A snappy tour of the method behind the cosmetics industry’s madness, from the former beauty editor of Glamour, Mirabella, and InStyle.
In cosmetics, Gavenas explains, “the most successful companies are the ones that spin the fantasies that the most women want to hear. And anyone with a good enough story can still make it big in the beauty business.” That's big—as in $29 billion in sales last year in the US—and though the Revlons and Lauders and Mary Kays dominate, smaller entrepreneurs have also dipped into this bottomless paint pot. Create your own color story: if the big houses say, “For spring, the story [is] pink,” then start your own line, call it Urban Decay, and push your shades of Roach, Smog, and Mildew with the slogan “Does pink make you puke?” Count $6 million to $9 million in sales the first year. The basically democratic nature of cosmetics strikes the author’s fancy—a few dollars for some atmosphere, makeovers free and fun at the beauty counter—and she reminds us that early fighters for women's rights saw makeup as a badge of courage: “Painting your face meant writing your own story, independent of whatever your husband or father had drawn up.” On a more cynical note, Gavenas declares: “Forget feminism. There's nothing like making money off other women to prove how powerful sisterhood can be.” And women are powerful in this industry because “men just don't get it.” The author revels in the dialectic of fabulism and the simple act of applying lipstick, the overstatement and the understatement, the rags to riches. Histories of cosmetic houses and the process of making cosmetics provide welcome doses of reality, but Gavenas really prefers the conjuring from thin air: “Makeup will spin storylines for clothes that have none.”
Fundamentally, the beauty business is all about yearning and fantasy, promises and possibilities, fashioning the mood of the moment, and Gavenas explicates the fantasy so well that—yes—even men will get it.