Sunday, November 18th, 2007

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:

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14 thoughts on “Provocative Thoughts – Make-up As a Luxury

  1. Woooah! That’s food for thoughts!

    I normally think about it as something I can afford, but within limits, of course.

    Let’s not forget brands like Serge Lutens (makeup), Clé de Peau and By Terry. While Clé de Peau is still kind of affordable (main reason being the products are extremely good and the prices are not that obscene), I would not spend a penny on Serge Lutens or By Terry. They seem extremely over-priced to me. Well, lots of high-end brands are, no doubt about it.

    Crème de la Mer? You can find cheaper and even better moisturisers for a fraction of the price.

    Touche Eclat? That does nothing for me and, again, it can be found elsewhere for much less (and much better, btw, see Kanebo International). Well, I am a raccoon as well, so, no wonder it doesn’t work, right?

    Luxury cosmetics are more and more accessible, it’s true. They come in all shapes, colours, and price ranges. So accessible that I easily find myself “hoarding”, and that’s something I should avoid at all costs. I am not talking about the “obscenely” expensive here (La Mer serums, La Prairie Caviars and so on), for I think these are way TOO expensive and completely out of my range anyway.

    But the amount and diversity of good and affordable products is overwhelming, really.

    And if you ask me, indeed at the end of the day, the only things you really need are the sunblock as you said, and I would also add one good eye cream and perhaps a little concealer.

    I know why I spend so much in cosmetics. My reasons are:

    1- Overwhelmed by the offers, I feel like trying new things every day;
    2- I have a “professional” interest in the presentation: packaging and design (graduated in Industrial Design and packaging was my main interest);
    3- I love colour (for the above reason), so, nice makeup for me is like experimenting with a new watercolour set;
    4- I love learning about the new technologies used and why such and such will improve “x” condition (skincare). Having a silly reactive skin is one more reason. I experiment in order to improve it.

    Thank you for the great article, Christine!

    Andrea

    • Hey Andrea! Thanks for cluing me in on those brands! There’s just not much supremely expensive (like $1,000 lipsticks) in makeup. Skin stuff is the most expensive, and there are still so many affordable lines in this arena to choose from. I spend on makeup because it’s like a hobby, which is just fine with me!

      • Hey again Christine!

        Absolutely. Skincare is the $$$ thing. Can be astronomically expensive. I get lots of Japanese cosmetic magazines and I just gasp at some skincare prices. Even more expensive than here in our regions.

        That Serge Lutens has lippies that cost around USD68.00 for a refill. Way too steep, no?

        Ah, and those Sisley products? They are also over-the-top. And invariably, all I have tried from them made me breakout horribly, to the point where my face swell and got swollen. Thanks God these were all samples. But I cannot even think about them nowadays!

        MAC – I love them, because it’s a super-creative brand with affordable prices. Very, very good, and with super-appealing product names…

        Talk to you soon!

        a.

        • Hey Andrea!

          Oh, yes, I can’t bring myself to pay $30 for a lipstick, let alone $68! I’m quite happy with the quality I get with $14 a pop.

          MAC is fun, and it just makes makeup exciting and creative, which is why I love the brand so much!

  2. The beauty industry is dominated by a few key players. According to Forbes, L’Oréal, the world’s largest beauty products company, owns more than 20 brands, including Maybelline, the world’s top selling brand; Lancôme; and salon brands like Soft-Sheen and Carson. Estée Lauder owns 25 brands, including Prescriptives, Bobbi Brown and M.A.C Cosmetics, as well as Origins, Tommy Hilfiger fragrances, and Crème de la Mer. For instance, there are additional ingredients in Prescriptives and Bobbi Brown, but with some products the packaging and the marketing is the main difference.

    • Ahh, the world of conglomerates. I definitely agree that packaging and marketing, as well as the theme of the line, are the main distinctions between brands within the same house.

  3. Adina

    What an interesting and inciteful viewpoint Christine, I really enjoyed this article.

    I have found myself thinking about this topic a lot lately. As one of those twenty somethings you described, I too have found myself dabbling more and more in the higher end cosmetics. What began as a foray into saks to check out givenchy and guerlain’s holiday collections has become a love affair with brands such as yves st laurent, givenchy, guerlain, dior, and chanel.

    La mer and la prarie are still out of reach somewhat, but these other brands have been calling my name lately and I have been answering.

    On that note cosmetics (especially high end cosmetics) are a luxury that one needs to make room in one’s budget in order to be able to afford it.

    • Thank you, Adina! I am also one of the twenty-somethings, and I can say that by the time I’m 30, I have a feeling I will have acquired an even more refined taste and will make more purchases in other high-end brands that I wouldn’t have been as comfortable with later.

  4. Julieah

    Ahh. I am one of those 20-something single women who you’re talkin’ to. Sometimes I think about checking out the Chanel counter, but I am constantly thinking prices in my head and keeping a running total. So when ever I do see a ‘luxury’ branded item such as Chanel or Dior, I think to myself, ‘but, I could buy two or three MAC items for the same price.’

    And even though you might call it an “entry” brand, I still think of MAC as being a pretty luxurious self-indulgence purchase for myself every month.

    • Hey Julieah! I’m a 20-something, too :) Just barely, but hey.

      It’s not so much that once you start buying MAC, you’ll end up at Chanel’s doorstep the next day, but I know that I would have never considered buying Chanel a few years ago, but after being a MAC buyer for so long, Chanel isn’t so outrageous to me anymore. As my income creases, I doubt I’ll be as spend thrifty in terms of avoiding Chanel or Dior or what have you. We’ll see, though!

  5. lina

    ya…i mostly buy MAC. rarely do i go and buy some chanel and dior…i just can’t justify $30 CAD for a lip gloss right now lol

    • lol, Lina. Yes, it can be difficult if your budget isn’t conducive to that kind of purchasing. I still consider Chanel and whatnot to be a splurge item for myself.

  6. What a thoughtful and intelligent post. Luxury cosmetics is an entirely different arena when compared to clothes, possibly also because the products are more static (whereas although there are some special-edition eyeshadows, you don’t have to keep up with trends as much as some do with clothing).

    I’ve been using Chanel cosmetics since I was eighteen (21 now). I’m not wealthy, I just happen to feel that the Chanel foundation I buy is the perfect tint for my skin. And at $42 a bottle twice a year (or thrice in two years), it’s not that excessive, nor are the other comparative products I spend my money on. But it’s more than just quality that drives me to buy the brand – I do admit that I am also lured in by the name. I like wearing makeup by a brand who is well known for its “luxury” appeal.

    To me there are two types of people who generally buy the very upper-crust of beauty products: the ones who easily have the money to spend on it and feel it natural to buy the product that all their rich friends own, because the price doesn’t matter; and those who save up for the $68 lipstick, because they think that because it is luxury it must be the most amazing lipstick ever and the price is worth it.

    • Hey Jealoushe! Thanks for sharing. I definitely agree that there are those who enjoy a product because it’s luxurious, and also it must be nice to find luxury makeup easy to buy, LOL!

      Chanel makes you feel luxurious using it, IMO, just because that is the nature of the brand.