On quiet beauty, Prada make-up 2.0 and the end of the glossy girl boss era

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Australian Vogue Beauty Garconne

How cool to be quoted in Noelle Faulkner’s article for Vogue Australia on the emerging anti-perfect aesthetic.

In her piece, ‘The Whole Picture’ (in the August issue), she charts the convergence of discreet fashion and beauty, particularly the growing shift away from obvious enhancements in pursuit of so-called perfection (pillow cheeks, snatched jawlines, uber-pumped lips) and towards a more self-accepting, everyday aesthetic. If you hang out here regularly, you’ll be familiar with the brands we flagged in the discussion. Westman Atelier, Ami Colé, Fara Homidi Beauty; the beauty equivalents of ‘quiet luxury’ stalwarts The Row, Khaite and Bottega, if you will.

Vogue Australia - quiet beauty The New Garconne
Bottega Veneta pre spring 2023 ad campaign

Faulkner points out that these beauty upstarts pick up where Glossier* left off, following make-up missteps and HR mishandlings during its peak unicorn phase, as well as its original customers simply ageing out of the brand.

This is a good place to mention my summer staycation read. I received a review copy of Marisa Meltzer’s Glossy: Ambition, Beauty and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier* (below) and immediately got stuck in. I was an early Into The Gloss fan (the ‘what’s on my bathroom shelf’ editorial site that Weiss founded in 2010) and avid Emily Weiss watcher. Although actually, as a reality TV avoider, her pre-ITG and Glossier life as The Hills ‘super-intern’ completely passed me by.

Glossy by Marisa Meltzer book

Glossy (published in the US next month) multi-tasks as highly readable brand memoir, founder manual and 21st century history of the business of beauty. It unpicks the trajectory of the beauty DTC era, the influencer-as-entrepreneur age and the toxic positivity of girl boss culture. It reveals the graft and risk-taking required of start-ups beyond the fun phase of early buzz and creativity. While Meltzer implies Weiss did a disservice to young female wannabe entrepreneurs by downplaying her knowledge and WASP-y privilege to seem relatable to her employees, there’s no denying her ambition, vision and persistence.

Although Weiss eventually decides to pass the CEO reins on to someone more experienced, the fact remains that with Glossier she not only identified a nascent make-up-lite beauty consumer, but also pioneered a modern brand playbook. Glossier brought a new type of community-focused retail to the fore, nailed the experiential, location-specific pop-up, grew its social media following to cult status and was an early adopter of the IYKYK brand merch model.

Underpinning all this was the desire to reframe beauty as attainable, casual and free-spirited. No mention of “fixing flaws” or “anti-ageing”, only the mirror-selfie-friendly strapline, “You Look Good.”

Last week saw the arrival of Prada Beauty*, Prada’s second foray into make-up, following the success of Hermès Beauty and preceding a rumoured Louis Vuitton make-up line. Where the early-2000s make-up aesthetic was clinical, retro-futuristic and minimalist (remember the genius branding?), Prada Beauty 2.0 is a happy synergy of fashion-forward (the team have access to an archive of 27,000 prints and fabrics) and technical innovation.

In fact, the branding and imagery also lean ‘futuristic’ and minimalist, with their trademark ice green backgrounds and bare skin aesthetic, but the colour products have the Prada edge we expect, with off-beat eyeshadow colour combinations (£65) and ultra-matte lipstick finishes (£29.50). For the no-make-up-make-up girl (or guy) there’s an intriguing sheer green-tinged lip balm (£37) and the foundations (£49) promise skincare benefits to add that ethereal hi-sheen glow.

Prada Beauty lip balm
Greta Hofer Prada Beauty
Prada Beauty eye shadow

While there’s a ‘global creative e-make-up artist’ employed to create make-up for ‘the 3D virtual world’, the IRL lipsticks and eye shadows are – thankfully – advertised on human models. They‘re youthful but racially diverse (Greta Hofer! Chenyin Qi! Dara Gueye!) plus, although I can’t find any photos of her, we’re promised Guinevere van Seenus to represent the 90s model as midlifer.

The campaign blurb is very, well, marketing-y – not surprising as Prada Beauty is under L’Oreal’s purview. Titled Rethinking Beauty, it’s a familiar word salad liberally peppered with feel-good lingo: “empowers”, “self-expression”, “curation” and “self-reinvention”. Yet overall, Prada Beauty presents as intellectual, forward-looking and arty and so far, no age-phobic or ‘flawless’ rhetoric.

Instead of looking baby-faced or hyper-feminine, grown-up garconnes want to look healthy, vital and un-filtered, thus the rise of skintellectuals schooled in sun protection and skin barrier health and the launch of shiny new products to assist.

As I said to Vogue Australia, “now we take so much pleasure in the care of skin, our knowledge has increased around why we need to look after it and the products themselves are much more enjoyable to use, especially the protection products. The textures are luxurious and the branding is more sophisticated and desirable, in a kind of fashion way. If it looks good on your shelf, you’re more likely to reach out for it, and that is part of where fashion and beauty are coming together.”

If Hermès Beauty and Prada Beauty are anything to go by, I expect to see the ritualistic and tactile factors come to the fore (Prada’s Saffiano leather-textured lipstick bullets and gestural packaging already appears to hit those notes).

Prada Beauty lipstick with saffiano texture
Prada Beauty
Prada Beauty eye shadow
Prada Beauty Lip Balm

In the interest of balance, I’d be remiss not to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Jessica Defino has a ton to say on this subject in her newsletter, The Unpublishable. The crux being that positioning costly make-up and skincare as ’empowering’, “siphons women’s actual sources of power in the process: their time, their money, their effort, their energy, their thoughts. These are finite resources that we have.”

She’s right of course. But while we undo decades of damage, at least quiet, anti-excess beauty is a small step in the right direction.

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WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Vogue Australia x 2, Bottega Veneta; Glossy: Ambition, Beauty and the Inside Story of Emily Weiss’s Glossier*; Prada Beauty x 7
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here

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