Time of late has been mostly spent with my colleagues talking about the future of female beauty retail. There has been a strong enthusiasm for new ideas and a desire to make a difference and a significant amount of new products added to our make-up bags. We have revealed one dedicated follower of Liz Earle, got a real education in the multiple uses for 8-hour cream and celebrated a haul from Sephora, Paris which would rival that of even the most dedicated beauty addict.
At those moments we stepped away from being designers and we became the customers, passionate about the products we are loyal to and getting excited about the new. Sat together talking about the brands we love and why, there is a feeling of empowerment; taking back control of a sector we feel has been influencing us for so long.
Right now my social media feeds are full of observation and comment on women’s roles: fourth wave feminism and everything on the feminine side of the cultural sphere is a hot topic. It has moved out of niche ideology into the mainstream and right into the media. From #NoMorePage3, Orange is the New Black (the new Sex and the City), Catlin Moran and other frank literature written by women, for women. We are tearing through the established demographics. Defining women with labels is out; it’s all about celebrating the contradictions of being female.
Which brings me to Zoella, the teenage beauty vlogger. She has now obtained a celebrity status among teens, her six million subscribers. Her values, the emotional issues she shares and how she uses her influence for charitable causes all appear fine and wholesome, but to the cynic in me it feels very contradictory. Her advice on how to look, what to buy and her how-to’s are yet another extension to an industry built around product placement and false ideals of beauty. Yet I know that misses the point because opening up to the camera (open to judgment and criticism) in such an ‘un-edited’, natural way is possibly the rawest expression of one’s self.
Zoella’s peers really connect with her – “it’s a gang of friends letting you in and saying you are OK.” Of course they are trying it for themselves; the vlogger generation is alive and kicking. Like it or not, at that moment in their lives, dialogue and this permission to gain common ground and share experiences with others really matters.
After spending a good few hours hooked on the beauty vlogs delivered by twenty-somethings, I spent some time trying to find similar channels by 50+ women and those offerings were rather scarce. For now it’s the brands’ voices that rule, creating fear around ageing with creams, lotions and potions. Youth is positioned as beauty and the message driven home is that unless you use their products the future is wrinkly and inevitably miserable.
But there is an undercurrent of those who see things differently and a move away from the negative connotations of ‘anti-age’ solutions to ‘pro-age’ or ‘no-age’ attitudes. For instance, NARS uses Tilda Swinton, aged 53, as the new face of the brand. “I don’t put an age limit on beauty,” says François Nars. “She has no age — I don’t believe in age labels.”
Swinton is chosen for her strong looks, but this marketing is not a celebration of age or fashion. It’s a celebration of the individual and to me that feels really right, the redefining of a category with smart ideas about credibility and ageing.
I’ve also seen it described as ‘slow beauty,’ self-expression versus trend, and I came across it here at weseebeauty.com. It presents its make-up as the building blocks for individual style. Its small experimental collections, ‘how-to’ tutorials and Vine style snapshots are produced and directed with care and artistic flare, reflecting its values of quality, craftsmanship and good design.
Throughout our work on the beauty industry we identified real strength in those brands brave enough to reach out that bit further and meet their customers head-on with these democratic, non-prescriptive ideas about female beauty. Personally I am drawn to the glamour, allure and excitement of the beauty world, but I now expect to see more inclusive and realistic representations too. This topcoat of polish seems shallow if I can’t understand why it’s relevant for me.
For the future of my make-up bag, I’d like to be able to pick and choose the inspiration I want without guilt or judgment, and I want to see the intrinsic value in the beauty brands I interact with.
As a designer, I always come back to ideas about physical spaces and the challenge of meeting the changing expectations of the female beauty customer with bricks-and-mortar experiences. The glossy black and white beauty hall with its army of brands feels less and less comfortable. I see the future of beauty retail in the creation of inclusive spaces that facilitate the sharing of ideas and empower women to make informed choices.
An industry that never stands still and constantly strives to innovate for the customer, we’ve turned our attention to the beauty sector for our latest insight report, ‘Exploring the Changing Face of Beauty Retail.’ We’ve identified three key insights where brands can tap a beautiful convergence of fashion, wellbeing, fitness and lifestyle. To request a copy of our report, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
In recent weeks, prior to the release of our report, we’ve been tweeting beauty insights that we’ve wanted to share with our followers. Take a look at our favourite beauty products and in-store experiences using the hashtag #DandPLovesBeauty.