At the doors of Harvey Nichols, I am first in the queue to see Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty concession. A makeup artist, Sonia Reeva, greets me at the entrance. As we walk to the concession, Reeva tells me today is my “lucky day”. Despite the brand launching over a month ago, this queue, exclusively for Fenty Beauty customers, can be three hours long and permanently has security guards present. The Fenty Beauty stand welcomes crowds of customers with its warm, nude glow. The iridescent shimmer sticks and glosses are particularly inviting.
After the success of her Fenty Beauty campaign, Rihanna excited the beauty industry all over again with the release of the Mattemoiselle Plush Matte Lipsticks. A range of 14 intense-colour matte lipsticks designed to complement all skin tones, demonstrating again that inclusivity is a focal point of her campaigns. From this particular range, the vibe is that these lipsticks break convention. The multi-talented artist hand-picked the rich shades herself, and wanted to “prove that lipstick is meant to be fun, not feared!” Rather than letting the consumer stick to one shade, empowerment and exploration of new looks are key.
As well as other products, the 40+ shades of foundation and concealer that Fenty Beauty offers appeals to all skin types and tones, especially those that are hard to match. Rihanna broke advertising boundaries by presenting thirteen female models of different ethnicities in her campaign, arguably making the industry more diverse and inclusive than ever in just a one minute video advertisement.
It hasn’t always been like this. The history of makeup dates back six thousand years and has changed rapidly in the past two centuries. Through its representation in the media and in society, a paradox of particularly sexist assumptions were widely made. If women wore makeup, they were shallow and conceited. If they didn’t wear makeup, there was a lack of self-care and confidence. It seemed makeup was only used to create a mask to impress men and to hide a woman’s insecurities. If a man wore makeup, he was strangely effeminate. If he didn’t, he was ‘normal’ with no deterioration of masculinity.
A necessary change of opinion and thinking came, but it was slow burning. The consciousness of makeup falls into the category of body image, a topic that in the last couple of years is being discussed more widely and on more social platforms. The umbrella of self-love now preaches that a person should look however good they wish to, for themselves only. Makeup should be fun and experimental. When creating Fenty Beauty, Rihanna said makeup “should never feel like pressure. It should never feel like a uniform. Feel free to take chances, and take risks, and dare to do something new or different.”
While women continue to dominate cosmetics, the industry is neutralising in terms of gender. Men are using more makeup and focusing on vanity. A cycle has begun of large corporations benefiting from the mainstreaming of all identities using makeup, and vice versa. Xavier Singh, a makeup artist for NYX Professional Makeup, told me of how he uses his talents to teach customers as well as his loyal Instagram followers. He first got into makeup by taking inspiration from the drag scene and The Club Kids – a group of dance club personalities in New York City, known for their flamboyant behaviour and costumes. Singh then elaborated his inspirations onto himself.
Singh said he identifies with makeup to “feel empowered,” and that “it’s really liberating to break gender norms and stereotypes.” Singh’s passion is encouraging. As he speaks to me his eyes widen and he stutters across some sentences, out of eagerness to share knowledge and flair. But this self-empowerment comes with hate from outsiders, as Singh recalls being frequently heckled in the street and nearly attacked when wearing makeup.
“Thanks to the queer movement and LGBT community makeup is definitely becoming less binary, anyone can wear it,” Singh said. The drag community has also helped. The television show, RuPaul’s Drag Race, where drag queens compete for the title of ‘America’s Next Drag Superstar’, celebrates individuality and self expression. Also, the use of makeup doesn’t have to be dramatic or drag to improve the acceptance of men wearing it, Singh said “as makeup is evolving and losing its binary, something as simple as concealer is a step forward.”
Using makeup to express ourselves has increased the necessity of diversification and inclusivity in the industry. Singh said it’s “embarrassing” that it’s taken the overwhelming success of just one diverse campaign (Fenty Beauty) for advertisers to “realise that sexualisation and conventional white models only sell to an extent.”
Bertie Storr, a makeup artist from Surrey, spoke of the lack of diversity in makeup artistry training. Herself and her peers had to learn to practice colour matching on each other, which was simple for the fair skinned students, but proved “extremely difficult” for one student, who was the only person of colour. Storr said “It’s common that people of colour have to mix products and spend more money to achieve a colour match… bad diversity in the industry leads to bad training, as there’s not much product for people of colour to experiment with or use in the first place.”
Makeup has evolved from sexist connotations, and transformed into something self expressive. Rights and wrongs are ruled out. The new rules is that there are no rules. There is a focus on artistic talent and the ability to use it. Diversification is selling, as it should have always been, thanks to inclusive campaigns like Fenty Beauty. It is increasing awareness and acceptance in the industry and makeup has become socially applicable to all genders. One’s individuality as a whole is celebrated like an art form, with how we use makeup, we all reveal parts of ourselves open to interpretation. It’s now about how you want to look for yourself, not how society is teaching you how to look.
Written by Sophie Hall
Quotes from Rihanna, taken from: https://www.harveynichols.com/brand/fenty-beauty/