Provocative Thoughts – Make-up As a Luxury

LUXURY is commonly considered the extravagant, hard-to-attain item governed by an astronomical price tag and so-called quality beyond compare. Some insist a luxury piece must be rare, or else it would not be, but on the other hand, several consider the affordability of an item to make that distinction. The cost of luxury goods generally keeps an item available to a limited number of parties, because unfortunately, most of us do not rake in millions of dollars a year and simply cannot afford to spend $3,000 on a handbag.

MAKEUP AS A LUXURY is harder to determine, because high-end makeup has become such a common item that you’ll find in a wide range of households, regardless of yearly income. It isn’t the commonness that seems to make these supposed luxury items lose some of their edge, but the price point is not nearly as painful as with other markets like bags, cars, clothing, or shoes. So does that mean that luxury beauty has really just transformed into affordable luxury, and thus only a few true luxury brands exist?

WHO’S WHO IN MAKEUP tells us that among the priciest cosmetic lines are Chantecaille, La Prairie, Serge Lutens, –two of which are much more known for their skincare products than their makeup or “color” lines. Who comes next in line? Brands like Chanel, Dior, Fusion Beauty, Givenchy, Guerlain, and Yves Saint Laurent all come to mind. It just seems that luxury in the beauty department is simply affordable for a great many of us.

While one definition of luxury reiterates that an item is not necessary, rather a refinement of living, couldn’t we say that for a great many products? I am hard pressed to say any beauty item is a necessity, other than perhaps sunscreen. Another definition seems a bit more on the money–pun intended–that luxury is someone who lives at a higher standard of living, beyond that which is considered reasonable. It appears that living comfortably is fine and dandy, but to live luxuriously is moving up to a higher echelon.

So while the reasonable woman can most likely afford to dabble in a majority of high-end brands like Estee Lauder, Lancome, and Shiseido, I suspect her budget does not allow for oodles of Chantecaille creams or the whole range of La Mer at her fingertips. Conglomerates like Estee Lauder are home to a great variety in brands within a brand; for instance, Estee Lauder Companies include such favorites as Bobbi Brown, Clinique, MAC, and even Flirt! (low-end). By diversifying their target audiences by manipulating the beauty market through brand development, Estee Lauder is able to capture a wider range of women.

MAC is often considered one of the first brands young women fall in love with, covet, and ultimately leads them to the doors of other high-end lines. MAC itself is considered a high-end brand on the low-end of the scale; it has a more budget-sensitive price point for a majority of their items relative to the lines it competes against. It essentially gives the consumer the chance to experience luxury with a more affordable price tag than delving straight into the likes of Dior where a single lipgloss may cost in excess of $25 (compared with MAC’s price of $14).

But what about budget beauty? Doesn’t a woman first find herself overwhelmed by the numerous brands found in the cosmetic aisles at her local drugstore? These days, not always. Drugstore cosmetics have increased in quality, but I have found that many well-known brands like CoverGirl, L’Oreal, and Maybelline have also increased their prices. When it comes to mascara, it isn’t hard to spend $8 or more on a single tube at the drugstore. Going back to our entry point, MAC, their mascara is priced at $11. For an extra three dollars you get a chance to experience high-end, “luxury” cosmetics. Luxury doesn’t seem so out of reach anymore, does it?

Beauty appears to have built a perfect structure that slowly lets you into the world of gold-infused lipsticks, diamond-encrusted compacts, and miracle creams by introducing you to their version of affordable luxury. Even the lines considered luxurious often offer a few items that are impossibly out of budget for the majority of women like Guerlain’s Kiss Kiss lipstick with a retail price of $62,000. Is that what luxury is when it comes to beauty?

Does that make a line like Chanel affordable luxury? If Chanel is affordable luxury, is luxury an absolute term rather than an relative one? The average college student cannot afford even entry brands like MAC in excess, let alone indulge themselves in Chanel; while a single twenty-something working woman could easily find herself at a Chanel counter with few qualms over price, but would still find Creme de la Mer to be a painful purchase to make.

Is luxury an item you cannot afford or an item that you will never be able to afford?

This article was written as part of Coutorture’s Salon on Luxury and Accessibility, so if you enjoyed it, please check out the other features from this week: