Friday, January 29, 2010

Cosmetics: how much does the outside count?

All photos by me unless otherwise noted

Above photo from Jill Stuart Beauty

A couple weeks ago, I went to the launch of Jill Stuart Beauty's (site in Japanese, but graphics intensive) latest collection for spring, Angel Rocker. The eyeshadows and blush are too glittery and perfumed for my taste, but I was entranced by the ornate and extremely princess-y packaging. Most of my everyday make-up is from MAC or Nars, and their plain, black, "we are professional makeup artists and we mean business!" packaging is completely different from the shiny crystal-clear compacts and ornate, jeweled nail polish bottles I saw at the Jill Stuart Beauty launch. The brand is very popular in east Asia, but (as far as I know) available only at certain Jill Stuart stores in the US.



I can see how pulling out a crystal-like compact when you are touching your make-up in the middle of the day might give you a small lift, even if you are just quickly swiping on some lip gloss at your cubicle or patting on some powder in a flourescent-lit office washroom.

This made me wonder how important packaging is to women when they make cosmetic purchases. It was to me when I was younger and make-up seemed like a magical thing. I wanted enameled compacts that closed with a satisfying click and lipstick in gilt tubes. When Coty still sold lipstick, I bought them even though the texture was too dry for me because they came in vintage-style packaging; even the lipstick had that mid-century bullet shape. I also bought Coty loose powder because the packaging had not changed since the 1930s). I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes I'd just wave the puff in front of my face and enjoy the scent, which just smelled so vintage-y. I felt like a character in a Rosamunde Pilcher novel!

1939 ad found on Cosmetics and SkinProduct photo found on [drumroll] Walgreen's online store

Coty still sells the same boxes with the powder puffs against a golden background (the harder to find blue packaging indicates formulation for sensitive skin). I remember passing by a store here in Taipei that had rows of Coty loose powder boxes and feeling a nostalgic thrill, even though I haven't used their products in 10 years (alas, I've forgotten where that store is!).

Credit: Ad Classix... the vintage ad is for sale

When I used Coty make-up as a vintage-obsessed teenager, I felt like I was playing a role. I'd swivel the lipstick out of the tube and pull it against my lips. The almost paste-like texture didn't bother me because I figured that was what women in the 1950s were accustomed to. I set my precious Coty powder box on my dresser next to my iridiscent Caboodles case and felt like I'd been transported into a more glamorous era.

I no longer pay attention to cosmetics packaging, however -- I just want make-up that doesn't irritate my skin, give me a headache with too much perfume or wear off quickly. But when I saw the Jill Stuart cosmetics and all the fans of the brand who were at the event, it made me wonder: what do those compacts and bejeweled brush handles symbolize to them? I got the feeling that most of the women were young professionals like me. Is part of the reason they chose make-up brands like Jill Stuart and Anna Sui over Mac, Smashbox and Nars because the packaging gives them a bit of escapism in the middle of a stressful day?


What do you think? Is fancy, ornate packaging a marketing trap or a way to inject some beauty (or at least prettiness) into your day? Would you be willing to spend extra for product in ornate containers? And (since I'm on this topic) what brands do you think have the most attractive packaging?


  1. Well I think about it this way-- shouldn't products that exist to make you look pretty also well, look pretty? I suppose that with all the time spent putting on your makeup, the act itself should be enjoyable, and pretty packaging does contribute to the consumption of cosmetics :P

    Actually I'm not much for makeup, but I've bought books based on pretty covers before XD

  2. Oh my gosh, this post brought back so many memories! I too had the iridescent Caboodles box. I got a part-time job at Fuddruckers just so I could spend all my money on fancy department store make-up. It's weird, but the older I got the less I cared. The last time I bought make-up was for my wedding 4 years ago. Something about the humid climate of Taiwan just makes putting on make-up so unappealing to me.

  3. renwore - I've totally bought CDs based on their cover art before! It's lead to some great discoveries (and some horrible ones, too). I agree, nice packaging does pep you up a bit... it's nicer to hold a solid metal compact than a filmsy plastic one.

    Cahleen - I've actually started wearing more make-up in Taiwan! I'm not sure why. I do go through phases where I wear more make-up... plus I think the fact I am a pale person in a country where white skin is revered makes my inner contrarian want to rebel and slather on as much bronzer as possible. You are right, though, the humidity makes putting anything on my face off-putting!

  4. I'm not much of a make up girl, but I do love gazing at the pretty packaging at the cosmetics counters.

  5. Interesting post. For me, the focus is definitely on the product itself, but pretty packaging is a plus. It's the same with perfume. I might really admire the shape of some bottles, but unless I like the smell, it doesn't really matter!

  6. I'm definitely trapped by a nice packaging ;).

  7. As much as I wish I were not susceptible to pretty packages, I love Coty's exterior. It appeals to my vintage aesthetique... However, I'm in my late 30's and my skin has changed substantially since my 20's, so I don't use Coty because of the talc in the product. I understand talc is not good for the pores, in that it enlarges them with repeated use.

    I love and swear by Emani, as it gives me full coverage like Coty or even Mac, but no talc.