THE red-hot Canadian make-up house that has broken every marketing rule - by refusing to advertise and by hiring drag queen RuPaul as its 'face' - will make its debut in Asia in the next year. Make-up Art Cosmetics (MAC) has just signed with cosmetics giant Estee Lauder, which will be selling another company's products for the first time. Japan will be the first to benefit, with Hong Kong next in line, under the international distribution deal with Lauder, which has worldwide sales estimated at US$2.5 billion (HK$19.3 billion). No dates have been set as yet for the Asian launch. A spokesman in MAC's Toronto headquarters is quick to dismiss fears that Lauder's big-budget approach and savvy marketing slick will corrupt MAC's kitchen-table family ethics. Expect low-key marketing and an avalanche of recycled black paper and plastic packaging, and lists of the all-natural, cruelty-free ingredients that look especially good under showbiz lights. MAC sales assistants - the company calls them make-up artists - will not be preaching to you about how they can fix your face. There are no free gifts, promotions or special deals either. Information is the key. 'We give the customer knowledge,' owner, co-founder and make-up artist Frank Toskan says. 'We don't have to have the kinds of people behind our counters that are bull****ting the customer, giving them a spiel on liposomes or micro-cells or collagen-elastin embryo extracts that are going to make them look years younger.' Shooting apart his competitors' efforts at selling eternal youth, Toskan's no-nonsense range is based on two principles: cleanse and protect. 'You can clean and protect skin,' he says. 'But you can't rejuvenate it ... there's no cream on the market that can be worth US$150.' Without fiercely brandishing any one of the more than 1,000 lip colours, liners, eye-shadows, and blushers, MAC's representatives rang up gross sales of almost US$60 million last year. The company expects sales to rocket to US$107 million this year as the almost religious loyalty to MAC grows. Hong Kong stylist Sian Coakley, a convert, used the cosmetics until someone stole the stash at Channel V. 'I'm building up my stock again,' she says. 'MAC is very good for colours, and most people like it because of the texture. When I get a make-up artist using MAC, I think 'oh good, they've got the colours'.' Princess Diana and Madonna are often listed as the company's most high-profile fans. Madonna made Russian Red famous during her Blonde Ambition tour and Michelle Pfeiffer insisted on MAC products before she would show her face on the Batman Returns set. Celebrity users are not the sole reason for the company's stratospheric success. Despite the hip image, Toskan says MAC is make-up for the masses. 'We attract everyone. Rich and poor, black and white, old and young, conservative and trendy.' He says: 'I didn't wake up in 1989 like every other company and decide there were black women out there to be exploited. We've always had a large black clientele, a large Asian clientele.' And both sexes, MAC says, need the same skin care. 'You don't need one for man and one for woman. Skin is the same. What works on women will work on men.' A point proved by MAC's revolutionary choice of drag artist RuPaul as a walking, 2.15-metre-tall advertisement for the power of make-up. 'She's perfect,' Toskan says. 'And anyway, who wears more make-up? ... RuPaul is male, he's female and he's ageless. He fits the bill.' RuPaul will represent the company in its ongoing 'put your money where your mouth is' AIDS awareness and fund-raising campaign. So far, MAC has raised US$2 million, mainly from sales of the US$12 matte red lipstick, Viva Glam. The lipstick is based on Russian Red, the top seller for three years running. The charity drive is part of an ethic which includes taking MAC into hospitals for use by burn and cancer patients. There are other lofty ambitions for a company co-founded in 1984 by Toskan, then a make-up artist and photographer frustrated by make-up that wouldn't perform for the camera. He started brewing the first products with his chemistry student brother-in-law, Victor Casale. Their 'lab' was a stove in the Toronto suburb of Cabbagetown. Soon, models were buying the home brew. Word spread, and not only up and down the catwalks. MAC is still a family affair based in Cabbagetown: Toskan's mother can be found assembling lipstick boxes and his father, a retired construction worker, oversees shipping. His sister heads distribution and publicity, and brother-in-law Victor is in charge of research and development. In Hong Kong, there is an unofficial MAC supply line, running via unlicensed vendors. Picking up on the discount MAC gives make-up artists, some have begun bringing the products into Hong Kong and selling them at a healthy profit. A MAC spokesman says there is little the company can do 'except remove the make-up artists' discount eligibility. The only time we can take action is if they are using our name in advertising or displays. But there's nothing we can do if people are buying it [in Canada] at the normal price and selling it there for a few dollars more. Our best defence is to open our own locations.' Brace yourselves.