Features, The Business of Beauty

Big Beauty Is in Serious Trouble

I don’t make too many brilliant decisions in my life but opting to record this year’s Golden Globes while I nipped out to watch “Little Women” at my local multiplex proved to be genuine goodie. Not only could I enjoy the feast-for-the eyes scenery and fine acting in Greta Gerwig’s bracing take on the Louisa May Alcott classic (Saoirse! Timothée Chalamet!), I could also later watch – and rewind, multiple times – the jaw-dropping, scorched-earth Ricky Gervais opening monologue that had woke Hollywood squirming in its seats. Yikes.

But because I’m the world’s foremost Beauty Nerd, I was equally intrigued by the full slate of L’Oréal Paris commercials that aired throughout the three-hour telecast, woven around Gervais’s cringey digs. As the sole beauty sponsor, the brand had a huge presence, doling out one flashy 30-second spot after another.

And here’s the thing that struck me immediately about L’Oréal Paris’s lineup: four out of the six commercials were for makeup SKUs, a market sector that’s been in decline for almost a year. In contrast, skincare — which couldn’t be hotter right now — got serious short shrift.

I took notes, and here’s how the roster of TV spots – all of which aired twice — shook out:

  • Skincare: Revitalift Derm Intensives glycolic acid serum
  • Makeup: 24 Hour Fresh Wear foundation
  • Makeup: Lash Paradise mascara
  • Makeup: Rouge Signature matte lip stain
  • Makeup: Unbelievabrow brow gel
  • Hair Color: Superior Preference boxed dye

Big Beauty in Trouble

Before I go any further, I want to be clear that I’m not picking on L’Oréal Paris; I admire that brand massively and always have. It’s just that during the Golden Globes, it felt woefully out of touch, and emblematic of pretty much everything that’s currently wrong with Big Beauty.

Although the signs are everywhere that young women are fleeing from products – and messages, and entire brands – that tell them they need to “hide” their so-called flaws, there was L’Oréal Paris last Sunday night trotting out its glitzy spot for 24 Hour Fresh Wear foundation, starring – wait for it – a model who maybe looked 15.

Worse, the commercial featured a split-screen of the young woman with her “flaws” visible on one side, and the made-up, covered, “flawless” situation right next to it.

No, no, no.

You know who watches the Golden Globes? Not the “flawed” millennials that that 24 Hour Fresh Wear commercial was aimed at. Instead, why not serve the actual audience and run that Age Perfect Rosy Tone moisturizer spot featuring L’Oréal Paris ambassador Helen Mirren? How positively radical would that have been?

Why Makeup Is Wobbling Right Now

Listen, as it relates to beauty, “kids these days” can be bewildering. One year they’re basically plastering their faces with elaborate slashes of contouring makeup and five-step eyeshadow, and the next year they refuse to wear it at all.

I’ve witnessed this with my own teenager. About 18 months ago, she had me sit at my computer for hours so I could order a particular Morphe eyeshadow palette she just had to have. And recently, when we scooted up to New York City from Florida to attend her pal’s bat mitzvah, we passed an entire Morphe store in The Oculus and she couldn’t be bothered to even pop in.

But guess what she wanted for Christmas? More Glossier skincare to add to her already sizeable collection.

Which leads me to the first of a handful of bullet points on why the makeup category is hurting these days:

  1. Skin is in. Whether it’s fair or not, there’s a connection between skincare and the explosive wellness and self-care movement that just doesn’t exist with makeup. And unfortunately for color brands, the more a woman’s skin improves with the diligent use of high-quality products, the less she’s inclined to cover it with makeup.
  2. Artifice is out. I just looked up the hashtag #cellulite on Instagram, and guess what popped up? One million posts, boys and girls. Clicking on one by an account called “Super Mom Gets Fit,” I was treated to endless, heartfelt deep thoughts about how Super Mom is owning her thigh dimples. What does cellulite have to do with makeup? Nothing, specifically. But the fact that it’s being embraced by so many females further speaks to the growing “love yourself” phenomenon. Women want to show the world their real selves now, blemishes and “chub rub” be damned.
  3. There’s something called a VSCO Girl: Piggybacking on that last point about the fall of fakery is the rise of the “VSCO Girl.” Because I’m as clueless as you about this trend, let me topline it for you. VSCO was/is an app that supplies social media image filters to a very specific subset of young women. They’re typically white, and they love Birkenstocks, old-school hair scrunchies and one particular water bottle that they lug everywhere – the Hydro Flask. As a tribe, the VSCO is not into makeup. While typing up this paragraph, I just realized that my young, white daughter owns a mountain of scrunchies, fake Birkenstocks and multiple water bottles. Save for mascara and a dab of lip gloss, she hasn’t been wearing much makeup lately. Basically, she’s a VSCO Girl in training.
  4. The coolest indie brands aren’t makeup centric. “Skin first.” That’s Glossier’s tagline. And now I just spotted this mini-manifesto on the Glossier website: “Beauty inspired by real life. Glossier is a new approach to beauty. It’s about fun and freedom and being okay with yourself today.” There’s more, but you get the gist: “flaws” are cool. Sick of hearing about Glossier? Then consider Milk Makeup’s tagline instead: “Live your look.” Yes, Milk is a makeup brand, but the products are “weightless” and “brushless” and very, very sheer. It’s like a suggestion of makeup rather than actual makeup — a light wash of color on great skin. Did I mention Milk offers almost as many skincare SKUs as it does makeup? Of course, it does.

So Why Did Coty Just Spend $600M on Kylie Cosmetics?

That’s a very good question. Thanks for asking…

Right before the holidays, Coty announced it had snagged a majority stake in Kylie Cosmetics for a cool $600M. Although the 22-year-old beauty mogul retained 49 percent of her namesake brand and has pledged to hang on to the creative reins, there’s not an ounce of doubt that the youngest member of the core Kardashian-Jenner clan got very, very lucky with this acquisition.

Because while Coty valued Kylie Cosmetics at $1.2 billion (an amount some analysts have an issue with), the writing’s on the wall for makeup brands, like Jenner’s, that made their marks with limited-edition product “drops.” If young women are pretty much “over” makeup, are they really going to anxiously await the next shadow palette or lip kit?

And speaking of drops…Coty’s stock took a major plunge in 2018 – a whopping 67 percent – thanks to a gamble it took on its last big acquisition: a huge chunk of Procter & Gamble’s beauty portfolio. Obviously, that ramps up the pressure on Coty to make good on this new purchase, which isn’t expected to be signed, sealed and delivered until the third quarter of 2020.

Perhaps sensing the wane in interest in color cosmetics, Jenner made her foray into skincare in May of last year. The collection, dubbed Kylie Skin, hit an immediate speed bump when the walnut shell powder in the facial scrub got panned in the press by dermatologists who claimed it created “microscopic tears” in the epidermis. Oops…

On January 2, Jenner announced her next celebrity makeup collaborator: Stormi Webster, her adorable toddler daughter with rap god Travis Scott, who turns two in February. Now there’s a young woman who could use a little makeup. Not.

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