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The age of paradoxes

Are the major oppositions that used to structure our vision of the world disappearing? The same people can now defend and claim values or ideas that used to be considered opposite.

In the beauty world, femininity representations are getting more and more extreme. The beauty models that were popular 20 years ago have been replaced by singular icons who adopt increasingly extreme looks, as can be seen with the silver model campaign: Charlotte Rampling, 68, with Nars, Joan Didion, 80, with Céline, a transgender model with Makeup Forever, Winnie Harlow, who suffers from vitiligo, with Desigual. Difference and acceptance have become the new standards of a more asserted beauty, and the self-acceptance territory is no longer exclusively claimed by Dove.

In addition, hyperconnection has made beauty one of the most frequent subjects of conversation on social networks [1], while new, booming brands are breaking codes, reinventing standards, and adopting seemingly contradictory approaches as strategies. The case of Birchbox, the creator of beauty boxes in the United States, perfectly exemplifies this trend.

Four trends, four paradoxes, and their impact on beauty

We shared our expertise (monitoring of society trends on the one hand, knowledge of the beauty industry on the other), and we examined four examples to study how they materialize in the field of appearance and cosmetics.

Paradox 1 – Fascinating Science, Beneficial Nature

The fact that Science and Nature are no longer conflicting is a first sign of the reconciliation of opposites. The same people who now want more “science” would also like more “nature”. The public opinion shows a renewed fascination for Science, while the virtues of Nature are praised. In 2008, only 46% of French people admitted that “scientific and technological progress will create a better world”. They are 56% today, and this proportion considerably increased between 2013 and 2014 (+5 points).

Indeed, the general public has felt a fast evolution in the technological field over the past few years. What used to be science-fiction is now real and visible in our daily lives. And cosmetics are no exception. What is new is the way individuals view these changes.

In beauty, science is fascinating, and technology has also invaded our bathrooms.
Some new beauty places now resemble future laboratories. In Paris, the Skin Genomic Center offers a new type of consultation involving genetic testing (on saliva) and lifestyle analyses, as well as the creation of a calibrated formula based on twenty-one actives that play a role on the key signs of aging, for 400 euros per test and 375 euros per treatment. And the strong growth of the beauty device market provides further evidence of this acceptance of technology, as it showed a 14% growth in 2014, according to Kline. [2]

If Science fascinates, the need for Nature has never been so dominant: 73% of French people declare they “particularly enjoy” the moments when they feel “in harmony with Nature”. For the younger ones, Nature offers an alternative to stress when they take their first steps in the world of work. On the other hand, the elders view Nature as a precious help to preserve their health. In both cases, Nature is considered as a source of benefits and personal balance.

The natural beauty market should keep up its development pace, with a 10% annual growth on average until 2019, according to Kline, and the tendency of formulas to go natural is becoming more and more widespread among brands, almost inescapable. The praise for beneficial Nature is ubiquitous, but Nature is also glorified, as it is able to trigger emotions and pleasure, two values closely related to the beauty world. Nature’s Way, the organic cosmetics concept store in Tokyo, is a hybrid place, both a restaurant and a cosmetics store, which drew inspiration from libraries to showcase its goods.

The complementarity of Science and Nature has never been expressed as much as it is today in the beauty industry. Today, Science unites with Nature to better understand it, imitate it, or reinvent it, as can be seen with the trend of plant cells, which are either laboratory reproductions of cells taken from Nature, or which, cultivated in a favourable environment, naturally produce active molecules. Several brands have placed these actives at the core of their story, like Rodial, with Skin Food Stem Cells.

Paradox 2 – Connecting and disconnecting

Our attitude towards technology is also changing. The match between “connected” and “disconnected” people is now over. Today, those that are constantly connected also dream of escaping.

It is hard for someone who is not connected to find their own place in today’s society. Indeed, 34% of French people identify with the statement “when I have no access to the Internet, I feel cut off from the world” – it comes as no surprise that this figure has increased over the past few years, and it should keep doing so in the future. However, just as many French people would like to reduce the use of new technologies, because they consider they have gained too much importance in their lives. The ultimate dream is to temporarily escape: 49% of the French would love to be “unreachable” for some time, a proportion that has risen by 10 points since 1998.

Besides, connection has also revolutionized the beauty world, as beauty is now shared through self-staging on social networks. As a sign of our times, there is an Uberization of beauty services (e.g.: Pop My Day app in France), and “instaglam” beauty – self-portraits – are systematically shared via hashtags… People connect, control their looks, and they benefit from augmented experiences in store. Brands have been cashing in on these new ways and do not hesitate to create products adapted to this urban lifestyle. As an example, in early 2015, Too Faced created the Selfie palette to mimic the Instagram filter effects for a better controlled beauty finish, ready to be shared on the web with the hashtag #TFNOFILTER.

Meanwhile, there is a “slow” trend that is developing, a real beauty-enhancing treatment that consists in taking and enjoying time: “slow food”, “slow travel”, “slow beauty”. We escape from the urban world and reconnect with our own selves and the others. Detox has never been that present in our plates, herbal tea, and creams. The Westin Hotel in Paris has introduced a “digital detox” offer, which includes a safe service to secure one’s phone, and rejuvenating, “cocooning” treatments: plantar reflexology or a treatment at the Six Senses spa. In Los Angeles, the Detox Market store downtown is presented as a small oasis dedicated to Nature and detoxifying, natural cosmetics.

Paradoxically, in the era of hyperconnection, which enhances beauty and helps us stage ourselves, things have never been more conducive to escapism. And – yet another paradox! – people mechanically connect to exchange about these moments of escape with the #CHILL #YOGA #DETOX #DECONNECTED hashtags. Everywhere on Instagram, today’s new icons like Karlie Kloss or Kendall Jenner display their moments of escape like precious instants they like to share.

To be followed …