetics advisor, who enters your data into the company's specialized computer. Then you press your cheek against the round opening of the pink Sayuki Skin Color Scanning device, which analyzes your skin. Moments later, sleek pumping metal gadgets dispense a rainbow of exacting amounts of streamlined colors that, blended, match your skin color.
It's pretty incredible to watch — for beauty aficionados it's akin to being a candy-lover visiting Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory. The whole process takes two and a half minutes. Then, presto, you're presented with your custom color foundation packaged in a chic, pretty pink bottle that looks more like luxe perfume packaging than makeup ($65, including a travel-size extra). The company saves your foundation recipe, making reordering easy.
I must admit I was skeptical when I gave it a try. Wouldn't the computer pick up the colors in freckles, moles, red veins and other discolorations during the skin analysis, resulting in a muddy-foundation mess? "Our technology cancels those things out," Igarashi says. And, indeed, my foundation was perfectly matched, natural-looking and silky.
There have been other custom foundation companies. In the 1990s, I remember first going to a Prescriptives makeup counter (now it's sold only online). Seeing those Prescriptives consultants with their metal utensils hand-blending pigments chosen just for me under the heady glare of the department store lights was exciting. But the resulting product was too yellow, the texture dull.
Now technology has advanced enormously, and there are a wide range of foundations on the market. "But those brands aren't offering an exact match," says Wells.
The store has developed a repeat clientele, and the company is in negotiations to have counters in high-end retail stores internationally. Wells says they've signed a contract with one retailer but can't reveal details until the partnership launches in March.
Sayuki Custom Cosmetics, Laguna Hills Mall, 24155 Laguna Hills Mall Drive, Laguna Hills; (949) 770-0701; http://www.sayukicustomcosmetics.com.