by Elisabeth King

Some trends keep getting oxygen because a succession of back stories keeps them current for a host of different reasons. The palette is one of the best examples of constant re-invention in the beauty business and its popularity shows no sign of letting up. Even 22 year old Gigi Hadid, hailed as the first Instagram supermodel, loves the portability and convenience of a compact format. Apart from the two major directional looks of the Gigi Hadid X Maybelline New York limited collection, launched in Australia in December, the hero product is the Jetsetter Palette of two concealers, two lipsticks, four eyeshadows, a blush, a matte bronzer and a mascara. 

There’s nothing new about palettes from standard quads to all-in-ones that resemble a makeup artist’s bag of tricks. PUPA Milano, founded in 1976, built up a thriving international business based on its wide-ranging lineup of multi-purpose makeup kits. But the contemporary success of the palette was springboarded by Urban Decay’s Naked Palette, which has been hailed as the most popular eyeshadow in the world. First launched in 2010, the 12 shade mix of matte and sparkling gold, plum, mauve and chocolate hues heralded a new age-flattering, goof-proof neutrals. 

The Modern Evolution – Product, Packaging, Seasonality, Diversity

The move was a breakthrough because most palettes of the time featured a couple of wearable colours teamed with pigments more suited to flamboyant costume parties. Within two years, Urban Decay’s Naked and Naked 2 Palettes were the top two selling makeup sets in the US and the brand was acquired by L’Oréal. By 2014, the former anti-beauty brand had doubled its sales, largely due to its cult palettes and a string of variations on the theme including half-sized versions. 

The main takeaway from the success of Urban Decay’s Naked Palette is that it didn’t rely on high-tech beauty innovations. The appeal of palettes has always been value for money and nothing has changed on that score. They also play into another beauty industry constant that packaging should be functional and attractive, enticing consumers to pick up a product instead of its rivals. As more and more palettes have been launched, their packaging has become an important way for a brand to communicate its image and reach out to target markets. Even the sound it makes – think of the sharp snap of Urban Decay’s Naked Palette – can propel the path to purchase. 

Palettes have also become a major focus for modern reasons. The launch of seasonal makeup palettes which follow runway trends stimulates increased sales as social media now pays as much attention to the cosmetics a designer uses as the fashions. The emphasis on diversity in beauty has also become a driving force in the rising sales of palettes, allowing brands to experiment with new pigments and combinations of ingredients to appeal to darker-skinned women, who are also looking for lighter colours by day and more dramatic looks for night-time wear. Colour Palettes for All was fingered as one of the major cosmetic trends of the past year by global market researcher Mintel. 

Selfie Ready/On-The-Go Beauty

The all-pervasive influence of social media has also fueled palettes as the perfect tool for on-the-go beauty. Over 65 per cent of beauty views on YouTube are linked to makeup. Many consumers prefer to seek the advice of vloggers for tips and information on how to use makeup products and their tutorials have been influential in showing millions how to get the most out of a makeup palette instead of sticking to one or two favourite shades. 

Digital influencers might be associated more with Millennials and Gen Zers, but the market for ‘mature age’ makeup videos for women aged 30 to 50-plus has become the fastest-growing category. Gen Xers and Boomers have grown-up with palettes and they are core target markets with more disposable income than their younger counterparts. Smartphones have also radically changed the beauty world and given a new lease of life to application techniques and products that date back to the 1960s and 1970s – highlighting and contouring. The selfie-ready look has become increasingly aspirational and new twists on traditional products claim centre-stage when partnered with digital aids such as Photoshopping and filters. 

Contouring re-emerged as a beauty buzzword in 2012, when Kim Kardashian tweeted images of makeup artist Scott Barnes creating her trademark sharp cheekbones and sculpted nose with contouring products. The trend may not be grabbing as many headlines, but it’s still bubbling away. British brand Rodial released the ‘world’s first contouring makeup range’ in late 2014, supported by the simultaneous launch of a Contouring Bar in upmarket UK department store Harvey Nichols. Contouring not only became the most requested mini-makeover in Sephora stores, the technique became the subject of one of the specialist beauty retailer’s most popular how-to videos on YouTube. 

The three products required to achieve Ms Kardashian’s signature look – shimmering highlighter, a combo of highlighter and contouring powder to slim the nose and a dark contouring powder to bring out the cheek bones – have been packaged in a series of palettes from brands at all price levels. A strategy that also leveraged sales in accessory areas such as blending sponges and brushes and mirror lights.

No Makeup Look A Key Driver of ‘Other Face’ Category

Contouring has always been one of the most challenging makeup techniques, but ironically it’s being kept alive by the trend towards naturally flawless beauty. Over half the global consumers in a recent survey by Canadean said they wanted beauty products to help them achieve the ‘no makeup’ look. As designer Calvin Klein pointed out in the 1980s – The best thing is to look natural, but it takes makeup to look natural. It still does and the huge popularity of the minimal makeup trend has continued to power the popularity of contouring beyond its association with Kim K on posting hashtags such as #iwokeuplikethis. Contouring also plays into the diversity of beauty trend. Major celebrities such as Oprah, Jennifer Lopez and Selena Gomez are longtime fans of the technique. 

Other Face – a category that covers contouring, highlighting and shaping kits – remains one of the fastest-growing makeup categories, especially in prestige beauty, says Karen Grant, global beauty analyst for The NPD Group. “Thanks in large part to celebrity influencers, endorsements, and the Internet, contouring and strobing are redefining the makeup industry. One doesn’t need to be a professional makeup artist to use ‘high definition’ or ‘camera-ready’ products. It is essential for beauty brands retailers, and manufacturers to further understand the impact of the societal evolutions happening today, because they are transforming not only consumers’ way of shopping and acquiring information, but also how they think, define beauty and perfection and how they perceive themselves”. 

The term Gig Economy is just a new way to say ‘working part-time’. Strobing is just a contemporary word for highlighting, kickstarted by British fashion pioneer Mary Quant in the 1960s. Highlighting is a lot easier to master than contouring and the way it is used would be familiar to Twiggy in the supermodel’s heyday. A dab in the right places – the cheek and brow bones, the temples, the bridge of the nose and the cupid’s bow – delivers a dewy glow. 

As Karen Grant points out, Instagram-friendly beauty is a long-term game-changer. Palettes are at the forefront of HD beauty because they provide the core products key to keeping digitally-aware consumers camera-ready at all times – blusher, highlighter, eye-shadows, contour powders and lip products – in a slimline compact that’s easy to stow in a bag. 

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