Zara and Valentino join the likes of Gucci and Byredo with beauty brands that lean towards an editorial aesthetic.

By Juno Kelly.

Since the primitive beauty campaigns of the early 1900s, makeup brands have advertised their products as a means of making women conventionally beautiful. Ad campaigns promised subtly defined cheekbones, seductively darkened lips, wide eyes, and long lashes.

For those with a penchant for face paint and costume makeup, however, cosmetics were never about beauty, but artistry. This forward-thinking outlook translated to the fashion realm as magazines became more experimental in the ’70s and ’80s. Makeup artists took to the editorial pages of magazines, and eventually to runways themselves, to prove that makeup could be regarded as an art form in its own right.

However, owing to their desire to cater to the everyday consumer, cosmetics brands continued to avoid the avant-garde aesthetic in their campaigns, focusing on making women—and only women—what society at the time deemed as attractive, often catering overwhelmingly to the male gaze.

Of late, however, as experimental makeup disseminates mainstream culture via social media and TV shows like Euphoria, commercial brands are slowly starting to embrace the phenomenon. In May 2019, Gucci beauty released the campaign that marked its return to the cosmetics market. Unlike the fashion juggernaut’s 2014 ad imagery which saw Charlotte Casiraghi strewn in smokey bronze eyeshadow and a crimson lip, gazing (predictably) into a Gucci mirror, the re-launch campaign, at the hands of Thomas de Kluyver, was unconventional. The campaign featured images of an elderly model’s mouth—her vermillion lipstick rubbed off on a wine glass, Dani Miller dousing male band member Jeffertitti Moon in sparkling lipstick, and close ups of red lips encasing gap toothed mouths with teeth void of bleach. At the time, Thomas de Kluyver, the makeup artist behind the campaign, explained that he “wanted to break down our usual ideas of beauty, gender, vanity and identity and explore the idea of make-up being used as a form of self expression.”

A year later, in October 2020, Swedish brand Byredo launched its first makeup campaign at the hands of founder Ben Gorham and British makeup artist Isamaya Ffrench. In a similar vein to Gucci, Byredo rallied against traditional cosmetics advertisements, embracing a futuristic alien-like digital creature as the face of their campaign. “People are becoming a lot more experimental with make-up and that’s down to social media and the relationship people have with beauty and gender fluidity and those kinds of self-expression,” said Ffrench in an interview with The Week at the time.

According to recent reports, the experimental makeup game won’t be monopolized by Gucci, Byredo, and Euphoria fans for much longer. It was announced last week that Italian fashion brand Valentino will be releasing its first ever beauty line come May 31, and clothing conglomerate Zara announced the release of its first beauty line today.

Although the brand hasn’t yet released campaign images, Valentino’s creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli selected 16 “eclectic” faces for the campaign, and got behind the lens himself to shoot it. Like Gucci and Byredo, the Italian house made a point of noting that the beauty line is for “all genders, ages, and cultures,” and revealed that it will consist of a foundation available in 40 shades, 50 lipsticks, and eye makeup products that can be described as “experimental, with a couture approach.” If the house’s couture show makeup looks over the last decade are anything to go by, we can predict feathers framing eyes (Spring 2019 Couture), and faces covered in glitter (Spring 2020 Couture).

Despite Zara’s status as a mass-market brand with a minimalist aesthetic, its beauty division’s campaign imagery is unexpectedly experimental. To shoot the campaign, Zara enlisted a plethora of high fashion photographers including David Sims, Craig McDean, David Sorrenti, and experimental visual artist Mariyn Minter, while Mission collaborator Fabien Baron designed the almost architectural packaging.

High fashion makeup artist Diane Kendal (who’s created beauty looks for Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs, and Max Mara’s runway shoes) was appointed Zara Beauty’s Creative Director, and coated models’ eyes in smudged glitter eyeshadow and glazed pastel paint strokes for the campaign imagery. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Kendal opened up about her need to prioritize inclusivity, “We wanted the line to be for everyone—very democratic.” She added that the mood board was anything but generic, “(Zara) were just, like, ‘Yes, go and create and have fun. Let’s play with it.’” After a year of keeping our camera permissions off during lockdown? Bring on the experimentation.

Image credit: Gucci