Look at the contents of your make-up bag. What is your lipstick called? How about your mascara? Defining and defiant, empowering yet comforting, our relationship with make-up is a funny one. Much more than a tool to make us look pretty, it has a recognised power – an estimated £1.1bn was spent on beauty online last year – but, right now, we are at a pivotal turning point in the subliminal messages that our make-up is sending us.
Last year, Kylie Jenner (whose cosmetics line is on the way to making its first billion) upset fans with three of the overly sexual names for her five matte blushers – Virginity, X Rated and Barely Legal. Similarly, make-up artist Kat Von D caused a furore when she released a lipstick called Underage Red. And think, for a moment, on the fact that the bestselling mascara in the US is Too Faced’s Better Than Sex, with one selling every eight seconds. There is a pretty high chance that it isn’t better than sex, but one presumes that most teenagers wearing it – whom Too Faced is marketed to – wouldn’t be aware of that. Incidentally, one of Too Faced’s latest launches is a peel-off face mask called Glow Job.
I personally have no problem with teens wearing make-up. I started wearing Rimmel’s finest 90s shades of lipstick around the same time I started my period but, back then, the conversation was about if you were more of a Coffee Shimmer or Heather Shimmer kinda girl – it wasn’t deliberating the merits of “Jizz” (a nail polish by BleachBlack) versus “Deep Throat” (a blusher by Nars) in the canteen. This is where the conversation is going wrong.
There is nothing accidental about the name a beauty product is given. Shade names act as rich psychological receptors, tapping into our memory, forming an indelible bond between product and wearer
Much has been made of the hypersexualisation in the beauty industry. Often, the narrative of women places their value on sexual appeal and the impossible pursuit of perfection. Yet, hearteningly, change is afoot. Make-up as we know it is on the brink of a revolution. I’ve started to see a new wave of feminism coming through my letterbox, contained within the branded jiffy bags that land on my desk. Carisa Janes, founder of LA-based make-up brand Hourglass, explained to me that when they launched their GIRL Lip Stylo – a 20-strong lipstick crayon collection – “female empowerment was at the forefront. Hard to believe, but I felt that it would be refreshing and disruptive to choose names that were positive and made people feel good.” Each of the shades, from Protector to Activist, Influencer to Innovator, reflects a catalyst for change. “To me, that’s a really powerful message,” says Janes. GIRL launched hand-in-hand with a #GIRLFORGOOD social-media initiative, encouraging users to upload images of their friends and tag them with one of the empowering shade names, creating a wave of positivity online.
Similarly, Sharmadean Reid, beauty entrepreneur and founder of WAH Nails, has just launched Beautystack, a networking platform for beauty-industry professionals. “There are hundreds of thousands of girls who are choosing beauty as a career and no one is serving them,” Reid has said. “No one is helping them run their businesses.” Just like WAH, Beautystack is designed to be so much more than a beauty company – it’s designed to empower. And it seems some of the world’s most recognised brands are striving for a similar approach. Revlon has just launched a new campaign, fronted by Wonder Woman actor Gal Gadot, called Live Boldly: “Designed to inspire women to express themselves with passion, optimism, strength and style.” Also, this February, Guerlain will release new lipsticks called Adventurous and Empowered.
Florence Adepoju, founder of lipstick brand MDMflow and creator of famed lipsticks Bossy, Power and Supreme, agrees this make-up messaging is important. “When I first started working in the beauty industry at 17, I didn't relate at all to the messaging – it was sexy in a very classic way. Connecting with my customers on social media has made me realise how the women who wear my lipsticks connect with the shade names, so I make more of a conscious effort now when it comes to their names,” she says.
There is nothing accidental about the name a beauty product is given. Shade names act as rich psychological receptors, tapping into our memory, forming an indelible bond between product and wearer. Would Rimmel’s Coffee Shimmer be so imprinted in our minds if it were simply named “brown”? Would you want your daughter to think back to her mid-teens and recall that the first shade of blusher she wore was called Virginity?
In 2018, it’s undeniable that an eyeshadow called Spank Me feels out of touch
It’s not just make-up brands changing their ways – fragrance brands are, too. You may recall Spike Jonze’s advert for Kenzo World, parodying classic fragrance ads, which has so far won 19 awards. Backing away from the women wafting around Paris, dripping in couture and hypnotising her suitor with a single-spritz kind of marketing, we saw actress Margaret Qualley perform a riotous dance routine to disrupting and liberating effect. And expect to hear more from Reek this year, a fragrance brand with a feminist agenda founded by the mother/daughter duo, Sara and Molly Sheridan. They tell me, “The right perfume can act as a suit of armour, building a layer of confidence around the self,” and so these fragrances – Damn Rebel Bitches and Damn Rebel Witches – have attitude and weight to them. Look on the Reek's Instagram feed and you’ll find slogans such as Fuck The Pay Gap and Pussy Grabs Back.
The reality – that some beauty brands might be riding on the coat-tails of the trend for feminism – is something that has not gone unnoticed. Many may consider this female messaging within beauty a marketing tool and wearing the facade of feminism can be obvious – and damaging. “Alongside the Women's March last year, a lot of brands released feminist-branded merchandise, but people really ripped into brands who weren't being honest and are not representative of feminist values in how they operate as a business,” explains Adepoju. Anna-Marie Solowij, co-founder of BeautyMart and former beauty director of British Vogue, agrees: “I would worry that it could be seen to be an easy win for brands to use empowerment as a selling device, but they’d quickly get called out on social media if their hearts weren’t really in it.”
In 2018, it’s undeniable that an eyeshadow called Spank Me feels out of touch. And, while there is undoubtedly still a way to go in eradicating damaging phrasing from the industry, this shift is the start of something positive. It feels fitting, modern and important that a lipstick is put into production with the name Liberation, rather than Porn. That’s the kind of make-up we want to see on our friends, on our daughters and on ourselves. In the age of industry harassment, the gender pay gap and the tampon tax, these words are exactly the kind of invisible weapons we can arm ourselves with. So, if you take one thing from the pool of new-season beauty trends, make it this: your make-up is talking to you. Make sure you like what it’s saying.
The Beauty Brands CHANGING THE CONVERSATION