Question: What have been the important moments in the history
of the beauty industry?
The modern industry begins in the 19th
century, but its predecessors go back to every known human civilization.
I can hardly think of a single product that we use today that wasn’t
used 400 years ago, 1,000 years ago, even 3,000 years ago. So,
inflection points really are the late 19th century when products that
were primarily used by relatively few people, made by craft methods
suddenly started to be turned into brands and suddenly started to be
sold not just locally but first regionally then nationally then
globally. And that’s really when much of what we think of as the modern
industry really, really gets going.
Then if we’re looking at
stages and its subsequent growth, I think Hollywood was really very
important because Hollywood kind of I feel like, raised the stakes of
appearance, and it also served as a medium for taking beauty ideals
around the world. And by the '30s, people in towns almost everywhere in
the world have access to a cinema; they could see representations of
beauty, particularly hairstyles, particularly the use of cosmetics. And I
think that was enormously important. And if I’m thinking of a more
recent inflection point, I would probably say the 1970s, when we first
begin to seek some really serious criticism about some aspects of the
industry, in particular its impact on people’s health—here’s a giant
cancer scare about hair dyes—and concerns that the industry was
over-promising. And there begins to be a backlash from then on, which
doesn’t kill the growth of the industry, not at all, but which begins to
reshape it and redefine it. Question: What has
changed since the‘70s in terms of how we think about beauty products?
If you go back to the early 19th century, every
society and every culture defined beauty in their own ways. People
looked completely different around the world. For example, in Japan,
early 19th century Japan, the epitome of female beauty was very narrow
eyes, whitened faces, and black teeth. Elite men, aristocratic men in
Japan used cosmetics. They also whitened their face. And you could tell
the same story about every other society.
What happened over
time was this: you could call it, homogenization of what it meant to be
beautiful spreading out throughout the world. And beauty consumers came
to see beauty in very much more uniform or, you could say, restrictive
terms. And this conception of what it meant to be beautiful was
reinforced by television, by Hollywood, by the whole ecosystem of the
beauty industry area, of magazines, the gatekeepers of beauty. So if you
were to take a long-term historical perspective, consumers' conception
of what it meant to be beautiful narrowed and homogenized dramatically.
Recorded on April 21, 2010