When Jamee Gregory’s favorite shade of nail polish, Chanel Rose Baby, was discontinued five years ago, the socialite and author tried to be a good sport about it. She bought every remaining bottle she could find and, once she’d worked through them, began experimenting with some of the brand’s other hues. But her quest to find a new color came up short; a white shade “turned yellow in the sun,” Gregory says, while she decided Black Satin was “fun on the toes, tiresome on the hands.” Before long she developed a serious yearning for her old standby. “It’s truly an addiction,” she admits, “and I had gotten my mother hooked on it too!” So Gregory did what any Park Avenue princess worth her Birkin would when faced with such a desperate situation: She called the boss, fellow benefit-scene regular Arie Kopelman, then president of Chanel. And what did she learn? That not even groveling to the man in charge could revive her precious polish from the cosmetics graveyard. The best Kopelman could do was send her a measly four bottles. Says Gregory: “Now it’s a lost cause.”
Just about any beauty junkie can relate to the experience. After years, even decades, of devotion to a product, you head to the store for a refill and find it missing from the shelves. There are many perfectly logical reasons for such discontinuations: Colors go out of fashion; technology improves, prompting changes in formulations; the rest of the populace doesn’t share your passion for a particular item, so it’s just not selling; sometimes an entire brand goes out of business. But logic is cold comfort when you find yourself deprived of, say, the only hair serum that ever rid your ringlets of frizz. And because most women don’t have a direct line to the president of Chanel, they develop other strategies for coping with their losses.
My own attack of product-separation anxiety was triggered by the disappearance of Helmut Lang Cuiron Pour Homme cologne. Just months after I co-opted the meant-for-men scent from my husband, the label decided to get out of the fragrance business. Once I finished our one and only vial, I took to wandering longingly past the now shuttered Lang perfume store on Greene Street in New York’s SoHo, remembering a time when the shop brimmed with bottles of the leathery elixir. Finally, I discovered that a few shady-sounding online retailers with names like Perfumes 4 U still stocked the juice, and I loaded up. I have four bottles left, enabling me to accept my fragrance fate slowly.
Sadly, New York public relations executive Lauren Branche didn’t have the luxury of time. Four years ago she went to the Chanel counter looking for the peachy-nude lipstick she’d been wearing since her teens and was told she was out of luck. Unwilling to admit defeat, Branche wasted much of her subsequent vacation in Saint Martin and Martinique combing through cosmetics shops in search of the ultraflattering tone. “I skipped the excursions and beaches and went shopping,” she recalls. “But I never found it again.” In fact she has yet to find any lipstick—Chanel or otherwise—that compares to her old favorite. Lately she’s taken to mixing foundation (she prefers Jane Iredale’s Amazing Base) with clear lip gloss to mimic the effect. “It isn’t the nude that I fell in love with, but it does the trick,” she says with a sigh.