Is this the real life, or is this just fantasy? The Coterie explores the changing face of beauty

The Coterie got off to a flying start last night, as a packed room took in the first eagerly anticipated panel event of the year. The topic under discussion? The tattooed, influencer-driven, gender-fluid, bold, and bright new face of the beauty industry.

Hairdresser and salon owner Christel Lundqvist; British Vogue’s Beauty & Health Director Nicola Moulton; celebrity make-up artist Liz Pugh; and PR Director for BeautyMART Sarah Guild, joined Layered Editor Sarah-Jane Corfield-Smith in exploring everything from the rise of Insta-artifice and the impact of social media on what is considered ‘beautiful’, to the gradual erasure of gender in advertising such as make-up and hair campaigns.

Liz opened proceedings, explaining that having witnessed the shift from film to digital photography in the beauty industry, she saw the attitude to retouching and beauty itself transformed almost overnight. “It became much easier, a much more of a reliable fix to just say ‘We’ll sort it in post’,” she said. “Instead of looking at the set up on shoots, everyone was suddenly crowding round the one monitor.”

“My whole career has been about bringing out the best in someone, not hiding behind some kind of mask,” Liz added, telling the story of how she was dismayed when an actress recently begged her to pile on more make-up to hide freckles and transform her nose shape on a shoot. “I do think we’re embracing change again slowly, though… allowing piercings and tattoos to show and going against being ‘Insta-ready’ at all times.”

“There’s definitely been a change in perception regarding what’s the norm in the hair world for clients,” agreed Christel. “I mean, pink is now a classic look rather than a creative look!”

“I think consumers do more research and actually know more nowadays too,” she added. “There are fewer occasions where a client will bring an unrealistic photo in and ask us to recreate the look. They can access more, learn more and are getting better at identifying what they want, as well as what’s achievable and what’s not.”

The discussion then moved on to British Vogue’s November 2016 ‘Real Issue’, which beyond the cover star, featured everyday women rather than models in fashion spreads, beauty features and all further articles. A bold statement about the way consumers perceive and consume beauty imagery, Nicola explained that Editor Alexandra Schulman was the “driving force” behind the project.

“Designers refused to send non-sample sized clothing to feature on the non-model women in the issue… it opened our eyes,” she continued. “If brands learn to hold up a mirror to consumers instead of alienating and distancing them, they’ll sell much more.”

Nicola also added that Vogue sends out packs to schools to help girls learn how to deconstruct the artifice of fashion imagery. “There’s such a powerful link between how we want to look and how we want to feel,” she told the audience. “Unilever recently did some research and found that only a tiny percentage of women identified with the way females were portrayed in their adverts – they had no personality, no presence and no role outside of stereotypes.”

“I really loved Boots’s campaign with (leading feminist author) Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie… as it managed to demonstrate that link between beauty and identity without any guilt or implication of masking oneself,” she contiunued. “It’s about the joy of expression.”

“But through the lens of Instagram, Facebook and our phones – is our reality becoming ‘unreal’?” asked Sarah-Jane.
“I think it’s important to have a healthy relationship both with what you’re posting and viewing,” said Sarah, highlighting the fact that people need to ask themselves why they are consuming or creating particular types of content on social media. “That balance is vital.”

The panel were unified on one recent development in the beauty world – the increased visibility of men in beauty campaigns and in particular, in the images of men in make-up adverts. “Express yourself in any way you can and be who you want to be!” enthused Liz.

“I love that people are starting to be more honest, more realistic,” she added. “It’s SO fast now, Insta-influence, so hopefully the Insta-identikit look will be something we move on from very soon. Less of the filters more of the real, please!”

When asked by the audience if beauty creatives are at fault in creating unrealistic images that consumers aspire to, Nicola highlighted the ‘trickle down’ effect with beauty looks and fashion. She noted that things get adapted to work in the new context of real life, while Sarah-Jane added that the context provided by fashion magazines and advertising “earmarks” edited and carefully constructed images as fully in the ‘fantasy’ bracket.

“There’s no ‘how-to’ on the next page with these high-fashion, high skill images,” Sarah-Jane continued. “But YouTube and social media are divorcing fantasy from readable contexts, blurring the lines. That’s the danger for me, especially as a mother of a young girl who will grow up surrounded by such things.”

Sarah Guild agreed: “People are more savvy than we give them credit for… and I think people will always want beautiful editorial images seen in magazines. Bloggers and vloggers don’t pose a threat to that in my eyes.”

“I see bloggers as providing more individual, subjective opinions of products,” said Nicola. “Editors and professionals can be more objective due to their experience, depth of knowledge of the market and can provide better context… They can compare other products, assess why things emerge from the industry and it’s not just ‘It didn’t work for my skin’-style content.”

As for their hopes for the future of beauty? “Don’t worry about rules or if it ‘goes’, just own it,” said Liz, while Christel added that she wants to see the extreme ‘fantasy vs reality’ expectations of hair to find a happy, healthy middle ground.

The panel was unanimous in their belief than an ‘unreal’ backlash is well underway. “It’s all about honest and individuality,” concluded Sarah. “That, and a more personal relationship to beauty.”

We want to extend a huge thank you to our sponsors for the evening, TIGI Professionals, who provided goody bags packed with styling products for all of our guests.

Don’t forget to check out more photos from the night on our Facebook page, and keep your eyes peeled for a gallery full of the juiciest soundbites from our speakers!