Jul 22, 2020 | By Lisa White
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Apr 12, 2019
Sniffing black pepper, covering myself with sparkly powder and stirring carrier oils in huge vats.
The first six months of my job as beauty director at WGSN introduced me to a different aspect of beauty manufacture every day. Having been editor of Professional Beauty in the UK, I was thrilled to get the chance to experience more of this fascinating industry. I created my own highlighter in the Barry M cosmetics lab, watched towels being washed over and over in fabric conditioners to check they still kept their fragrance at CPL Aromas and made an aromatherapy oil to tackle all my post-gym pains with small batch brand Inner Senses.
And while many of my friends thought I’d entered a glamorous world of fashion and beauty trend forecasting, I spent more time in a lab coat than in Louboutins.
But I loved it. Because I spent time with over 60 beauty brands from all over the world – exercising my natural curiosity by asking them questions about how and when they designed products. Along the way, I enjoyed a bit of machine-inspired mindfulness – watching the automation of nail polish caps being screwed on is almost as therapeutic as indulging in chroma yoga. Our job at WGSN is to predict the future, and the experiences and products our consumers will spend money on in the future, but I wanted to find out beauty executives’ challenges – and how we could solve them with a beauty forecasting service.
That service has been created, and WGSN Beauty went live yesterday. Those meetings during my first few months at WGSN have shaped it – here are some of the fascinating things I learnt.
Feeling is believing
Tracey Woodward, a consultant who has worked for beauty brands including Urban Retreat and Aromatherapy Associates, told me that while efficacy was vital for skincare, getting the texture of a product right is critical. “It is how it makes a customer feel and the ritual involved that makes the consumer fall in love with a product and buy it again and again,” she says.
Packaging is more than presentation
The boxes, the gift bows and the plastic might all be under scrutiny as the world tries to navigate its way to zero waste, but the challenge for beauty packaging designers is more than just creating a luxury experience sustainably. Moisturiser can split and mascara can dry up if the packaging isn’t spot-on. I spoke to a few brands that had created truly innovative products that tragically never came to market – just because the primary packaging wasn’t right.
Colour is not in the shade
Colour is a fundamental part of every design from fashion to furniture – but in beauty, it’s not just about cosmetics colours or hair hues. The colour of a facemask or the shades of packaging will make a product a must-buy – and can dial up the playful aspect of beauty. US skincare brand Algenist’s CEO Rose Fernandez introduced a colour-morphing face mask that transforms from mint green to pink on application “just for the fun of it”.
Success has an aroma
Getting the scent of a product right is vital to creating a hit beauty product. A fragrance can affect our emotions, connecting us to places and memories we love. Miller Harris’s CEO Sarah Rotherham inspired me when she told me how she’d created a brief for a fragrance after reading the F Scott Fitzgerald novel Tender is the Night on holiday. In this new digital-sales dominated world, communicating a perfume through words is smart.
Ingredients tell the story
The raw materials that go into a serum or scalp oil are part of a product’s charm or its promise. Pledges from the periodic table and claims made by chemistry convince consumers to buy but ingredients can also connect the consumer with a brand’s exotic or romantic heritage, but you need a passionate ambassador to tell the story. Los Angeles and London-based formulator Colleen Quinn told me: “I always wanted to work with chemistry and it excites me. You have to be an eternal student – you have to learn from new people, so I get out and about, for example a cannabis conference in Vermont or plant conference in Brighton.”
Science makes beauty more than skin deep
Microbiologists, chemists and chemical engineers are all involved in beauty manufacturing, and the scientists I met have fascinating professional lives. Glen Anderson, executive global colour director category development lead at Avon, joined the US company from university over 20 years ago. While he originally thought he would use his chemistry degree in pharmaceuticals, he says he is proud to have developed many best-sellers for the cosmetics brand, with his highlight creating Avon’s matte lipstick. “Millions of people have used and loved that product,” he said.
Beauty is worth more than the sum of its parts
We have learnt that long-range forecasting – two to five years out – is critical to enable brands to schedule the intensive research and development time some product categories need. Our forecasts will be based around the four key elements everyone talked to me about: ingredients; texture and fragrance; colour and packaging.
I hope you enjoy the service we’ve created, and I can’t wait to hear your feedback. And by the way, I’m just as comfortable to do that in a lab in a hairnet as I am in heels.
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