Bespoke beauty, much like anything personalised or tailored, used to be expensive, exclusive and elitist. 2018, however, signals the end of one size fits all, as an increasing number of brands are offering custom products, from fragrances and hair shades to facial oils and lip colour.
There are several explanations for the recent growth of the bespoke movement. Firstly, as the industry makes moves towards embracing diversity – led last year by Rihanna’s Fenty and ASOS’ Face + Body campaigns – it’s waking up to the fact that not everyone has the same hair and skin colour and type, and that everybody needs to be catered for.
Additionally, customers are no longer seeking to mirror a universal look. In recent times, everyone rushed to grow their eyebrows thick to emulate Cara and practised contouring like Kylie, but in reality, platforms like Instagram have provided beauty fans with an incentive to experiment, explore and celebrate their individuality.
Finally, customers are both more savvy and busier than ever. Why would we spend money on an eyeshadow palette with only two or three shades that suit our colouring, when we could fill a bespoke kit with personalised hues? And why would we lug around a full-to-the-brim makeup bag, when we could pop a customised stack in our tote for on-the-go top-ups?
So why and how are brands delivering this personalised approach? “The backlash against what the advertising world was portraying as ‘ideal’ body types, hair types and skin types for many years became a bigger call to action a few years ago with the use of tools like Instagram,” Alex Brownsell, founder and creative director of Bleach London, states. “There, everyone could have a platform and celebrate what was unique about themselves and ask the question, 'What does ‘beauty’ mean?’”
Bleach London offers two kinds of bespoke beauty. Always celebrating a customer’s individuality, Brownsell and cofounder Sam Campbell took the personalisation of a stylist appointment to their Berwick Street store. “It’s a very important thing, particularly for hair colourists, to be able to customise colour to suit their client, so it’s only natural for our product range to be able to do that too," says Brownsell. "A certain shade of pink may look amazing on one person but not so great on someone else – so what can we do to make it suit them?”
Make custom Super Cool Colours at their Berwick Street store, of course: “If someone wants their pink hair colour to be a little bit more violet to stop it going too salmon-pink, then we can create that colour.” Alongside the hair colours, the brand’s makeup range has been bespoke since its launch last July. Not only are magnetic palettes available to fill with Louder Powder eye colours of your choice, but the store’s glitter press allows you to make the shimmering, iridescent shadow of your dreams. With individuality at its heart, Bleach London was always going to nail bespoke beauty, but it isn’t just the more DIY brands tailoring their products to unique customers.
A brand that burst onto the scene last year was Trinny London. For founder Trinny Woodall, bespoke is more than just a passing trend: “There are more brands than ever before, and I feel lost in a sea of choice. One of the reasons we came to be as a brand is because I spoke to consumers and they wanted something that made the choice for them.” Enter Match2Me, Trinny London’s online build-your-profile system, whereby customers enter information about their hair, eyes and skin before getting matched to the shades on offer. The system draws from the analysed data of over 3,000 women to find your pairings, and offers examples of skin undertones and hair colour to make the process more simple. “There’s a lot of confusion in beauty – are you yellow-toned or pink-toned, do you have green, purple or yellow veins? I don’t know what the fuck the colour of my veins are, but I know the colour of my hair and eyes.”
What’s notable about Trinny London is the fact it’s rooted in providing a service for real-life women. “I’ve never worked in the world of models and covergirls,” Woodall explains. “I’ve only worked with women who aren’t in front of the camera. We’re giving women an easy choice, something she understands, offering a solution.” The products, packaged in small, stackable pots, are ideal for building according to your day or evening plans – but busy lifestyles and limited handbag space weren’t the sole priorities. “I like singularity because I’ve always bought palettes for one colour,” explains Woodall. “Equally, I like portability. I asked how we could offer something small enough but with a concentrated pigment, so it goes a long way and can also be reused.”
Alongside Bleach London, another haircare brand offering personalised hair shades is eSalon, a US company that delivers bespoke, professionally formulated shades to your doorstep. Courtney Goebel, client education manager at eSalon, cites the rise in resistance to mass-manufactured products as the driving force behind the brand. “People are more and more into the idea of customisation. Having something personalised to you, instead of choosing from a small group of pre-made options, is so much more meaningful and valuable,” she says. “There’s also a paradigm shift away from how beauty used to be represented, where people are interested in celebrating individuality and what makes us all unique.”
For eSalon, custom means taking into account (by way of an online form) your grey hair, colour history, previous treatments, hair type and condition, skin tone, and eye colour – as well as the shade you’re after – before a personal colourist mixes a formula that works for you. Since at-home colour may frighten those unsure of their own abilities, the brand also includes personalised instructions for the colour itself, and encourages customers to ask questions and give feedback throughout the process. “Our bespoke offer isn’t just about our product, but it’s also about the relationships we build with our clients,” Goebel explains. “We’ve had people call us literally from the shower with dye in their hair to ask a question – you can’t get that with traditional boxed home colour.” Still unconvinced? The service has won Allure’s Best of Beauty Award a cool four times, and eSalon has created over 150,000 individual shades to date.
And it’s not just colour that’s being custom-made. Skincare and fragrance are also making moves towards the tailored-for-you market. ‘Non-invasive facial workout, exercises and toning’ brand, FaceGym, made its first foray into skincare with the Make It Bar, where customers can create their own elixir tailored to their skincare concerns. With the help of expert mixologists, clients mix a range of essential oils and extracts with properties known to tackle a particular issue, whether it’s dry skin or hyperpigmentation, before packaging up and labelling the formula as they wish. Meanwhile, Emmanuelle Moeglin founded the Experimental Perfume Club last year, running workshops where fragrance fanatics can learn about the history of scent, the nuances behind each note, and create their own perfume to take away – with the option of buying a larger bottle afterwards.
Looking forward, then, will 2018 mark the beginning of a new way to buy beauty? Brownsell is confident of bespoke’s future: “It’s definitely going to continue growing as new technology allows customers to be able to customise all aspects of their beauty regimes. Why would you ever go back to a product that you knew only looked good on you when you have a tan, when you can create custom shades to suit your skin all year round?” Perhaps it’s au revoir to varying shades of seasonal bronzer and blusher. “Or imagine if you could create the perfect lip colour that you have been searching for for years, with just the right amount of moisture or matte to suit you,” she muses. “All you would need is the formula and you could keep going back for more. Bespoke beauty will never be discontinued.”
Goebel agrees. “If someone has the choice between picking one of 30 shades, or having a custom shade created for them at nearly the same price, they’re going to choose custom. And if someone can get the same results at home as they would get at a salon, they’re going to skip the salon,” she says. “The future of beauty is owning your individuality and being able to take the reins. Being able to do your own hair at home like a pro, with a colour literally created just for you – we think that’s pretty futuristic.”
More than ever, as beauty fans we're celebrating our diversity; but the individuality that independent brands both represent and offer can’t be ignored either. Bespoke beauty comes with that vital personal touch – whether it’s chatting to someone at Bleach London’s Berwick Street store, calling up one of eSalon’s colourists, or having various fragrance notes explained to you in a workshop.
As Moeglin says: “Bespoke is not a product only, it's an experience. What they receive from it goes beyond the product itself. With bespoke offerings, consumers have the opportunity to be a part of the design of what they use, rather than simply being a consumer of their product.” As we’re all becoming more switched on to what goes into our beauty products, being a part of the process could be the future of the way we buy into them, too.