Mirror, mirror on the wall
BEAUTY BOOM After years in a product desert, Kiwi consumers are going wild for mega beauty shops and online services. Eleanor Black reports.
The vibe is upmarket playground. Pop music is blasting, the lights are white-bright, there are mirrors and millennial pink accent stripes everywhere, and so many people crammed into the aisles that you can’t get down one without having to squeeze past at least three strangers clutching pottles of primer or pimple cream.
This is Mecca Maxima on a Friday just before lunch, and everything about the experience is, indeed, maxima. The makeup displays, the skincare, the beauty tools, the little baskets you carry round and load with products, the bouncy staff in loud lippy who arrive at your elbow to help you distinguish the vitamin-c brightening serum from the facial oil from the firming masks. It’s a lot.
The clientele is mainly women, mainly in their 20s, and they are not browsers. They know exactly what they want, how much it will cost them and what it should do for them. They are educated by social media, particularly Youtube, which is making the dissemination of beauty information more democratic than ever – but is also encouraging unprecedented consumption of makeup and skincare products.
The average woman now spends an estimated $20,600 on beauty products in her lifetime, including $5200 on mascara alone, according to a recent survey by Money magazine.
Women who follow beauty trends more closely will spend significantly more. The American beauty e-tailer Skinstore released research earlier this year showing that their customers will spend an average of $413,000 on beauty products in their lifetime. These women (and a few men) also say they use 16 products on their face before they leave the house in the morning, including newer “must-haves” such as highlighter, a Youtube favourite.
“The way new products are introduced to us [now] is more relatable,” says Kirsty Leigh, who founded the Facebook page Makeup Obsessives (which boasts 42,000 members) and runs an online retailer with the same name. “As opposed to print and TV advertisements, we see real people via Youtube, Instagram, and beauty blogs using products in ways that we can see ourselves replicating.”
Mecca’s arrival in New Zealand was a “huge deal”, says Leigh. “For years we’ve been seeing brands online that were previously super-hard for us to buy, such as Too Faced and Urban Decay, and now that they’re accessible, it’s a lot less frustrating when we see our favourite Youtuber using them in a tutorial. We’re finally catching up.” We sure are. After making do with the offerings at department stores and pharmacies for decades, we have seen an explosion of beauty launches in the past five years. In addition to three Mecca Maximas
cleanser; use toner; then a special treatment like vitamin C; and then moisturiser.”
The holy grail of shop openings, according to beauty blogger Cass Thompson, would be an on-the-ground Sephora. The French chain, with 2300 stores in 33 countries, is owned by the LMVH conglomerate (Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Hennessy, Givenchy and many more) and is known for its product innovation and buzzy launches. The latest is Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which boasts 40 different foundation colours and stick highlighters in violet and mango.
Thompson buys makeup online and in-store, but most enjoys being able to try products in person. “[Like] so many other beauty lovers [I was so] desperate to get my hands on [popular brands] that we would shop online and use parcel forwarding services from the United States or United Kingdom. Shipping would be pretty steep, and of course, the wait time to get products was much longer.
“For a while it felt like New Zealand was so isolated from the beauty world in terms of the brands accessible to us, it was almost torture watching beauty bloggers share their latest hauls and not being able to have the chance to get the products ourselves.” As popular beauty bloggers, Leigh and Thompson are sent free products to trial – in the same way that Youtube star Shaaanxo (who hails from Palmerston North and has 3 million followers) and international “beauty gurus” like Nikie de Jager and Tati Westbrook are. Big Youtubers’ “first impressions” videos and tutorials get millions of hits, and have dramatically changed the way beauty companies approach their marketing.
Collaborations between cosmetics brands and “beauty gurus” such as Jaclyn Hill (4.5 million Youtube subscribers, 4.5 million followers on Instagram) and Manny MUA (3.5 million Youtube subscribers, 4 million Instagram followers) quickly sell out and inspire imitations.
Their most admired makeup looks require significant ability and a lot of product – five or six eye shadows, liner, mascara, false lashes, glitter and highlighter for the eyes alone. Depending on your point of view, this is great fun or a massive palaver.
Kang – who is developing her own skincare line, starting with the classic Korean sheet mask – is just as scrupulous about her skincare regime. At night she uses oil cleanser, foam cleanser, toner, an ampoule of whitening product for pigmentation, vitamin C drops
As a teenager, beauty writer and editor Sarah Simpson wore four makeup items every day – foundation, lippy, mascara and eyeliner – and she was considered unusual. Four products in her arsenal made her a makeup junkie in the 80s. “I was really the only girl in class who was interested in makeup to the extent that I was,” she says.
These days she preps her face with 12 to 15 products, but thanks to improved formulations and her own increased knowledge, she feels that she looks more natural now.
“The ultimate goal is for a barely there look,” she says. “As a teen I probably would have spent 40 minutes trying to cover my freckles. Before I had children I would pour myself a glass of wine and give myself an hour to get ready. Now I can do a full face in 15 minutes.”
Products go on more thinly, and many have a dual purpose, such as a blur primer which gives her skin colour and also contains skincare ingredients and blurring qualities. She also uses foundation, concealer for under the eyes, a different concealer for other parts of the face, highlighter, blush, eyeshadow, mascara, brow gel and lipstick. “A lot of that is actually just getting the base right,” says Simpson. “There are so many more ways to get that youthful look. Obviously I’m chasing that because I’m 38.”