Stress-Free Sephora

Heather Bobrow pampers herself at Sephora, a beauty store that gives you the freedom to shop at leisure

Coutesy of Sephora
Sephora' own luxurious brand of beauty products

The scene is familiar: Your usual shade of lipstick suddenly looks bland and chalky. Hopes soaring, you enter the nearest department store. You are just a few steps away from a lusciously berry-stained pout, and in turn, a new you. Or so you think. On entering the makeup floor, you are greeted by an army of makeup artists, guarding their counters with their perfectly manicured nails and plastic smiles. Browsing no longer seems feasible as a multitude of salespeople begin to fire questions and advice. Your reply of "I'm just looking" is answered with a raised, impeccably arched eyebrow and skeptical glance. Your heart begins to pound as the array of lipstick shades morph into a menacing chorus line of colors. Forgetting the new you almost as quickly as you decided to invent it, you race to the exit, a cloud of perfume following you in your wake.

A beautiful concept
If you've ever been affected by the stress associated with shopping for beauty products, the brand new Sephora beauty store in Ginza will make you breathe a sigh of relief. A French company formed in 1993, Sephora tries to offer a more relaxed, hands-on approach to cosmetics. It is the leading perfume and cosmetics chain in France with 103 stores, and the second largest in Europe. In 1998 the first two stores opened in the United States, in New York and Miami, and over the past two years that number has mushroomed.

Sephora's widespread ad campaign plays on the psychological Rorschach tests, showing a colorful inkblot image, touting the slogan, "Beauty is how you see it." Sephora advertises not only as a beauty store, but as a beauty "concept." "Freedom, beauty and pleasure" is their three-fold mantra, emphasizing the importance of the freedom to choose while shopping. "Freedom" can be found with the opportunity of all customers to sample items without a salesperson breathing down your neck. "Beauty" refers to the international array of products (shelves and shelves worth), and "Pleasure" is the end result

The outcome is that you find yourself in a spacious store, surrounded by tranquil music, having an enjoyable shopping experience.

While shopping at Sephora might not be beauty nirvana, it sure is good. With three levels - fragrance, make-up and skin care - the store was more grandiose than I had anticipated. When I first entered a Sephora store it was in Greenwich Village, New York. Occupying only one floor, it was nowhere near as bustling as its counterpart in Tokyo. Noticeably larger, the Ginza store offers the same amenities as the one in New York, and just like the tasty food one can sample in Ginza's department stores, the makeup and perfume are arranged so that sampling is not only easy - it's absolutely necessary.

L'Orgue de Parfum

Endless options
On the fragrance floor, you are instantly greeted by L'Orgue de Parfum, or organ of perfume. Here, with some assistance, you can test and blend scents. Looking for the old stand-by? You can browse through the massive selection of international fragrances, alphabetized for your convenience. Feel free to enter the Discovery Room, where you can both admire and purchase a selection of antique perfume bottles.

If shopping for scents isn't on your agenda, then head upstairs to the color floor, where you can find professional make-up and accessories, a consultation station and the Sephora lipstick bar, offering you a dizzying 369 shades. Each makeup aisle is punctuated by a tray filled with cotton balls, Q-tips, alcohol and all other necessary items to make sampling as convenient (and neat) as possible. At the consultation station, you can get free, expert advice on what colors will work best for you. Makeovers are in high demand, so you'll need to call and make an appointment with one of the five makeup artists before going in.

You can also find assistance on the third floor - skin care. Here employees use a skin diagnostic system to find out your skin type. Afterwards, you can head on over to the skin care finder, where you punch your "skin info" into a computer and discover what products Sephora has that are best suited to your skin. However, this service is only offered in Japanese, so if your language skills aren't so hot consider bringing a fluent friend or a pocket dictionary along.

Indeed, shopping in Sephora is very much an excursion. Carrying such a wide array of beauty products, as well as their own line of bath and body, lipstick and nail goods, the options are endless. Plus, if it's not you you're shopping for, their ready-made gift packages make present purchasing easy. Overall, the selection is equal to that of a large department store, but the products are more accessible. Just make sure you leave yourself lots of time to browse.

Best of all, Sephora gives their customers the delicious taste of freedom missing from most department stores. The salespeople offer you help only when approached, leaving you to sample peacefully to your heart's content. So, brush your beauty shopping anxiety aside. Despite the overwhelming selection of products, entering Sephora will certainly allow you the liberty to try everything for yourself. The only critical glances you will meet will be your own, and I have no doubt that your shopping bag will include the perfect shade of lipstick to please your pucker for months to come.

Sephora's Ginza store is at 6-10-16 Ginza, Chuo-ku (03-3571-1651).

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