At this point, you've probably heard about this thing (place?) called 'the metaverse.' You may only understand it as some sci-fi world Mark Zuckerberg is engineering, which makes sense — it doesn't exist yet. Still, real people are starting to explore working in the metaverse, and owning clothes and shoes there. Still, for me (someone who doesn't own a VR headset or a single NFT), I'm curious how I, your average Instagram scroller, might be implicated by the whole Meta concept. The answer? I've gleaned that really, the only way I've found the metaverse to be relatable is through makeup.
First, what is the metaverse? "It's really helpful to think of the metaverse as a set of digital spaces," explains Brooke DeVard Ozaydinli, a member of Instagram's Creator Marketing team. "Some of them will be immersive, 3D spaces. You can move between them. It allows you to do things that you can't do in the physical world or be with people you can't physically be with. If you think about beauty and shopping online — let's say you shop on Sephora — that's a very two-dimensional e-commerce experience. In the metaverse, in the future, you'll be able to go with a community of people — maybe you grab your friend — and you can try on makeup together."
According to Alison Campion, Director of Strategy and Operations Metaverse at Meta, it will still be a few years before we see beauty brands creating fully immersive, shoppable experiences in the metaverse. Right now, though, we can look to technologies like AR effects and virtual try-ons for an early look at how creators and brands are thinking about these technologies.
Ines Alpha, a 3D makeup creator (or e-makeup artist) based in Paris, is one of the the creators Brooke calls "this new crop" of talent creating 3D beauty looks for this metaverse experience. Ines thinks about digital makeup both creatively and psychologically. "The face will be important in the metaverse," she explains. "The face is so important to humans, because it's the first thing you see in another person. It's how you recognise someone. It's also our identity."
For Ines, the whole concept of digital makeup has unlimited potential. She calls it a kind of "makeup from the future" because it doesn't have the constraints of reality. "There are different [forms] of digital makeup," Ines explains. "The most standard 'beauty types' are the most popular filters, but still, I'm seeing people start to do all sorts of crazy stuff to the face, too." While digital makeup can be a filter that adds spidery eyelashes or frosty lip gloss, it can also be an animated asset that doesn't exist in our physical reality, like an iridescent blob or fishtail veils floating around your eyes — which is a lot more interesting.
"I like doing veils around the face that almost move like fishtails," explains Ines of her approach to digital art and face filters. "And I can only do that in 3D, because in the real world, if those veils were made of real fabric, they would fall to the ground with gravity. With digital 3D, you can create your own rules, so you can tell your software that there's no gravity, and then all of your elements will be floating."
Curious, I went to Ines's IG, clicked on the 'sparkle' icon to try her filters on my own reflection (you can find them on Snapchat as well). My face shape remained unchanged, but periwinkle holographic veils floated, exactly as she described, like slow-moving fishtails, around my eyes. Unlike other 'beauty' filters I've tried, this one didn't leave me feeling kind of gross, wishing I had longer eyelashes or fuller lips. Instead, I felt like my face was a canvas for someone else's art.
Ines is one of many digital beauty creators. "Hundreds of thousands of AR creators — many of them women! — create effects and experiences that give people fun, new ways to express themselves and experiment with fantastical or realistic beauty and makeup trends, right on there on Instagram," Alison explains, pointing to AR artists like Paige Piskin and Isabelle Udo. Another creator is Piper Zy, who designs custom nail art in 3D.
Then there's Johanna Jaskowska, an AR creator whose Instagram bio reads: 'What is reality?' Brooke says Johanna is an interesting case study not only because her filters are super popular, but because they tap into larger, real-life beauty trends. "She has this filter that's almost like a glass-skin effect and it's very in-line with other trends we're seeing on Instagram that are very like Y2K and a little like sci borg," Brooke explains. "It's not just about beautifying or adding concealer, it's about adding something to your look, that's expressive and interesting."
Instagram users are starting to play with these AR filters regularly. "We're seeing a lot of people experiment with different makeup looks, different hair looks [using] AR filters — especially on Reels," Brooke explains. "You can find the creator who has a filter that aligns with the certain aesthetic that you might be looking for or inspired by. It helps you get more immersed in these different creator trends."
Of the digital aesthetic, there's been creator buy-in, and brand buy-in as well. "Sometimes I create filters by myself for myself, then sometimes a brand will reach out to me to make a filter for a specific campaign or product," explains Ines of the business side of Meta. Many makeup brands have successfully implemented AR technologies into their selling models. "We're seeing that the big brands we've worked with — Nars, M.A.C., Maybelline — are basically implementing AR try-ons on their shopping and advertising experiences," Brooke explains. "It's still in the realm of trying makeup on through AR filters, but I think it will evolve over time."
The goal, Alison adds, is to eventually merge this imaginative, inspirational world with our personal shopping. "You might see a favourite influencer trying on a brand’s latest lipstick release. Without leaving the app you can click and jump right into a [AR] try-on experience of your own," she explains. "And because it’s built right into Facebook and Instagram, you’re not pulled away from that original source of inspiration."
This expansion of the beauty world can exist digitally (think NFTs) or in your reality — or both. "In the future, we anticipate that businesses may sell more physical and digital goods together," explains Alison, "Imagine trying on a makeup palette in the metaverse. When you purchase this product, you would get access to shades for your avatar and receive the physical product delivered to your door."
For some, this AR technology offers a new way to think about beauty. "We sometimes hear AR creators compare their virtual looks to the same transformative experiences drag artists or stage performers might feel," Alison says. For Ines, she sees the digital and physical world pulling inspiration from each other. "I've started to see makeup artists try to recreate my work in the physical," says Ines. "This makeup artist tried to create the same veil shapes, which is hard, because my designs are 3D, so it's tough to create with makeup. But it's really cool to see shared inspiration, specifically inspiration from the digital world."