Hometown Makeover

THE BALTIMORE SUN

It is one of Baltimore's best-kept secrets, but it is a fact.

Beauty begins in Hunt Valley.

On an unassuming part of York Road, nearly hidden among squat hobby shops and antiques stores, sits the international headquarters for the largest, possibly most-recognizable cosmetics company in the nation.

CoverGirl -- home to such famous faces as Christie Brinkley, Molly Sims and Tyra Banks -- has been in Baltimore County since 1966. There it sits, across the street from a Midas and a Firestone, Andy Nelson's BBQ and a KFC, a campus of nondescript buildings and lush green trees. While you've waited on a muffler repair, or ordered a bucket of Original Recipe, they've been over there churning out beauty products for women day after day, year after year.

Women across the country have grown up with CoverGirl. The company's famous liquid foundations, powdered eye shadows and tubes of lipsticks are as much a part of the American landscape as jazz, Fourth of July fireworks and hot dogs hawked at baseball games.

Who would have guessed, though, that CoverGirl was a part of the Baltimore landscape?

"You just associate big companies like that with New York and L.A.," says Angie Phillips of Bel Air, while watching her sister Amy get made over by a CoverGirl makeup artist this month at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. "Places trendier than Baltimore."

For CoverGirl executives, however, Baltimore is the perfect place to situate a cosmetics company. Charm City isn't trendy and neither is CoverGirl. They're both reliable, consistent. Tried-and-trusted.

Baltimore and beauty go together like summertime and crab cakes, CoverGirl execs think. And it's time to make a bigger deal about that.

"CoverGirl is loved in America," says Anne Martin Vachon, vice president of global cosmetics and beauty marketing for Procter & Gamble, which owns CoverGirl. "It should be loved in its hometown."

So, like a woman applying a fresh coat of red lipstick, the company began this past spring making itself more noticeable.

Maybe you've seen smiling, fresh-faced CoverGirl representatives at Orioles games, handing out thousands of tubes of Outlast All-Day Lipcolor, or giving makeovers around the stadium. Perhaps you've noticed the signs hanging from light poles on Interstate 895 or on Orleans and Russell streets, or at the airport, that proclaim "Baltimore: Home to CoverGirl since 1961."

The signage and freebies are the very beginning of a homecoming campaign that the company started in April, when the Miss USA Pageant came to town. As the official cosmetics sponsor of Miss USA, CoverGirl seized the opportunity to capitalize on its hometown advantage.

"Miss USA was a great impetus for us," says Paul Yocum, CoverGirl's marketing director. "That really got the ball rolling."

The company planned two nights of giveaways and makeovers at Oriole Park, on Mother's Day and earlier this month, and is now planning more community outreach programs with the Orioles. CoverGirl will be host to Latino Night at Camden Yards on Aug. 13 and Student Night on Sept. 16. And Yocum's marketing team is thinking daily about what more they can do to increase CoverGirl's visibility in the region.

The reach-out campaign is a long time in the making.

CoverGirl, as we know it, started in Hampden as the Noxzema Chemical Co. In 1961, the company launched the world's first medicated face foundation. They called it "Cover Girl."

In 1966, the company, then called Noxell, moved itself and its foundations -- which came in three shades, in a liquid and a powder -- to Hunt Valley. Once there, Noxell moved into eye makeup, lip colors and nail polish, eventually expanding the name CoverGirl to include a full array of cosmetics.

Although CoverGirl was targeting women of a relatively affluent lifestyle -- $1.50 for foundation in the 1960s was not cheap -- the brand was the first to sell its cosmetics in mass retail outlets.

"Before, women got them in pharmacies," Vachon says.

In 1989, Procter & Gamble bought Noxell and CoverGirl Cosmetics. Although the merger greatly increased the size of the company -- including a relocation of the Max Factor line of cosmetics from the West Coast to here in the early 1990s -- CoverGirl stayed in Hunt Valley.

"We have offices in Asia, north and south, Geneva, the United Kingdom," says Vachon. "But Hunt Valley is the global headquarters for Procter & Gamble cosmetics. It's quite amazing when you think about it."

Since the merger, the company has expanded in other ways, as well -- particularly in the area of diversity. It was the first to have a Hispanic spokesmodel, Patricia Velasquez, in the 1990s. And in addition to Tyra Banks, one of the most well-known African-American CoverGirl models, the company has sold cosmetics using the faces of such black women as singers Brandy and Queen Latifah, and modeling novice Eva Pigford, last year's winner of Banks' America's Next Top Model.

Being diverse "makes people associate with the brand," Vachon says. "We don't put our models on pedestals. They could be your best friends. A lot of them are mothers with kids. We call them 'good-girls-with-a-wink.' "

That diversity also is a reflection of Baltimore's influence on the company.

"Baltimore celebrates a diverse population, both in its history and its makings," Yocum says. "It's a great slice of American history. And I think CoverGirl fits into that."

On a recent tour of the 1,000-employee York Road plant, Naima Mora, the most recent Top Model winner and the latest face of CoverGirl, said she had expected the site of the largest cosmetics company in the country to be huge, to stand out, to be smack in the middle of a bustling metropolis.

But after she'd spent a day in Baltimore -- throwing out the first pitch at an Orioles vs. Houston Astros game, and signing autographs at a CoverGirl tent at the stadium -- the doe-eyed model from Detroit said she could understand why the company is here.

"CoverGirl really embraced me. They really welcomed me into their family," says Mora, 21. "And I felt that same energy [from Baltimore residents] throughout my trip here. That's a beautiful quality that Baltimore gives the company."

Even with Mora's professional endorsement, people still are surprised to learn that CoverGirl is based here.

"Crabs and beauty?" asks an incredulous Diane Cox of Winston-Salem, N.C., as she was getting her face made up at a CoverGirl booth at Camden Yards this month. "That doesn't really go together, does it?"

CoverGirl executives know there's more to be done to increase the company's local visibility. Soon, they say, with better outreach, more and more people across the country and around the world will know that beauty begins in Hunt Valley and Baltimore.

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