Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL) didn't need much of a makeover today. The cosmetics purveyor experienced particular sales strength in Europe and was enthusiastic about the coming year. Investors flirted with the stock, sending shares up about 3% in recent trading.

Fiscal first-quarter net earnings were up 23% at $95 million, or $0.41 per share. Total sales increased 12% to $1.50 billion (taking out the benefits of foreign currency translation, sales were up 9%).

Sales of skin care products, which proved a hot sector over recent history, increased 13%, but makeup sales really showed promise, with a 23% boost. Net sales in the Americas increased a mere 4%, but cash registers were ringing in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, with a 29% increase.

It's a Foolish must for companies to include cash flow information with their earnings, and Estee Lauder did so. In fact, it booked a huge, 1,300% increase in free cash flow compared with the first quarter last year. Although its cash pile dipped by 20% and short-term debt increased by a long shot, the company pared down its long-term debt by 43% to $472.6 million. The company forecasts that it will increase its sales by 7% to 8% in fiscal 2005, with gross margins improving.

It's not hard to see why one might consider Estee Lauder a bellwether of the industry. Its stable of brands includes such favorites as Clinique, Prescriptives, Bobbi Brown, MAC, and Aveda, to name just a few. Although Estee Lauder has plenty of competitors that occupy a variety of niches, such as Avon Products (NYSE:AVP), Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG), and Mary Kay, as well as more beleaguered names in the industry, such as Revlon (NYSE:REV), and L'Oreal, the ubiquity of Estee Lauder's brands as well as its customers' loyalty to them have a serious pull.

With a forward P/E ratio of 22 (which is in fact comparable to that of its rival Avon), one might wonder whether Estee Lauder represents a bargain. Given its formidable product line, promising attributes in its earnings, and its enthusiastic eye towards future growth, it seems Estee Lauder might bear a closer look.

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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned.