Lawsuit that may change complexion of cosmetics
Published 14/05/2013 | 05:00
IS IT naivety or courage that has led a woman to sue Lancome, the giant French cosmetics house? Rorie Weisberg is an orthodox Jew who has decided that she has had enough of what she claims are the empty promises of the cosmetics industry.
Apparently she wears a cream by night and has discovered that it does not remain on the face for the length of time it specifies on the accompanying advertising material.
Her problem is that as a practising orthodox Jew she is prohibited from putting on make-up between sundown on Friday to midnight on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. So she needed a make-up that would remain on her face for that period of time.
Unfortunately for Lancome, the cream apparently did not live up to its promises and she has decided to sue the makers. A pricey cream at $45 (€34) for a one-ounce bottle it is not the kind of lotion to be simply discarded when it is not fit for purpose.
Part of the fascination with this "truth-is-stranger-than-fiction" story is that a woman who is part of an orthodox religious group would have the temerity to take on the cosmetics industry.
None of the newspapers have carried pictures of this woman but even without them we have built up a picture of a dutiful wife and mother, although in all probability it fails to convey the determination of her mission.
The case is claiming that the company was responsible for deceptive acts and practices. It is easy to warm to this faceless woman when you learn that she had spent her money on this expensive product to look pretty for her son's bar mitzvah, something any mother would want for a child's special day.
On the other hand, you will say, she should have realised that the cosmetics industry is no more accurate in the description of their products than are the banks.
Understandably, the company says the suit is without merit. Details of the claim are now posted on a website, where they can be viewed by all and sundry.
Perhaps, on reflection, Weisberg is more foolish than naive. Surely she must have known that she could not possibly acquire the good looks she aspired to despite the boasts of the product that included an effect lasting more than 24 hours, a promise that the complexion is always flawless and "unified" (whatever that means in cosmetese) and that flaws, pores, redness and all imperfections visibly disappear. Is she playing her hand in a game that she cannot win?
Yet her simple but unrealistic wish to look younger is identical to that of women all over the world who take on the search for eternal youth in a hopeless fight against the laws of nature.
As night follows day, the relentless passage of time will ensure that your skin will wrinkle, your face will become lined and you will never again look as you did in your 20s.
The dreams of this devout Jewish woman were no different from those of a 16-year-old shop assistant in the inner city. But even Cleopatra and her milk baths weren't able to achieve that.
When it comes to cosmetics we can convince ourselves of anything if we try hard enough, even when the possibility of change is minimal.
We delude ourselves that we too can look like Julia Roberts or Penelope Cruz
or any of the faces of Lancome. In a sad irony, the best known face of Lancome, the actress Isabella Rossellini, who had a 14-year liaison with the company as its international face, had her sell-by date too.
Should Weisberg succeed in her bid to improve the exaggerated claims of the cosmetics companies, it will have a profound effect on the industry.
It will recalibrate women's expectations of the products they choose and set a more realistic tone for the promises made to gullible buyers.
I wish her well in her battle with the company but, more especially, in her fight against the insidious process of ageing.