Even a true Goth might fork out pounds 9.50 for a bottle of Urban Decay nail varnish
CALIFORNIA IS not a place noted for its irony or dark soul, so it's a nice surprise to find its sun-drenched shores are home to a cosmetics firm with a bit of wit and Gothic madness.

Urban Decay was set up in 1995 by entrepreneur Sandy Lerner, who had already made her fortune in computers (very un-Goth) when she couldn't find the right purple nail varnish. A real Sister of the Night, she went on to invent colours including "Bruise", "Toxin" and "Gangrene", and created the company slogan, "Does Pink Make You Puke?"

In fact, Urban Decay's marketing is very clever: its bottles are shaped like gas canisters and the logo looks like the scrawlings of a madman. The nail varnish costs pounds 9.50, which is rather a lot for a good joke, especially when all true Goths know that you can buy a bottle of lurid StarGazer nail varnish for pounds 1.99 at Camden Market. Why the pounds 7.51 difference?

"When top make-up artists use our products, they comment on their quality and the intensity of the colour," says a company spokeswoman. "We invest a lot of money in the mica-sheens, a metallic sheen we literally burst into the varnish to give it that two-tone colour."

I took a bottle of "Plague", a deep purple with a dark blue sheen, and a similar colour by StarGazer to Midge A Killen, manicurist to the stars.

"You've got quite a long brush on the Urban Decay product," she says as she paints my nails, "so you don't have as much control as with a shorter brush, but I like the small lid because you can see what you're doing better. The brush is nicely balanced, it's even and doesn't splay out too much. StarGazer's is lopsided and fans out too much.

"The Urban Decay hasn't dried as fast as StarGazer, but the second coat has gone on evenly and the colour is very rich," she continues. "But Urban Decay has bled more than the cheaper one." After two coats, "Plague" is exactly the colour of the product in the bottle, while StarGazer is at least two shades lighter. I'm impressed, Midge isn't. "I don't think the Urban Decay is worth pounds 9.50 because it hasn't got everything. It bleeds because it's too fine a texture, it doesn't dry fast, which is what a person on the go looks for in a nail varnish. But the real test is in how well it performs over the next 48 hours."

And the real test was telling. Within 24 hours the StarGazer started to chip. By the third day it looked like a rather ornate purple and white design. "Plague" held fast and the colour and shine was as intense as when it was applied. Urban Decay isn't just a quality product, it's commercial success is making the cosmetic giants realise people are sick of pearly pink, soft focus marketing. That makes it worth pounds 9.50.