Inside Korea's Marie Antoinette Beauty Trend

Photo: courtesy of Red Velvet/SM.
I didn't think K-pop could exist without black eyeliner. But then, the power of pastels effectively dethroned the cat-eye's reign among Korean pop princesses. The new blushed and airbrushed look is all about pink as a neutral. Think skin that looks lit by an invisible halo, framed in fair locks of strawberry blonde or light brown. Hair in shades closer to skin color creates a washed-out, neutral base on which shimmery blooms of pink and coral highlight the eyes, cheeks, and lips. The effect reminds me of how rosy and coy Kirsten Dunst looked in a white wig as Marie Antoinette.

Makeup brands like 3 Concept Eyes and 16 Brand by Chosungah echo this look to a T. But, the girl group Red Velvet makes just about the strongest case for this dreamy, cotton-candy look. The rookie group — made up of Irene, Seulgi, Wendy, Joy, and new addition Yeri — released the single "Ice Cream Cake" in mid-March. During that month, it was the most viewed K-pop music video in the world. It basically explodes with sugary confection and whimsical beauty looks. It’s K-pop meets Malibu Barbie through a Valencia filter.

I had a chance to be on set with the members of Red Velvet during the making of "Ice Cream Cake" and got to see first-hand how they got their dreamy, candy-land makeup looks. I also picked up a few surprisingly valuable tips that work outside of K-pop videos. Check 'em out, ahead.

(Disclaimer: The makeup artist arrived with an entire suitcase of products and tools, and these are just some of the items I witnessed being applied.)


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Primer
When Seulgi sat down to get her makeup done, she was clutching a tube of R’SHYT Ferfree White Milky Crystal Balm Cream, which she applied as a primer before the makeup artist went to work. Curious as to what could be inside the worst English-language packaging I’ve ever seen, I asked what this “R’SHYT” is all about. “I bought it online, and I don’t know. It just makes my skin look better,” Seulgi replied.

Digging deeper, I found that R’SHYT is a small cosmetics brand headquartered north of Seoul, kind of close to the North Korean border. While most brands have offices in the swanky Gangnam area of Seoul, R’SHYT is located in a country-mouse location called Goyang. Ferfree is its fermented skin-care label, and the White Milky Cream promises to improve “the tired darken skin to a bright and radiant one.”

What the brand lacks in English skills, it makes up for in science. The Ferfree line centers around RF2SX, an herbal compound produced from the fermentation of Korean botanicals and the super-probiotic Lactobacillus plantarum. It contains ginseng, bamboo shoot, sponge gourd, licorice, deer antler (yikes), arrowroot, beans, mulberry root, and the list goes on. This cream, which contains this fermented compound, promises to nourish skin, improve its resilience, relieve redness, brighten, moisturize, and diminish wrinkles.

From the first time I used this cream, I had to agree with Seulgi. My skin just looked better. In function, this milky cream works like a primer, and when it comes to primers, less is really more. The texture is pretty similar to sunscreen, but odorless. Because I only apply a light layer, I didn’t find it super-moisturizing or ground-breakingly nourishing. What it did do is cover my face in an inexplicably flattering veil, so my skin looked like my skin — only better.

Like many smaller cosmetics companies at the lower rungs of the Korean beauty jungle, R’SHYT made a name for itself in the highly-competitive arena of the country’s home-shopping network. In 2013, it sold 200,000 Ferfree White Milky Creams just through Internet sales. And, in 2015, Seulgi used it.

R'SHYT Ferfree White Milky Crystal Balm Cream, $21.25, available on eBay.
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Prepping Skin
Aēsop is a relatively obscure Australian brand that kills it in Korea. The Parsley Seed Serum is its bestseller here, and it’s what the makeup artist used to prep the girls’ skin. I also saw her use Aēsop’s Fabulous Face Oil to moisturize, as well as sneak a few drops into the foundation for coverage that sang with hydration.

Before you go trying this at home, be warned that these girls already started with some top-notch complexions. At one point, while doing the newest member Yeri’s skin, the makeup artist said: “This is so boring. Your skin is already perfect. There’s nothing for me to do here.”

Serum mixed with foundation is a lovely way to get dewy coverage, but getting the formula right can take some practice as it depends on individual needs. Start out diluting the foundation one drop at a time to control the translucency. My magic ratio is 1:2 serum-to-makeup.
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A Dewy, Glowy Complexion
Released only in Asia, Dior Hydra Life Youth Essential Essence-In-Base is a serum-inclusive base that’s...sadly been discontinued — I had heard the news through Dior Korea. But then, I saw it at the Dior counter at Hyundai Department Store! Alas, the salesgirl confirmed that the store is no longer stocking it — though the product is still on display. She said it’s a popular primer, though she seemed clueless as to why it had been discontinued and equally clueless as to product alternatives. (Yes, you can still get it online.)

According to the Red Velvet makeup artist, this base is crucial in achieving dewy, glowy skin. To get the maximum glow, she stressed that it's important to layer your skin-prep products, so that when you apply the coverage makeup, dewiness is natural and effortless. She referred to this trip from clean, naked skin to carefully crafted radiance as “base makeup,” and it took at least 30 minutes to achieve.

Dior Hydra Life Youth Essential Hydrating Essence-In-Base SPF 30, $51, available at Cosme-De.com.
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Watercolor Lids
To achieve the pastel-perfect look that's so crucial to the music video, the makeup artist favored Shu Uemura’s pastel shades for matte shadows and VDL’s pigmented shadows for shimmery finishes. She commented that Korean brands still have some ways to go when it comes to “color makeup” like shadows, lipsticks, and blushes.
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An Ethereal Glow
For the soft, dreamy glow that bathed each look, the makeup artist relied on Guerlain Meteorites. The skin-balancing palette is a huge hit with Korean women, because while other highlighters may look too sparkly and unnatural, it creates a soft, light-reflecting radiance. She swept it on the raised, light-catching areas of the face, like the tops of the outer cheekbones, down the nose, and the top of the chin.
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Finishing Touch
I’ve noticed that lots of Korean makeup artists favor this product. On set, skin mists are essential for fixing makeup but also for getting hair to behave. Amorepacific’s version has a super-fine mist, so makeup doesn’t cake up in response to the moisture. Plus, the formula is enriched with red ginseng, minerals, amino acids, and botanical extracts.
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