In the minimalist white space of London’s grandiose Phillips de Pury & Company Gallery, Lynne Greene, president of Clinique, addresses a crowd of international media from as far afield as China, Australia and South Africa. The guests, clad in designer-gear stilettos, are a flattering accent to the austere surroundings. Waiters circulate not with trays of canapés but miniature Clinique products: Happy perfume, the already Lilliputian Bottom Lash Mascara and—the assortment that causes the most excitement— Chubby Stick Moisturizing Lip Colour Balm.
The sheer, hydrating lip balm, dressed in a grown-up version of a crayon, was one of Clinique’s most successful launches— and has gone on to be a bestselling lip product in 20 countries. Greene says that since its launch, it has become an integral and playful part of life. “I met a woman who told me how much she loves Chubby Sticks,” she recalls. “She said, ‘What I love most about it is that I can put it on in the dark!’”
This is clearly a product—and a brand—that isn’t afraid to have a little fun. The stars aligned with the Chubby Stick and its “high-concept, low-tech” angle. Much of its success comes from the 360-degree approach used to create it: functionality (a no-brainer to use), packaging (just plain cute), colours (a wearable range of nudes, brights and plums) and names (Two Ton Tomato? Come. On.).
If there’s one person who puts a face on this multi-faceted methodology, it’s Janet Pardo, senior VP of product development worldwide for Clinique. Over her nine-year tenure with the brand, Pardo has had numerous big hits. Later on that evening, as we chat over dinner in a buzzy restaurant in London’s West End, her enthusiasm for her work is obvious. She’s open about what drives her creatively: innovation. “There’s so much out there, so it’s not easy for a woman to navigate it all,” she says, referring to the overstuffed shelves and never-ending beauty launches. “It’s our job to surprise and delight her.” Pardo believes that the way to do this is to create something a woman doesn’t know she wants, “but when she has it, she’s hooked and can’t live without it.” (That’s the Chubby Stick, by the way.) “You just look at it, and it makes you smile,” says Pardo.
More on why we love Clinique’s Chubby Stick Lip Balm, on the next page…
So does the name. Any “push back” on calling something a “chubby” due to its colloquial associations? “Sure!” she says, laughing heartily. “Especially when people find out what it really means.” That didn’t stop her, of course.
This isn’t the first time the Chubby Stick has come out to play. It was launched in 1997, but back then it was a very different
lip product: a full-coverage matte yet emollient lipstick styled as, literally, a fat pencil (sharpening required). It was successful and “had its moment,” until it was discontinued in 2004. What brought it back? An innovation in packaging was presented to Pardo: a larger diameter and an easy swivelup- and-down action—no need for a sharpener. Her sales spidey sense went off the charts. “I just said ‘Chubby is coming back! Full force!’” she recalls, leaning forward in her chair at the memory. “But this time around, it’s so fun. You want to whip it out and put it on 15,000 times a day.”
Earlier, at the gallery, it’s notable that each room offers a new surprise. In front of a white leather bench, rows of foundation bottles in varying hues sit stacked in glowing light boxes. A giant canvas hanging on a wall waits for guests to decorate it (using Chubby Sticks, of course) with their words and images. The message sent by the contemporary, imposing backdrop is clear: This brand knows what makes an iconic image, and, in this element, it certainly seems that design is the default. But just around the corner, there’s an instant-photo booth with a mile-long line of jovial, giggling guests waiting for a turn to pose for a picture with metre-high Chubby Sticks. Perhaps the true making of an iconic product is simple: Never underestimate the power of good old-fashioned fun.
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's daily newsletter.