IN THE PLAYGROUND
The beauty floor was once a hallowed ground of immaculate, white-coated women and men, who were both revered and anxiety inducing lest they encourage us to buy more than our credit card allowed. But these days, even high-end department stores are taking down the physical and emotional barriers, and making trialling beauty products easy, even if you don’t want to buy right away.
One retailer taking the fun stakes to new heights is Mecca. In 2018, the beauty emporium created Meccaland, an interactive Melbourne-based beauty carnival where its customers were encouraged to interact with its products. “We created Meccaland because we wanted our highly engaged community to play in the ultimate beauty playground,” says Jo Horgan, founder of Mecca. “Beauty is fun, and we wanted to showcase our brands and our products in a really interactive, colourful and crazy space.”
This year, Meccaland returned – this time to Sydney – with an even bigger bang. Ticket holders were not only able to feast on nearly inexhaustible amounts of make-up, skincare and haircare, they were also able to channel their inner kid on a Ferris wheel, a teacup ride, a seesaw, monkey bars and even a wind machine.
And beauty fans flocked to join the party. “We have seen the obvious and growing shift towards creating experiences to retail a product versus the traditional means of simply displaying a product,” says Horgan. “Once you become comfortable to play, you become more comfortable to experiment.”
Sephora is another beauty retailer designed to be more carnival than beauty floor. Since launching in Australia in 2014, the emporium has helped turn the beauty landscape in Australia on its head. Doing away with the beauty floor and the watchful eye of counter staff (in its place, a “stage” and bouncy “cast members”), we are warmly welcomed to play. Walk in here and samples are practically thrust upon you, the returns policy is near unicorn status, and the perma-happy staff are only too keen to demonstrate new techniques of applying makeup. Regardless of whether you’re spending $200 on luxury skincare or 20 bucks on a lipstick, everyone is treated like a princess here.
FUN IS GOOD
Experimentation isn’t strictly a younger person’s game; these days we’re all keen to try new things. “One of the amazing things about beauty is how democratising it is,” says Alphie Sadsad, national artistry lead for Sephora Australia. “Beauty is for everyone, and over the past few years we have seen a shift in women of all ages feeling more open to experiment and play with their approach to beauty.”
Social media and its innate shareability has undoubtedly helped with our eagerness to be more intrepid. It’s also encouraged brands to up the fun stakes to get our attention.
“Brands are stepping away from more traditional branding approaches towards something that focuses on fun and playfulness,” says Sadsad. “We have seen exciting newness in terms of fun packaging, cute names and brand-new formulations. It’s an exciting time for beauty.”
FUN TIME MAKE UP
With the mantra of “Make-up doesn’t have to be serious to look good”, Benefit is one beauty brand with fun in its DNA – even if it wasn’t entirely by design.
“It wasn’t ever ‘This is our strategy of how we’re going to market our products.’ It was just how Jane and Jean [Ford, the sisters who founded Benefit] knew how to sell,” says Annie Ford Danielson, daughter of Jean Ford and chief beauty ambassador for the brand. “That’s just who we are. Jean and Jane have always been able to read women instantly. That’s why there’s an intimacy in the way we talk about our products.”
There are other make-up brands that share this philosophy. Labels such as Too Faced (its tagline: “A serious make-up brand that knows how to have fun”) and Tarte, which likes to reward its loyal “Tartelettes”, are full of coy product names and good-time formulations that perform as promised.
Then there is Nars, which burst onto our collective beauty consciousness when creator François Nars launched his Orgasm blush in 1999. Its peachyrose tone and slight gold fleck caused near hysteria among women keen for that flirty flush. This year the brand celebrates 20 years, which goes to show how a bit of personality and sass coupled with a great formulation can really go the distance.
Skincare can veer towards the serious, but there are brands that like to keep it light. GlamGlow is one skincare range making time at the basin fun. It boasts glitter-spiked masks and psychedelic daily cleansers.
Other brands include Sunday Riley and Ole Henriksen, which both create serious formulations and give them quirky names, as well as covetable, candycoloured packaging. It’s the equivalent of a wink every time you do your morning and evening skincare routine.
Locally, there is Go-To skincare. Created by Zoë Foster Blake, Go-To combines natural formulations with product names designed to make you smile. “Skincare is allowed to be fun and funny,” says Foster Blake. “Just because we’re a clean brand doesn’t mean that we’re a boring, earnest brand.”
FUN VS EFFICACY
So, does a good time mean you have to give up on quality? “When you have the efficacy of the formulas and the shades and the textures that we have, it doesn’t matter if you don’t package it in a sleek silver box,” explains Ford Danielson. “You want to have a good time with it.” Foster Blake agrees: “I think people are frightened, in a way. I just wanted to make women feel confident using skincare.” And it’s not just niche brands having all the fun. Chanel recently launched a body glitter gel, while Dior has given its famed Lip Glow a candy cane-inspired twist. Then there are big-brand social-media initiatives, such as Estée Lauder’s “Renewal Sandwich” (google it!), which encourages you to share your tin-man masking session on social airways.
LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL
Lightheartedness is essentially taking away a lot of the confusion. “Beauty is incredibly emotive and tied to how we feel about ourselves,” explains Sadsad. “From our shampoo to our lipstick, we should all be using products that make us smile.” The bottom line? Life is too short for boring beauty. “Find what works for you and makes you happy,” adds Sadsad. “There is no better way to start the day.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue of marie claire.