I suppose, like everything else that’s unfortunate in make-up these days, the extreme contouring trend started with a Kardashian.
But the truth is, make-up artists have been contouring their clients since the dawn of time (I know, I was there). For the lay person, make-up is about controlling light, and using tones from light to dark to subtly enhance bone structure, or to diminish or add fullness. For everyone on Instagram and YouTube, it’s about turning yourself into a completely different person, and apparently, that person is Kim Kardashian.
Of course, the beauty industry has run with this trend, producing mountains of specialty contouring products and brushes to go with them. Try not to get caught up in it, unless you live in a photo instead of the real world.
As the world’s most skeptical beauty professional, I find myself brooding over the psychology and sociology of makeup; its uses and abuses, and the business of it. I have come to the conclusion that for many women – and I mean adults – make-up is a toy, and now more than ever, cosmetic companies are getting the picture.
All those tantalizing colors and textures, packaged to promote a sense of playful abandon in the buyer, are finding their way into our lives whether they’re actually useful or not. Who cares? Make-up is marketed and merchandised to be absolutely irresistible to our sense of play. It’s just as much an escape as reality TV, and about as beneficial.
What retail space could look more like a toy store to a grown woman than Sephora, or Ulta? And how many times have you heard someone say, or you’ve heard yourself say, that she/you loves to “play” with make-up? Trust me, manufacturers are listening and delivering the goodies.
Strategies to win your inner child’s heart are getting less and less subtle, when companies like Disney are partnering with Sephora to produce Minnie Mouse-themed palettes (sold out, and available for a premium on eBay) and Crayola gets into the playpen with Clinique. Yeah, that’s a photo of a real lip color set, not something I cooked up in Photoshop to make my point.Recently, I worked with a 50-something client who pulled the Chocolate Bon Bons palette from Too Faced (a paint box with heart-shaped eye shadows) out of her make-up bag with a complete lack of irony. In this box of fun, amidst all of that shimmering love, was exactly one truly useful eye shadow.Go ahead and play – I’m not utterly unsympathetic to the cultivation and maintenance of a youthful good nature. My message is simple: be aware that this is how, in part, you end up with drawers full of useless color cosmetics, feeling no more young and beautiful than when you had more money in your pocket.
You know you want it; the alluring and intoxicating giftwith purchase, known by the acronym “GWP” in the beauty-obsessed community (and finally, a legitimate use of the verb “to obsess”).
I’m not doing the research necessary to pinpoint the exact moment when this thing started, because I doubt you care. Most of us are aware that Estee Lauder, Clinique and Lancôme have been leading the pack–by the nose, to their counters—for ages, offering collections of freebies at various times of the year in department stores from Boscov’s to Bergdorf’s. These events used to incite a certain measure of hysteria, but have become commonplace to the point that you no longer see lines of giddy women waiting to earn their bonuses.
Though not scientifically proven (yet), a tiny eye shadow palette, or a 15 ml. sample of facial toner can have a pulling effect similar to the Earth’s moon on our oceans. You might not need or want anything at all from the brand, but you will sure as hell think of something to buy in order to meet the minimum purchase required to get the gift. Sales people are helpful – they feel your lust, they sense your vulnerability, and you are done for.
Let’s break down what you’re actually getting in the latest Clinique event at Nordstrom. For a minimum purchase of $32, you’ll get the following if you choose the warm (vs. cool) set (an $82 value):
All About Eyes (0.21 oz.) – enough eye cream to last a month or so – not bad, if you buy into the necessity of eye cream in the first place.
Repairwear Sculpting Night Cream (0.5 oz.) – I don’t know how you can get any rest while being sculpted, but okay.
Take the Day Off Makeup Remover (0.5 oz.) – I actually like this stuff – it’s similar to Goo Gone. But do I really need to spend money on products I don’t need to get this tiny bottle?
Rinse-Off Foaming Cleanser (1 oz.) – useful for that trip you’ll be taking someday.
Compact with All About Shadow Duo in Sunset Glow and Black Honey plus a Soft-Pressed Powder Blusher in Fig – adorable, and likely to go completely unused.
Dual-End Different Lipstick in A Different Grape and High Impact Mascara in Black – I’m confused. Grape is almost never a warm color– shades like this make you look like you’re suffering from hypothermia. And in what altered universe is a mascara on the other end of a lipstick? That’s just silly.
Long Last Glosswear in Love at First Sight – well, yes, that’s the whole point.
Pink Printed Cosmetics Bag – the kind of quality you’d expect in an object manufactured in great numbers and offered for free.
How do these brands give you all these extras and still turn a profit? Because the mark up on cosmetics is almost 80%. So is the value of the gift actually $82? No, it’s more like $17 and it’s only valuable if you can actually use it. When women come to me for lessons, they bring me all of their cosmetics to sift through, and most of these gifted products end up in the Naughty Basket (the place where useless make-up goes).
The only difference, after all, between a GWP lipstick and a full-priced version is the packaging. So why does the retail version cost so much? Because it can. So is the gift with purchase an itch that deserves scratching? Probably not. In the end, nothing is really “free.”