Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Which do you prefer... wild and colourful, or naturally pretty makeup? And, are you being manipulated in your beauty choices??

I was reading this amazing post which gave me hours of fun, and it made me realise decisively that I prefer colourful looks to natural ones such as those used by Stella McCartney, Balmain and of course Emmanuel Ungaro. Speaking of Emanuel Ungaro, I have just secured a swap for the cream colour base 'Crushed Bougainvillea', which came out in MAC's collaboration with Ungaro. I can't wait to try it! (Have any of you tried it?)

I have read a lot on Make up artist's forums where complaints are made about how MAC are buying out the independent artists- sponsoring shows, or even paying for the privilege of serving at shows, providing free make up and free artists and literally squeazing out the artists who used to make their livelihood from the fashion show season. Most infamous example would be to direct you to inmykit.com, where product recommendations conspicuously eschew all MAC. But that palpable sense of bitterness is more measured when you investigate the backstory and read the threads at forums. Take this post, where it really hots up:

"I'm on a mac boycot (sic) right now. I'm finding their practices in my market to be disturbing, and now its effecting (sic) my personal business. I feel like an idiot for not realizing their tactics sooner. Then after talking to an ex mac corporate employee, I'm really not happy. Here is what she told me. Their strategy is to befriend working freelance artists in a market, give them free product get to know who they are working for, via fashion shows, events, award shows etc. Then slip in under them, offer to do the show for next to nothing with their beauty advisors. At first I thought no skin off my back, I don't really do fashion shows and they haven't really affected me directly. (My italics) However I do events and award shows. Well not so much anymore, they've managed to take a huge huge huge client away from me. When I talked to the client about the situation, they were very honest with me and simply said, they could get for next to nothing even free from mac instead of paying me and the other artists our rates. They then had the balls to ask if any hair lines have a similar program. Now I feel like a fool for being a part of mac's "sponsor program" .Those of you who work for mac and do the shows and events for them, do you mind telling us what you do get paid? for hit and run events here in my market we were getting $400 for about 3 hours of work max. plus a kit fee. usually employing 4 to 6 artists per event. so $2400 per event, I think a bargain. again consider my market. Don't you think we should be angry about this??? and shouldn't those who are working for mac be angry about the fact that they should be making more money doing these types of jobs??? please correct me if im wrong here.."

Ok. This reminds me, one of my friends works for the Bank of England and I was talking to him about the state of the economy (yes, really) and I was saying, "Oh how sad, Woolies is gone" (yes this probably is the depth of my economic nous) and he replied, " Well it's like Darwinism: Woolworths was once important, but it had lost its place and didn't really have any niche anymore, this economic downturn means that only the fittest business models survive." Then, he added, with a flourish, "It's like spring cleaning really".

This make up artist who posted the message above, had been unwary. She selfishly gave information, so long as it didn't affect her directly. Currently the UK news is ablaze with the prospect that perhaps the secret cabinet minutes might be released under the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Not necessarily because the minutes might reveal anything (for they are probably sparse) but because it's the 'slippery slope', opening up the constitution and unravelling safety nets. By giving away information on fashion shows because "no skin off my back", she has made her awards show work vulnerable. It is difficult to feel any sympathy for her now. Similarly, her client, who has seen her use these free MAC products, can easily be forgiven for assuming this is, in her words, some kind of "Sponsorship programme" and that perhaps this was a new phenomenon, and where are the hair equivalents, please? (In fact there are Lauder initiatives in this field too, supposedly, whereby Bumble and Bumble are at the helm.) Viewed in this context, the Lauder company are simply exercising a form of 'Darwinism', making individual make up artists obsolete dinasoars, and replacing them with young enthusiastic MAC workers who are excited enough to be in the fast-paced eye of the storm, be it a fashion show, an awards ceremony or even a film set, without concerning themselves with a fair wage or even the opportunity to own their work as their own indidvidual portfolio image (according to the forum, no money is paid and they have no right to assimilate the 'MAC' image with their own).

This cruel commercial attitude evokes Estee Lauder's celebrated line, "You can get anything you want from men with perfume", a know-how that has made us, as consumers, associate MAC with fashion shows, pop stars and professional make up artistry; has made us see Clinique's simple jars- labelled 'Super Defense', Turnaround', 'Moisture Surge' etc, as prescriptive cure-alls, with this quasi medical image intensified by the overt uniform of white coat! We have Origins as the 'earthy' brand, 'Aramis' as the male brand, 'La Mer' exclusive brand, etc etc ad nauseum. Each expertly marketed, and Estee Lauder herself has been credited with the 'Gift with purchase' concept (as well as the idea to 'accidentally' spill her 'Youth Dew' perfume in a department store in Paris and ingrain the scent into shoppers' minds!)

MAC have been identified in the forum as the brand who used to represent the creative artistry of make up, and now, as one unhappy professional make up artist puts it:

"They made their choice to disregard the professional community IMO, when they became all consumer geared and corporate. Away from their past history for being about the artists and individuals in favor of being over distributed next to every Lancome counter and the quality started dropping severly."

This implies, perhaps correctly, that to be an artist's brand means a tacit exclusivity clause- no "over distribution". Plebs and artists, the argument seems to run, should be very much differentiated. Today's beauty commercials often rely on film stars endorsing the product- it's no secret that we as consumers, want what they, as professionals serviced by professional make up artists, have. They are never anything other than perfectly turned out- and we want that glow. No use attributing it to good lighting or photoshop, just tell us the exact product and we're on it. MAC take this a step further- they have their name against a multitude of runway shows: 'Make up by MAC', the byline reads; 'MAC Viva Glam', the poster with Fergie proclaims. TV make-over programmes aimed at young women, where the make up artist has been surreptitiously sponsored by a make up range, spotlight the 'products used', sometimes belying this with a long-screen shot where the recognisable bottle of MAC 'Face and Body' sits.

Then there is the cult of the 'celebrity make up artist'. Kim Kardashian's popular blog, which I linked to in my last post, is heavy on make up tips and often features her make up artist in prestigious place, links to his blog and in turn their blogs feature the celebrities who they have 'done'. One make up artist blogger listed all items used as 'By Revlon', only to have his next blog entry become in turn an angry defense, provoked by the commenters who asked, 'come on, what did you really use?'

But most famous and succesful is the creative genius Pat McGrath. Chances are, if you have ever admired a runway look, this is the face behind the face. McGrath has been poached by Proctor & Gamble so had to push Cover Girl, MaxFactor and SKII, but plans are underway for her own cosmetics brand, which like celebrity make-up artists Bobbi Brown, Fran├žois Nars and Laura Mercier before her, should do pretty well.

Ultimately, we all have our favourites, whether found by experimentation, chance or falling prey (however unconsciously) to a marketing strategy. Artists like McGrath make make up fun and inventive, so one hopes that this type of person is not eliminated if corporate conglomerates continue to dominate press heavy events. But with MAC making individuals outside of their firm nervous, and the prolific collaborations with designers and brands (Heatherette, McQueen, Fafi, Barbie, Ungaro, Manish...) MAC is proudly decalaring its commercial bent. Is it then up to us to the consumer, to go with the rebuffed make up artists and boycott MAC for this? Or do we live in a commercial age where capitalism is nothing to be scared of? Or should we just say, with a laugh, "Hell it's only makeup!"

Well I don't know. All I would advise is that you know your style and you test your products as if they weren't in that packaging. Just see it in and of itself. With L'oreal owning The Body Shop, Lancome, Garnier, Kiehls, Maybelline, Vichy and a host of other brands, and Estee Lauder owning Clinique, MAC, Prescriptives, Aveda and half the premier beauty section floor, it is tempting to imagine a different label is arbitrarily slapped onto each bottle on the production line. Perhaps that is not true. Nevertheless, the lines between the quality of drugstore make up and high end make up are blurring, so all we can do is not become a victim of the marketing machine. Get inspired by make up looks, then 'shop your stash'- if you don't have the colour- be creative! - mix colours you do have together, mix 2 different brand eyeshadows and see if you can make something new and your own. When McGrath is interviewed in magazines, her early experiences revolve around her enterprising usage of the limited products available at that time, particularly for dark skintones. Certainly today we should applaud the influx of new ranges and tailored products, but is it at the expense of experimentation?

Well this is my inspiration anyway. Now let me leave you with my poll. I would be intrigued to see the results. Please take a moment (see multiple choice poll above).

--> I want to know whether you generally prefer to look glowy and natural, or wild and colourful. Me, I prefer colouful! I'm talking about generally, not the time you'll be going to a funeral or even to work, I mean in your heart. Here are two images you should use as your guide:

Tom Pecheux for Givenchy:

Pat McGrath (mais bien sur!) for Galliano:


  1. What an amazing and thought provoking post - you write so well! I have to admit I do like MAC, due to the sheer volume of colour ranges you can get there, and the special collections, which can be hit and miss - but I have recently had my eyes opened to other brands. I love good quality makeup and will splurge on things that work, and recently branched out into NARS too... I do foray into other brands as well LOL XXX

    In terms of preferences over looks, I guess I am a fan of colour, although I suppose both yypes of looks have their place. For example I'm into nude lipstick at the moment but I like to jazz that up with colourful eyes and cheeks... I couldn't do totally neutral and as much as I'd love to be able to carry of a very colourful look I doubt I could!

  2. Oh thank you so much Mizzworthy, you are my biggest (or should that be only?) fan!! Yay!! I studied English Literature at university, so this blog makes my degree all worthwhile haha!!!

    I must check out GOSH Darling, I keep hearing about it. But I bet you could make colour work, it's all in the execution!

    Please be sure to fill out my poll if you haven't yet, it's the first time I've done one and I want to get some results going!! I included a few options, hope you can find one that applies? Thanks so much again! xxx

  3. I've always worn a no-makeup look until recently. I'm just now branching out into more colorful looks. Friends have actually told me that I should wear more color on my face, and I think they're probably right.

    I only recently discovered MAC. I like the products but it irks me that they make certain products (such as the pan eyeshadows) available only in "Pro" stores or by making customers order by phone instead of online. Those are such a silly artificial barriers.

    I don't believe all the hype about high-end products but I do love pretty packaging and sometimes I don't mind paying for it. :)


  4. I think I totally agree... I would often prefer a YSL product to a MAC product if they do the same thing, just becaus YSL packaging is SO much prettier and it makes me feel more like a lady to pull out a gold tube rather than a black, butch tampon (aka the MAC lipstick bullet!!) in public.

    Also, I honestly think colour can actually help a face more than a natural look- I'm so glad you're getting into colour YAY!! X

  5. Please count me as a fan too:) Really enjoyed reading this. It's great to read about the business aspect of cosmetics. Very interesting points you bring up in the post. You may be interested in this article I recently read at work regarding MAC http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2071

    Color...I'm a neutral girl but I love color, usually on the canvas or on paper or surrounding me (just not on me;). The bottom look is fabulous. Very Queen Amadala a la Marie Antoinette or something...lol:)

  6. Oh thank you, of course- you were my original and first fan hahahahha! How kind x

    Do you work within the cosmetics industry then? I read that article... Yes I think it's unequivocally amazing that MAC has been doing so much good, raising awareness of AIDS and helping the cause.

    But notice in many ways it's the retailers who are making the cut in a more direct way- how much does a lipstick cost MAC, I wonder? And after all, it's another outlet for advertising: you save a lot of money getting a celebrity in for free, ostensibly promoting just 'Viva Glam', but ultimately promoting MAC. And a bit rude that an empty Viva Glam lipstick won't count towards your 6 empties- as if it was any less recyclable? I know, this is the bitter cynic in me! No one can take away the fact that MAC does loads for fundraising where other companies hardly pull their weight, but this Viva Glam business makes economic sense in a broader context.

    Perhaps this has been more acute since EL took over in mid 90s; MAC used to give the Pro discount to anyone who qualified, for free- EL introduced subscription rate system.

    Oh but really, ultimately I have to say that in that video clip, I could tell that Nancy Mahon was a lawyer!! She spoke so well and didn't ever deny VG is good for business. It was very inspiring really to hear how she is so passionate, esp the way they research who needs the money most. So I suppose the bottom line is that any charitable initiatives should be applauded.

  7. Hi there, I don't work in the makeup world. I just subscribe to Wharton articles through my work's resources.

    I was really suprised at the number she quoted for retention of MAs...80%. Especially with what you mentioned about them working for little return at shows.

    I think it's great as well that they do have this charity. Although, I don't know of any cosmetic company who uses it as one of their selling points (I suppose this is one of the many reasons why MAC is such a successful business model, not to mention their overly done LE collections). I'm trying to think of other non-makeup related companies who use this approach but can't seem to...help?

    It definitely makes sense in a broader economic way as you said. They are smart to keep this front & center using the good nature of celebrities (my guess not paid). It's a win/win situation for all it involves. As a consumer you feel good about the purchase. I'm just surprised it hasn't expanded into the other items; but then it's money out of their pockets in the end, I guess.

    Yea, what is it about not recycling those, anyway?

  8. You know I mistyped...she was talking about the industry in general, not just MAs - average retention of 30% whereas MAC is 80% - I wonder how much of that percentage is MAs...

  9. Yes not sure how many are MAs etc,very vague about breakdown. But then again if you're going to work as a SA for anyone, best go where there's the opportunity to be in line for a chance to be sent on a fun fashion shoot I suppose. That's what the forum seemed to imply- that these MA were essentially dazzled by the prospect (brainwashed almost)! Plus MAC clientle are arguably more varied than say, YSL or Chanel (my guess) but ultimately who knows what the statistics say? I'm sure it can't be down to Viva Glam to the extent she was saying... I mean, really?!

    I know a lot of makeup ranges do have charity tie ins, not sure off top of my head but I guess of course EL does a pink ribbon thing doesn't it, erm not sure but I know it's not completely unique as a concept. I'm not really a business brain at all, but I would hazard a guess that many companies do charity work, though perhaps in a more discreet way. Microsoft give masses to charity. Even monsters like Shell give money for 'green' causes they say, which of course is ridiculous. Basically these companies have all done the maths. Possibly when VG was founded initially it was a pure concept, but now I reckon it pays for itself and that's why they push it. All businesses have to be strict that way. I got to see the 'MAC Bible' book they give to MAs, and it was mostly all about the hard sell, techniques to push products most effectively. How to chat up a disinterested customer and so on.
    - Might be more amazingly praiseworthy if, instead of having a specific range, a portion of every MAC sale went to charity... just a thought.