It’s getting personal: is bespoke the future of beauty?

It’s getting personal: is bespoke the future of beauty?

In the era of Not on the High Street, Etsy and Moonpig, you can personalize just about anything but beauty has tried and failed to usher in bespoke products in the past. Now, however, with Shiseido snapping up MATCHCo and Lancôme rolling out its Teint Particulier customized foundation service, it looks like the world of cosmetics has caught on to what it takes to make it in the made-for-you stakes.

And not a second too soon, in Sephora’s SVP of merchandising, Artemis Patrick’s opinion. “Our beauty client today is more educated and engaged than ever before,” she told Allure back in June. “She is selective, and more important, she is informed and intrigued by beauty offerings. She has a strong knowledge of ingredient and formula benefits, so she is seeking personalized products that meet her distinct needs.”

No wonder then, that we’ve been inundated with stories about the latest custom launches in 2017. LG Household & Health Care launched Remede by CNP, a retail concept that allows shoppers to build their own 50ml serum, while Coty’s CoverGirl is said to be launching a custom-blend foundation service later this year as a result of its partnership with AR specialist ModiFace.

But we’ve been here before – Prescriptives first launched its custom blend foundation service in the 80s. Owner Lauder admitted defeat on that one back in 2009, and we’ve seen any number of gimmicky create-your-own start-ups launch and then quietly disappear since. So what’s changed?

Digital, that’s what. Lauder was convinced enough to relaunch Prescriptives as an e-commerce only venture in 2011, and its only got bigger from there. As Shiseido CEO Masahiko Uotani said at the time of the MATCHCo acquisition, bespoke beauty “will now be made possible through accelerated innovation in rapidly evolving digital tools and customized products”.

Pre Apps, Snaps and all that jazz, customization services had to rely on footfall. And many still do. That’s meant that several existing customization services are essentially exclusive marketing tools – to wit Kevyn Aucoin’s Sensual Skin Enhancer personalization service at Bergdorf’s or LVMH-owned Bite Beauty’s Beauty Lab. That’s all well and good for the retailer looking to stand out from the crowd, but not so much for a brand looking to turn a profit.  Now scale is infinite with smart phone penetration at an all-time high.

“The opportunity to use a mobile phone as a distribution channel was important,” MATCHCo founder Dave Gross told Business of Fashion last March. “By doing what we’ve done with the mobile phone we feel like we’ve cracked one of the problems of customization, which is scale and demand.”

And MatchCo isn’t the only one – Melange, founded by a former Sephora merchandizer Ariel Zborowski, has a similar proposition, while presumably L’Oréal’s choice of personal skin care purveyor InSitu as one of the start-ups for its accelerator program will give the French beauty giant an in to take its current face-to-face services at Kiehls’ and Lancôme to the next level.

And there’s a whole host of innovation waiting in the wings to drive customization forward into the super-luxe, hyper personal realm, from skin care matched to your DNA to creams that contain your own blood.

But one giant elephant in the room still exists; for the last decade, we’ve been told that magic formulas can match to any skin tone, while in skin care we’ve seen segmentation accelerate to a level where you can get a product for any and every purpose on-shelf. Perhaps that’s the attraction for the big brands – a simplified offer on-shelf, following Olay’s lead – with a bespoke service catering for those looking for something a little more specialized. Win-win?