The New Beauty Paradigm
Beauty journalist Anna-Marie Solowij gives the lowdown on the seismic changes in the beauty industry over the last decade.
Words Anna-Marie Solowij
Attitudes to beauty are changing. Fuelled by the growing influence of the internet, the boundaries continue to shift, shaping retail and business models, consumer behaviour and product creation. With social media addressing new audiences strongly tuned to digital communication, and the need to respond to the changing desires of established and influential older consumers, in the world of beauty, the future is up for grabs.
There are defining moments in the past that shape the future. Sometimes the repercussions may be obvious, sometimes not. For instance, who could have guessed that Keeping up with the Kardashians – a reality TV show about a large, predominantly female Hollywood family – which premiered in 2007 would end up fundamentally changing attitudes to body shape, gender and ideas of female empowerment? The show’s protagonists have wholeheartedly embraced social media to drive the juggernaut of a success founded on modern fame, which relies simply on being themselves. Kim Kardashian is the poster girl for extreme bodily womanhood, with a mesmerising combination of boobs and butt linked by a wasp waist. Her body, albeit as unreal and unattainable as that of any fashion model, is what has cemented her success with young women disenfranchised by model proportions, but her influence has been significantly wider in both positive and negative ways.
It could be argued that as a lead proponent of selfie culture she has contributed to growing concerns about an increase in narcissism, a psychoanalytical concept that is expressed through worryingly familiar modern traits, including arrogance, entitlement and pretentiousness, although conversely this year’s appearance at the Vogue Festival sanctioned Kim’s status as a global style leader. With her life an open book, and every single moment potential content for social media, TV and her interactive game Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, her cultural and commercial allure is undeniable and has a ripple effect enjoyed by her family. Kim’s younger half-sister, the model Kendall Jenner, was signed as the millennial face of dowager brand Estée Lauder. Seeing the effect on sales of her 60 million-plus Instagram following, the brand recently launched a spin-off range, the Estée Edit, fronted by Kendall to appeal to a previously ignored generation D customer. Meanwhile Caitlyn Jenner’s public transition – although it received mixed reactions from the wider transgender community – put gender issues on a global stage through print and online media.
Elsewhere in the digital world anyone with an opinion or idea has a platform on which to air their views. In terms of the beauty industry, what began as a small but influential group of bedroom bloggers has now morphed into a career choice or lucrative sideline for many. Bloggers and vloggers are a highly influential supergroup, viewed by brands as tastemakers with the ability to convert product reviews to product sales, while being perceived by consumers as impartial and untarnished by the commercial brush of advertising.
There is an inherent contradiction in this and the Advertising Standards Authority has introduced ‘greater clarity’ guidelines for bloggers and vloggers to ‘help them maintain the relationship and trust they’ve built with their followers’, which means that paid-for content has to be disclosed as such. And this is vitally important to preserve the fragile ecosystem of the online influencer because the numbers – and therefore the risk of exploitation for both sides – are staggering. Zoe Sugg, better known as Zoella, the Brighton teen who first shared her make-up application skills as well as her personal insecurities on YouTube back in 2009, now has over 10 million subscribers to her website, two best-selling books and a lucrative beauty brand. Beauty journalist Jane Cunningham aka British Beauty Blogger was one of the first and most influential, as is model Ruth Crilly who set up her blog, A Model Recommends, in 2010 while completing an MA in creative writing – she has over two million combined YouTube views. And this is to name just a few.
Although many of the most influential bloggers are under 30, it’s not all about the youth and younger audiences: the blog Fighting Fifty was launched by former ad executive Tracey McAlpine to address the lack of visibility of older women while Jane Cunningham launched a destination on her website called The Beauty Plus to champion positive ageing. It is this group that is leading the charge for older women wanting to own their age as a stand against the obsession with youth. Now grey hair has become a badge of visibility rather than a symbol of fading away, and luxury brands who rarely used to associate themselves with older women recognise that over-50s consumers represent as much as 50 percent of their premium purchases.
This acknowledgement is evident in the advertising of fashion and beauty brands featuring older women from Céline’s association with Joan Didion to Jessica Lange representing Marc Jacobs Beauty. However, the industry continues its struggle to come up with an enticing definition for this more powerful and realistic attitude to getting older, one that isn’t predicated on anti-ageing, which, unfortunately, remains the most searched-for niche online keyword in the skincare category.
We live in interesting times: every day there are new rules to consider (with Brexit, what happens to EU product compliance?); new social media platforms to investigate (who knew that Snapchat would be so dominant?); and new markets to explore (the Baltic states). But the world of beauty is resilient and despite the eternal fluctuations, one thing is certain: faces and bodies aren’t going out of fashion any time soon.