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Not particularly into beauty, I used to only indulge myself in eye-liner and lipstick from time to time. I usually didn’t care about the brands if the products I bought suited me, but this was the case until my second trip to South Korea six years ago. I was staying in Hongdae, the student area of Seoul. A very lively place with bands playing music at every corner of the street and lovely clothing shops, it was there my obsession with Korean beauty brands started.
The first cosmetic boutique I entered was Etude House, and I stayed in for a good hour filled with wonder. I was blown away. Besides the rich set up of the shop, the packaging of the products got most of my attention. And indeed, Etude House’s trademark is its attractive products. How to resist to their ice cream bar lip gloss and panda-like hand cream? But Etude House wasn’t the only brand to surprise me. A couple of streets away I found Laneige. A label with a more minimalistic and yet, alluring packaging. Bottles don’t have fancy designs. Instead, they always display ‘icey’ colours reminding the brand’s name – Laneige, snow in French. If the skincare packaging seems quite simple, Laneige reveals a playful and youthful side with a two-tone lipstick which tube is enhanced by funny prints. Stylenanda – a retailer in between Asos and Missguided – was the last company to convince me Koreans were far more advanced than us. Asos only introduced Face + Body a couple of months ago when Stylenanda launched 3CE – its beauty line – in 2012. Geared to women between 18 and 35 years old, 3CE is a fun and girly label. Lip pencils are stored in a pencil box while skincare products look like bottles of milk. The beauty line even collaborated with Maison Kitsuné, the famous Parisian fashion and music label to create an adorable packaging adorned with a fox head – the French brand logo.
Change continent, and you have Estée Lauder and its Advanced Night Repair serum bottled up in an uncluttered and elegant chestnut container embodying perfectly the brand’s aesthetic. A golden writing tops off the bottle and reminds you that Estée Lauder is a luxury cosmetics label. Like most of the established beauty companies in Occident. YSL beauty, Dior, L’Oréal Paris – all have in common to present their products in a refined, delicate and clean packaging. Take YSL beauty lipstick, with its golden tube embossed with the French Maison name; it is impossible not to feel the luxurious aura of Paris fashion scene. Unlike Korea, in Occident, beauty is intimately tied to high fashion.
While the ‘asian-ification’ of the beauty industry has brought innovation such as the cushion compact – hailing directly from Korea and turned into the cushion foundation by Lancôme – it also has had an impact on the packaging. Instagram was founded in 2010, but Korean beauty brands were already adding this element of visual quirkiness to their products way before the app existed. In an interview to BoF, Christine Chang, co-founder of Glow Recipe – an e-tailer offering Korean beauty products – explained that in Korea there was a concept called ‘skintertainment’. She describes it as “a sensorial, pampering approach. The ingredients are fun; the packaging is fun; the application methods are unusual.” Glossier is not a Korean brand, but it is impossible not thinking about skintertainment when looking at Glossier You – their first fragrance – which millennial-pink bottle is designed with a thumbprint shape. The Ouai is another example of these new beauty companies integrating fun in their products. The brand founded by hairstylist Jane Atkin created a supplement pill for thin, dry and oily hair. The packaging looking like medicine is stamped with the brand’s name and stored in a transparent box recalling The Ouai minimalistic style.