‘Inequality is written on the body.’
‘If we want to be a global brand, we have no choice but to adapt our products to different cultures and skin types,’ says Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins, one of the two brothers who run the French cosmetics brand Clarins. ‘Do you know what the percentage of white people on earth is?’ I venture a guess: 25 per cent? He shakes his head, smiles, and raises three fingers. ‘Three per cent. We’re not going to get very far if we market our products exclusively to white women.’
Clarins cites the Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques in France as the source of this figure. But what does the provocative term ‘white people’ mean? Of European ancestry? Or merely people with a light skin pigmentation? Courtin-Clarins mentions the word ‘Caucasian’, but even that is hard to define. The numbers I found on the internet, from sources far too unreliable to cite here, were closer to my estimate: about 20 per cent and falling. One suggested that the percentage of ‘white people’ in the world would have dropped to a single figure by 2040.
That the beauty industry will be forced to adapt to this new reality is ironic, given that it was responsible for establishing a cliché of beauty – tall, thin, fair-skinned – whose after-image is still visible today. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Western soap and cosmetics companies took with them to Asia and Africa colonial attitudes that associated fair skin with civilization and cleanliness. Later, the beauty industry and Hollywood joined forces to disseminate the ideal of the blonde bombshell. It was many years before beauty marketing broadened its messages to include a wider range of skin types and ethnicities; by then the damage had been done.
One thing is certain: beauty companies today are immeasurably more flexible than they were 40 years ago. Within the United States alone, the situation has changed utterly. The first significant step towards recognizing black women as a distinct and valuable target group for beauty products came in 1973 with the launch of Fashion Fair Cosmetics by the late John H Johnson, founder of Ebony magazine. From its first counter in Chicago at Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s), the company expanded to the UK and then to France, opening a counter at the Paris department store Printemps in 1984. Following in its footsteps, Maybelline, Max Factor, Revlon and L’Oréal were all marketing products to the African American market by the 1980s.
Still, it’s worth noting that make-up artists launched their own lines in the 1990s partly because the range of colour cosmetics on the market did not seem to reflect the wide variety of American – and indeed international – skin tones they came across in their work. Bobbie Brown made her mark with an American Vogue cover featuring British black model Naomi Campbell; François Nars used British black model Alek Wek for his first advertising campaign. Neither model was recruited with the express intention of targeting a black audience.
Attitudes to race and beauty had changed, but the traditional beauty companies were slow to catch on. Their narrow perception of beauty in their domestic markets was mirrored abroad. This enabled local brands to assimilate their ideas and adapt them more effectively to local tastes.
Japan : the waking giant
They called them the kurofune, the Black Ships. They were the American gunboats the Mississippi, the Plymouth, the Saratoga and the Susquehanna, and they sailed into Yokohama bay on 14 July 1853 under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry. His mission was to press Japan to open up to foreign trade and end a policy of isolation that had lasted more than 200 years. To underline his point, Perry staged a burial at sea, which required the firing of the ships’ cannon in salute. A year later, the Japanese signed a treaty with the United States. Westernization had begun at gunpoint.
Starting in 1868, the Japanese government embarked on political, economic and cultural reforms aimed at allowing it to ‘catch up’ with the West. This had an impact on beauty: women slowly began to abandon the ancient practices of blackening their teeth and eradicating their eyebrows, although they continued to whiten their faces. They coaxed their looks towards an ideal of otherworldly attractiveness that was mirrored years later in the wide eyes of Manga characters.
Procter & Gamble inevitably arrived on the scene bearing its message of hygiene as a mark of Western civilization, ensuring a following among wealthy Japanese consumers. (P&G would one day acquire a major asset in Japan in the form of SK-II, launched in 1980 by Max Factor and based on an active ingredient discovered during the production of sake.)
But a visionary local entrepreneur emerged to satisfy the demand for ‘Western’ good looks. His name was Arinobu Fukuhara, and in 1872 he opened the Shiseido Pharmacy in the Ginza district of Tokyo. Attracting a well-off clientele, Fukuhara used the pharmacy as a base for launching a series of ground-breaking products: Japan’s first toothpaste (as opposed to tooth powder) in 1888, Eudermine skin lotion in 1897 (this is still sold today, complete with the trademark red ribbon around the neck of the bottle) and in 1906 the first ‘natural’ skin-toned face powder, as opposed to the white product favoured by women at the time.
In the meantime, Fukuhara’s son Shizo – a photographer – travelled to Europe and the United States, immersing himself in these foreign cultures. When he returned, he worked with his father to incorporate what he’d learned into the business. This led in 1916 to the establishment of a separate cosmetics division, complete with a stand-alone boutique not far from the original pharmacy. Another important step was the creation of an in-house design department, staffed by ambitious young artists who based their graceful style on the illustrations they’d seen in Paris fashion magazines. This resulted in a new Art Deco logo in the shape of a camellia, and a range of fragrances in packaging with distinctive arabesque graphics. The company established a reputation for supporting budding artists: in 1919 it opened a gallery at its headquarters; this still exists, having hosted more than 3,000 exhibitions and displayed the works of over 5,000 artists.
Shiseido was incorporated as a joint stock company in 1927, with Shizo as its first president. Over the coming years, it followed five management principles. They were: 1) quality above all – absolute excellence is pursued in everything created; 2) coexistence and co-prosperity – everyone associated with Shiseido must benefit in a consequent way; 3) respect for consumers; 4) corporate stability – respect for the company’s past achievements and choice of intelligent goals for the future; and 5) sincerity – loyalty and honesty are the fundamental principles of business.
These principles drove many of Shiseido’s innovations, notably a foresighted approach to customer loyalty, with the creation of the Camellia Club and a monthly consumer magazine. When pharmacies engaged in a price-slashing war to lure customers, Shiseido launched its chain store system, which obliged retailers to sell its products at fixed prices. Not only did this protect the upmarket image of the brand, but it also guaranteed margins for supplier and retailer and ultimately levelled the playing field for its customers.
The globalization of the beauty industry in the first half of the 20th century was slowed by economic turmoil and conflict. Shiseido moved into the US market in 1935 in a deal with the New York luxury goods store Mark Cross, but was forced to suspend sales with the outbreak of the Second World War. International expansion would not begin again until the 1960s, when Shiseido returned to the United States and entered Europe for the first time, through Italy.
Having sold a Western ideal of beauty to Japanese consumers, Shiseido cunningly reversed the idea with the launch in 1964 of a fragrance called Zen aimed at US and European customers. There was a growing interest in ‘oriental’ health practices such as acupuncture and yoga, as well as Japanese decor. The bottle featuring wild flowers and grasses on a jet black background was designed to cater to an American vision of Japanese art.
But attitudes to Japanese beauty were changing at home too. In the 1970s the ‘Western’ look was still fashionable, and Shiseido used many half-Japanese women in its advertising. But in 1973 it chose Sayoko Yamaguchi, a classical Japanese beauty with almond-shaped eyes and raven hair, as the face of its Paris collection. She remained an exclusive Shiseido model until 1988, helping the brand reinforce the idea that Japanese beauty was as desirable as its Western counterpart.
Unlike incomers who were keen to conquer what had now become the world’s second largest beauty market, Japanese brands excelled at blending local and Western concepts to arrive at something quite unique. We’ve already met beauty pioneer Shu Uemera, who had worked as a makeup artist in Hollywood. He became the Japanese Max Factor, opening in 1965 a make-up studio that taught US beauty techniques to Japanese customers hooked on Hollywood movies. Yet his philosophy of simplicity and pureness had a distinctly Japanese feel. Uemera had suffered from tuberculosis as a youth, and beauty was associated in his mind with health and well-being.
Shiseido expresses the same belief: its Life Quality Beauty Centre provides advice on make-up techniques to individuals with skin concerns such as birthmarks or scarring. It also counsels doctors and social workers on how quality of life can be improved through cosmetics and skincare. In short, it extols the message that beauty products deliver both physical and emotional benefits.
Another entrant to the Japanese market was Kanebo, a textile company that introduced skincare products and cosmetics into its stores in the 1960s and had grabbed a fifth of the market a decade later.
With their rigid Hollywood ideals of beauty, Western firms initially struggled to compete with the more nuanced approach of local brands. But the incomers quickly stepped into one of the most important sectors in the Asian beauty market: that of skin lightening creams.
As discussed in Chapter 1, the perceived attractiveness of lighter skin dates back thousands of years and at its most simplistic level is linked to the image of the pampered noble languishing in a shaded palace while peasants toil in the fields. This prejudice was no doubt reinforced by the white rulers of the colonial era. In India, the situation is made even more complex by the strict social stratification of the caste system, which clearly puts those with a darker skin at the bottom. One of the many disturbing repercussions of this is the notion that women with fairer skin are more desirable in both romantic and career contexts.
No surprise, then, that India is home to the world’s most famous skin lightening cream, Fair & Lovely, launched by Hindustan Lever (now Hindustan Unilever Ltd) in 1978. Although the company is partly Indian owned, a 52.1 per cent stake is held by the Anglo-Dutch Unilever, creator of the Dove Real Beauty campaign. Fair & Lovely’s marketing strategy in India has not changed since its launch: a promise of fairer skin within weeks of application – the website currently claims ‘unmatched radiant fairness in just four weeks’ – and advertising featuring Bollywood stars. The brand was rolled out internationally in the 1980s and is now sold across Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Hindustan Unilever is at pains to stress that Fair & Lovely is not dangerous and is free of harmful or banned ingredients such as hydroquinone, steroids or mercury. Its patented formula is based on a skin lightening active called niacinamide (vitamin B3, also used to treat acne) blended with UVA and UVB sunscreens. That’s right: Fair & Lovely works in part by ensuring its wearers don’t get a tan.
Distasteful though its implications might be, Fair & Lovely was a huge success, spawning many imitators. Almost every major brand now has a skin lightening product: L’Oréal White Perfect Fairness Control (‘NEW with melanin-vanish’), Yves Saint Laurent White Mode Repair Whitening Night Cream, Diorsnow Sublissime Whitening Moisture Cream, Shiseido White Lucent, Clarins White Plus HP… and so on. Chanel launched a product called Blanc Pureté in 2001, followed by the White Essential range in 2008. Its latest offering is simply called Le Blanc: ‘beauty based on light, where radiance is revived from within’. The controversial nature of these products is apparent from the fact that advertising for them is practically invisible in Western markets.
The question now is whether the advertisers of such creams are blocking the emergence of a broader vision of beauty by continuing to insist that lighter skin is preferable. In a pugnacious article for the left-wing US political newsletter Counterpunch, Amina Mire described the trade in skin whitening creams as ‘commodity racism’. She was particularly shocked by an advertisement for Vichy’s Bi-White cream, which featured ‘what appears to be an Asian woman peeling off her black facial skin with a zipper. As her black skin is removed a new “smooth”, “whitened” skin with no blemishes takes its place. The implications of this image are blunt and chilling. Blackness is false, dirty and ugly. Whiteness is true, healthy, clean and beautiful’ (‘Pigmentation and empire’, 28 July 2005).
In 2008, Brinda Karat, a politician and member of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, spoke out against the products, saying, ‘It’s downright racist to denigrate dark skin.’ Temperatures were running high over an advertising mini-series created for the alarmingly named White Beauty, another Hindustan Unilever product. ‘The popular mini series whitening cream advert portrays heart-throb… Saif Ali Khan preferring fair skinned starlet Nehan Dhupia over former love Priyanka Chopra, celebrated in Bollywood circles for her “dusky, wheatish complexion”. But a lovelorn and shunned Chopra turns desperately to White Beauty cream, hoping its application would make her fairer and more appealing to 41-year-old Khan’ (‘Criticism in India over skin-whitening trend’, 10 July 2008).
Aside from the occasional outburst in the press, there is little sign that attitudes are changing, either in India or in other markets where whitening products are popular. The notion that fair skin is desirable seems as ingrained in those societies as the idea in the West that a suntan implies a life of leisure and good health, despite overwhelming evidence that a bronzed skin is a damaged one.
The nature of Brazil
Talking of sun tans, Brazil must be the country most closely associated in the minds of Western consumers with beach life, not to mention body culture. European and US skincare marketers told me that it is also one of the most challenging countries for their brands because of the wide range of skin types there. This has led to the evolution of a large domestic beauty industry that is beginning to have an impact abroad.
As the trend forecasting company WGSN pointed out in 2008, ‘Brazilian brands are poised to take advantage of the growing global trend for “natural” and “ethical” products’ (‘Brazilian beauty targets the world’, 4 January 2008). Leading the charge is Natura, founded in 1969 out of a single store in Sao Paulo by the 27-year-old Luiz da Cunha Seabra. He had trained as an economist and was working at the Brazil outpost of Remington Electric Shavers when he decided to go into the skincare business. Even in those days, he emphasized the products’ natural ingredients – company lore has it that he occasionally promoted the brand by giving a flower and his card to passers-by.
He was skilled at customer relations, taking time to explain his beauty formulations to those who visited the store. This led to the company’s most important step, which was to abandon traditional retail and introduce door-to-door, or ‘direct’, selling along the lines of Avon (which remains its biggest rival). The move transformed the business. By the mid-1980s it was managing a network of 16,000 independent sales representatives – it calls them ‘consultants’ – and growth of 40 per cent a year. By recruiting motivated staff who could explain its products to customers on a one-to-one basis, in the comfort of their own homes, it had created a human connection between the brand and its target that few of its rivals could match.
Seabra brought in Guilherme Peirao Leal, a distributor, and Pedro Luiz Passos, an engineer who took charge of production, as partners. In 1986, they launched an anti-age product called Chronos – the first in the market to promote cell renewal – which sold 90,000 units in less than two months. The line expanded to embrace a wide range of skincare solutions. Meanwhile, Natura moved into Portugal, Argentina and Chile. At the same time, it was forced to compete with the incursion of the multinationals into its home market: cosmetic sales in Brazil grew from US$2.6 billion to US$5.7 billion between 1992 and 1996. Natura fought back by launching more than a hundred new products (Hoover’s Company Profiles: Natura Cosméticos SA).
Along with its innovative direct selling approach, the company has been aided by the wide-ranging interests of its founder, which include Buddhism, Taoism, the writings of Carl Gustav Jung and the management theories of Peter Drucker. Seabra was an early adopter of ‘sustainable’ practices, taking care to ensure that none of the company’s suppliers used child labour and investing a percentage of profits in social projects. Refillable packaging was launched as early as 1983. Sales staff are paid an average of 16 times higher than minimum wage, are given shares in the company and receive regular training in the latest skincare advances. Natura remains responsive to consumers, with a call centre to deal with enquiries from consultants and customers.
Seabra has not been afraid to rely on his instincts: he launched a line of products for infants (Mamãe e Bebê, or Mother and Baby) against the advice of his researchers. Like Shiseido, he believes cosmetics are vital for boosting well-being and self-esteem. Natura refers to this as bem estar bem (well being well). It also steers clear of exaggerated claims, saying that it aims to prevent signs of ageing rather than promising rejuvenation. Even before Dove, the company ran advertising featuring ordinary women instead of models.
By 2000 Natura had a portfolio of more than 300 products covering fragrances, skincare, colour cosmetics, toiletries, products for children and babies and nutritional supplements. Innovations were driven by one of the country’s largest research facilities. In 1999 the company bought Flora Medicinal J Monteiro da Silva, whose model was based on the curative powers of Brazilian plants. This led in 2000 to the Ekos line of body care products, using natural ingredients sourced from Brazilian rainforests on a fair trade basis. The company believes this is a way of slowing deforestation.
Natura floated on the Sao Paulo stock exchange in May 2004. It expanded into Europe the following year with the opening of a boutique on the Left Bank of Paris – one of the first to blend a natural and sustainable offering with the trappings of a luxury brand, anticipating a trend that would take a firm hold of the beauty market by the end of the decade (see Chapter 18, ‘Ethical, organic and sustainable’). The company now has a network of 800,000 direct selling ‘consultants’ in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and France – not bad considering it started with only 70. Amusingly for those who buy into the ‘sun, sea and sex’ image of Brazil, one of its most popular products is a home bikini-line waxing product.
Taking their cue from Natura, a handful of Brazilian brands have begun marketing products to overseas markets by emphasizing both their naturalness and their origins. (This has been actively encouraged by a local trade body, the ABIHPEC, the Brazilian Association of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Industry.) For example, WGSN identified Brazilian Fruit, a range of bath and body care products ‘based on high concentrations of Amazonian butters and natural oils’. When it launched on the French and UK markets in September 2007, managing director Veronika Rezzani said: ‘Our objective is to introduce to the world products that bring out the “Brazilian-ness”, with aromas, flavours and the enormous variety of natural assets from our country.’ The brand’s flagship line is called Caipirinha, after the ultimate Brazilian cocktail.
Brazil generally has a positive image abroad – it’s difficult to imagine a stroppy London taxi driver confessing an instinctive dislike of Brazilians, in the way that he might voice a prejudice against the Germans or the French – but the country’s preoccupation with beauty has a negative side. In social, romantic and career terms, a perfect body is almost as desirable in Brazil as a fair complexion is in India.
In 2007 an anthropologist named Mirian Goldenberg, a professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, launched a book called O Corpo Como Capital (The Body as a Capital Asset) exploring the country’s cult of physical perfection. In an interview with the news agency Inter Press Service, she said women from all classes felt compelled to ‘invest heavily in their bodies’, with obvious advantages for the wealthy. She pointed out that the country’s market for gyms, cosmetics and plastic surgery vied with that of the United States, where incomes were 14 times higher. In Brazil, ‘inequality is written upon the body… The market and society demands it… for instance, no woman can appear with grey hair.’ Once again, in a country where skin tones run the gamut from pale to black, the emphasis is on slender and blonde. (‘The body beautiful – women’s ladder to success’, 17 April 2008).
One of the world’s most successful models is the sculptural blonde Brazilian Gisele Bündchen.
Beauty companies are keeping a close eye on upheaval in the Middle East, which has for some time been a promising market for premium brands:
one only has to stalk the luxury malls of Dubai to see why. In November 2010, Global Cosmetic Industry magazine published a report on the region by Euromonitor International. It commented: ‘Beauty in the Middle East, particularly in the Persian Gulf, is a massive market for international brand owners – with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia and Iran being the biggest in terms of overall and per capita sales, along with Israel’ (‘Premium positioning, innovative retail hallmarks of Middle East beauty market’, 5 November 2010).
As in other regions, economic recession failed to make much of a dent, as beauty products are perceived as ‘an affordable luxury and a harmless indulgence’. The report noted that the average woman in the UAE spent an average of $73 on colour cosmetics in 2009, compared with $69 in the UK and $53 in France. It also signalled innovations such as Beiersdorf’s Nivea Haus spa in Dubai, which ‘uses only Nivea products for various pampering and healing treatments and also allows clients to purchase their Nivea products on-site’. Western department stores like Harvey Nichols and Debenhams are also present. Advertising restrictions are far less draconian in the UAE than they are in Saudi Arabia, allowing the Western brands to traffic their concept of beauty.
But while it is intrigued by the Persian Gulf and deeply attracted to Brazil – the latter is, after all, one of the favoured BRIC economies, along with Russia, India and China – the beauty industry is still preoccupied by Asia. According to figures from Euromonitor International, the region dominates the global skincare market, accounting for 40 per cent of total sales at the time of writing. This is not surprising given that – as one cosmetics marketer from Lancôme told me – many Asian consumers use as many as six different skincare products during each session before their bathroom mirrors, both morning and night. ‘A cleanser, followed by a serum, followed by a hydrating cream, followed by something for the eye area, followed by a whitener, followed by a sunscreen. At night, replace the sunscreen with a night cream. In Europe, many women use just one or two products. America is in between.’
One of the most established markets in the region is South Korea, where women take an immense pride in their looks. There is a big demand for whitening creams; the nip and tuck business is also booming. In 2005, the BBC reported: ‘Women of marriageable age are under intense pressure to look their best at all times… a women’s magazine recently advised its readers to spend 30 per cent of their incomes on looking good… The buzz word these days is ul-jjang, literally “best face”’ (‘The price of beauty in South Korea’, 2 February 2005).
South Korea too has an impressive home-grown market. This is dominated by AmorePacific, founded by Suh Sung-hwan in 1945, with Melody Cream as its first product. The company gained quick inroads by paying close attention to design: although its cream was produced in Seoul, the labels were printed in Japan. In the 1950s it benefited from an alliance with Coty of France to produce Coty Face Powder. It also published Korea’s first beauty magazine, Hwajanggye. Its development from the 1960s onwards is somewhat analogous to that of Brazil’s Natura. In 1963, it began sending its own beauty consultants to boutiques where its products were sold, in order to coach employees about its brand values and the needs of its consumers. This led to a move into door-to-door sales for the launch of the Amore brand of cosmetics in 1964.
Today, AmorePacific has standout brands at every level of the market. Its high-end line Sulwhasoo has international ambitions, with a flagship store in Hong Kong. The name comes from Sulwha, or ‘snow flower’, and ‘soo’, meaning excellence. Its natural ingredients are based on Korean herbal medicine. The short range includes a serum, cleansers, hair care and an eye cream. It does little advertising, preferring to communicate with women face to face in a department store environment, or via its website and bi-monthly magazine. It also has spas in South Korea and Hong Kong. Every year it launches a collectable limited edition compact demonstrating traditional Korean craftsmanship.
In an interview with WGSN, vice-president and brand manager Eric Hwang said the brand’s sales in South Korea were between 11 and 12 per cent, similar to that of SK-II, Estée Lauder and Lancôme combined. He added that the brand had been built on samples and word of mouth.
Since the brand’s philosophy was established, there have been about a million samples released. Because we believe in the quality of the products, we want people to have a first hand experience. The evaluation is up to the users – we’re here to provide opportunities. This is where we invest, and not in TV ads. The rule applies not only in Korea, but it has proven successful in Hong Kong as well. Through sampling and word of mouth, our sales grew as high as 50 percent in Hong Kong. (‘Sulwhasoo: executive interview’, 29 December 2010)
International visitors – particularly from Japan and China – have been flocking to Seoul to buy not only luxury products like Sulwhasoo, but good value mid-market products like Laneige and Mamonde, as well as the ubiquitous BB or ‘beauty balm’ creams that play the role of invisible foundation. Local make-up artists are now launching their own brands. Korean cosmetics have become outrageously trendy in China, driven by the ‘Korean wave’ of music and movies that has captured the imagination of the market. After Hong Kong, Sulwhasoo opened its first counter at Beijing’s Parkson department store in April 2011.
But it will have to compete in China with the Western brands, which are unlikely to repeat the error they made when entering Japan, having learned how to act globally while adapting to local tastes. L’Oréal’s Lindsay Owen- Jones was the acknowledged master of this approach. Here’s Geoffrey Jones (no relation) again:
The determination to stay relevant was evident in the evolving identity of L’Oréal Paris as it was taken around the world. The brand remained true to its position as representative of ‘chic beauty’, but the view that such chicness was no longer primarily French became widespread. The majority of the global spokesmodels of the brand ceased to be primarily French… the more global the brand became, the more local its models had to be.
While consumers liked the idea of Paris, it was just that – an idea, a collection of brand attributes, not a grey-stoned city with all the problems of any large capital. The trick was working out what the myth of ‘Paris’ meant to each group of consumers and tailoring the brand to them. As we’ve established, L’Oréal solved this problem with a team of international brand managers who could monitor each mega-brand in its respective market, tweaking global advertising approaches with the use of local celebrities and cultural references.
The practice is still not universal: the first hurdle is the cost of producing many advertising images featuring different models with various skin types. Then there is the hard fact of consumer demand. ‘Even in Asia,’ one source told me, ‘customers respond to an international star like Julia Roberts. It’s when we use a model who’s big in Europe but not very well known over there that the local marketing people insist on replacing her with a local celebrity.’
The cosmetics marketers I spoke to were inevitably enthusiastic about China’s economic boom. The country had a flourishing cosmetics market in the early 20th century – fuelled by Western brands and exposure to Hollywood movies – but the Sino-Japanese war signalled the end of this first phase, with a full ban imposed in 1966 at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution. Only when the country opened up again in 1978 did advertisements for beauty products begin to reappear. Procter & Gamble entered the market with Olay in 1988. Others followed, bringing their impressive advertising clout with them. Smelling cash, Western media brands jetted in too. A Chinese edition of Vogue launched in 2005. In 2010 researcher Kline & Company said sales of toiletries and cosmetics in the market would top US$17 billion.
Premium European and US brands are prized, although cultural differences are putting a slight break on development: a traditional preference for natural beauty means that many consumers are still wary of fragrances and make-up, but sales of skincare – including whiteners – are rocketing, especially among the urban young. The appeal of ‘Western’ looks has also provoked a rise in cosmetic surgery as wealthy young women sign up to have their eyes ‘widened’ via eyelid reshaping. Again, this may lead to a social stratification based on looks, with the rich sporting pale Westernized faces and the less wealthy remaining more authentically Chinese.
One area where Western brands have failed to make much of an impact in Asia – at least compared to the West – is that of anti-ageing products, perhaps because age is considered a sign of wisdom. But as Mintel reports, Western brands have tackled this by blending anti-ageing claims with whitening solutions. ‘In India, Fair & Lovely, for instance, offers Forever Glow Anti-Ageing Fairness Cream with a vita-AHA complex, said to work in just four weeks.’
Elsewhere, BB creams have been adopted as a way of encouraging Asian consumers to buy into anti-ageing. ‘Chinese company Dr Ci:Labo’s BB Perfect Cream Enrich-Lift contains firming and lifting actives as well as helping to hide spots and blemishes. The product promises true multifunctionality as the company says it can be used as a toner, moisturising milk, sunscreen, make-up base, concealer and foundation.’ It’s the Swiss Army knife of beauty solutions.
Dr Olivier Courtin-Clarins told me that the company now tests on different skin types and formulates products for a wide range of cultural habits. ‘I’m a scientist,’ he told me, ‘and I know that, if our company wants to be everywhere, I have to provide products for everyone. I can’t change the nature of your skin, and I don’t wish to change your culture.’
For the beauty giants, globalization is about far more than adopting local accents for advertising: actives and delivery systems discovered and developed in the West must be reconfigured to suit local preferences.