“What you do with your hair, nails, and make-up is just as much a part of your personal style as the shoes you decide to put on in the morning — if not more,” says Nellie Eden, the newly announced Creative Beauty Editor in Residence for UK retailer Browns.
Beauty consumers have always known this. It’s only now that more and more on the fashion side are finally starting to recognize how essential our beauty rituals are to our sense of self. That includes Browns, which, along with its parent company Farfetch, launched a community-based beauty platform this past month. It also includes SSENSE, which brought beauty to its lineup under its new Everything Else category in December 2020. And then there are the products themselves: Palace made a play for beauty with a Calvin Klein CK One collaboration this April, Palm Angels with a collaboration with Swedish fragrance brand 19-69 last fall, and Supreme with a Pat McGrath lipstick back in 2020. Lifestyle and design magazine Kinfolk now has a beauty line.
Which is to say, many retailers and brands with a streetwear following are seeing that their audiences might be as interested in a perfume as in a pair of sneakers. Like our sneaker walls of our preferred models of Nikes, adidas, or New Balances, our precisely curated bathroom counter of Aesop, Byredo or Le Labo bottles communicates to us and to the world who we are.
“By collaborating with beauty brands, streetwear brands can enter an untapped and huge market space,” says Sophia Panych, Head of Beauty Content at Farfetch. “Beauty brands, on the other hand, are realizing that by working with streetwear brands, they can tap into the buying power of the hypebeasts, as well as attract a new and younger customer base. I also think it’s a result of streetwear and beauty brands both wanting to grow into more lifestyle brands.”
Streetwear has always been a lifestyle as much an aesthetic choice. But the tide has shifted; streetwear has had to acknowledge that its audience is more than just the default straight male who finds a dedication to sneakers antithetical to wearing moisturizer. The lines of what “streetwear” actually is only get blurrier as we declare the label dead every couple of months; whatever it is, it no longer needs to refer to clothes and shoes at all.
And the beauty industry has recognized it is not only catering to straight women seeking to prettify themselves with color cosmetics. “You'll notice that we don't call our department beauty, because we find that to be sort of a gender-stereotyped word. We call it ‘Self-Care,’ and we just think that makes it more inclusive,” says Lori Legaspi Moores, Vice President of Merchandising, Everything Else, at SSENSE. Included in SSENSE’s Self-Care vertical are sleek vibrators from Dame and face creams from La Mer, while the e-commerce platform’s editorial side now mixes recommendations for Nuface skin treatments alongside Kiko Kostadinov sunglasses. “I think the community enjoys disruption, enjoys challenging convention,” she adds of the streetwear and beauty audience.
It should come as a surprise to no one that Off-White™ is the brand to truly shuttle streetwear into the beauty sphere with more than just a collaboration, but a full-fledged line of its own. Conceived prior to Virgil Abloh’s death, the new PAPERWORK beauty line aims to do what Abloh always achieved in his career: meet his audience exactly where they are at.
Launching a beauty line has long been a natural transition for luxury brands looking to reach a wider base of consumers who can’t afford a $1,000 handbag, but can afford a $30 lipstick. But the production is often outsourced through a licensing deal, with strategies that can feel entirely separate from the apparel line (YSL Beauté, owned by L'Oréal, retained its old name and logo even when Hedi Slimane axed Yves Saint Laurent into the more minimal Saint Laurent). Off-White™’s PAPERWORK is instead produced in-house by a new beauty sector at its parent company, New Guards Group. The first launch of four fragrances emphasizes the collaborators behind the scenes; two are made by perfumer Jerome Epinette, who has also created many fragrances for Byredo, a past Abloh collaborator.
That sense of authentic continuity, as well as a connection to a trusted name like Epinette, is key to attracting a savvy beauty and streetwear consumer. Even while they may appear to sit at opposite ends of the gender and aesthetic spectrums, both beauty and streetwear are firmly rooted in highly-engaged communities that swap info and insider tips on forums and social media. “They're really discerning and well-researched,” says Legaspi Moores. “Somebody who's interested in a hype sneaker launch, they've researched the secondary market, they know what's going to be very limited. And then on the beauty side, people are very well researched about the efficacy, the innovation of the products they use.”
Both Browns and Farfetch are attempting to replicate some of that engagement on their own platforms. The latter has tapped a roster of influencers and celebrities including Nico Hiraga to provide personalized beauty recommendations, along with an onsite forum allowing shoppers to post tutorials and reviews.
“Beauty revolves around its core tenets of individualism and self-expression, but it’s also deeply rooted in community. No longer do people consume beauty in solitude over the pages of a magazine,” says Panych. “Instead they’re sharing reviews, chatting on message boards, posting tutorials, and interacting with fellow beauty fans online and across social media.”
Which is not to say there are still no exclusionary practices in the beauty and streetwear spheres. As the one sector of fashion dominated by straight men, streetwear has frequently been rampant with homophobia, while the beauty industry has been responsible for upholding standards of white supremacy through constantly shifting, impossible-to-achieve ideals.
“While I do think that the streetwear industry has become more welcoming towards women customers and beauty more welcoming towards male customers, there is still a very long way to go,” Panych adds. “There are still beauty brands who exclusively showcase women in their campaign imagery or create ranges specifically for men (when all products can be used by all people), and streetwear brands who don’t stock smaller sizes or cater to women fans.”
Beauty has always presented a strange dichotomy that way; it is both a deeply personal act and also inextricably tethered to social norms. It can be both oppressive and restorative. And with the ongoing pandemic, more and more shoppers have come to see beauty as a necessary part of their self-care rituals. “We have had a small selection of fragrance, candles, and wellness items for a while now, and they have always been strong performers,” says Ida Petersson, Buying Director for Browns. “As the pandemic hit and we were all ramping up our beauty routines, we heard from our customers that they were doing the same.”
Even as we leave isolation, those habits aren’t likely to change soon, and retailers and brands will act accordingly. “I wouldn’t be surprised if by this time next year all the major household-name luxury brands had some element of a beauty offering,” says Nellie Eden. The ones who successfully capture that audience will do so because they take beauty seriously; those who see that wearing lipstick, nail polish, or fragrance is not merely a frivolous indulgence, but an expression of our authentic selves.