Friday, November 29, 2013

Guest post from Savannah Scorpion: Why I'm Perfectly Okay With Nail Polish (And Other Cosmetic) Dupes

Oh snap! Two guest posts in a week?

I'm sure y'all have heard about the recent XoVain post about nail polish dupes. I'm sure y'all rolled your eyes at it, too. I will confess to being a daily peruser of XoVain, but mostly due to Alle's, Faz's, and Kelly's posts. I think it's verrrry interesting that Vain's best writers are the ones who are not based out of the New York offices, and do not contribute to Vain as their primary occupation.

Unlike Rio, I am not a tri-continental expat who lives in Paris and wrote a master's thesis about nail polish. I am a deeply indebted art school grad currently living in the Midwest with my cat. I am not any sort of cosmetics expert, but I do have a greater understanding abut how cosmetics are made and marketed than most of the XoVain staff, and when I write, I use coherent subject/verb agreement and syntax (unlike Annie).  

 [oh snap]

Here are a few things that Rio failed to mention in her post:

1. Mass and luxury cosmetics brands are frequently owned by the same company.

I am the proud owner of a YSL Beauty Touche Éclat pen. I am also the proud owner of a Maybelline Dream Lumi Touche pen. I use both of these products regularly. I have a unique use for both of these products: I keep Touche Éclat at home, and the Dream Lumi pen in my "going to see my boyfriend" bag. I'd rather have his cat play with the 6-dollar brightening concealer, instead of the 40 dollar brightening concealer*.

The best part about my buying two similar products at wildly different price points is that some oligarch at The L'Oreal Group (parent company to both Maybelline and YSL Beauty) makes even more money.2. Luxury cosmetics support the entire luxury brand.

What's the biggest loss-leader of a luxury lifestyle brand?

The fashion.

Every time Chanel, Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Armani etc debut a haute couture collection, the house loses money. Not many people can afford a Chanel suit or a Dior bag. However, there are plenty of people who can pool their birthday money together and buy a Chanel perfume or a Tom Ford Lipstick, and get to feel special about owning a little piece of a big luxury brand. What makes me different from any other unemployed art school grad? I'm an unemployed art school grad WITH A TOUCHE ECLAT PEN.

Chanel sells a lot more nail polish than tweed suits. When you buy a 30 dollar Chanel nail polish, you help Karl Lagerfeld fund his next collection and buy a fancy litterbox for Choupette.

3. Luxury brands are not harmed by dupes. At. All.

If someone is at a high-end department store or cosmetics boutique, they are comparison shopping between other prestige/luxury brands. This customer isn't comparing MAC's Lady Danger with NYX's Indie Flick, they're comparing Lady Danger with NARS's Short Circuit.

The enthusiasts that are comparing swatches and seeking dupes of prestige cosmetics aren't doing so because they want to destroy or devalue prestige brands, they do so out of admiration. Something something imitation is the sincerest from of flattery somethingsomething.

Back when I was a lil adolescent getting in trouble for wearing sparkly green eyeshadow in middle school, most mass brands were DBU: Dull, Boring, and Unoriginal. However, within the last 10 years, customers have become much more savvy. Mass brands have improved formulas and designed more elaborate packaging in order to compete in a market where most buyers can
easily compare swatches and formulas on a smartphone. Mass retailers like Target and Walgreen's now sell more midrange products featuring tester products, because customers are demanding them. Mass brands are creating dupes in order to compete with a bigger market, and more quality and price-conscious consumers.

4. The fashion/beauty industry is run by wealthy assholes, for wealthy assholes.

Go to, and peruse their internship postings. All of them require prospective interns to be located in New York City or Los Angeles, and none of them pay even minimum wage. In order to get your proverbial foot in the door, you need to have the disposable income to live in some of the most expensive cities in America for 3-4 months. In Simon Doonan's new book, he recalls attending a fashion gala, and sitting at a table full of young interns--all of them children of celebrities. Doonan, who grew up in a lower-working class family in Reading, is concerned that the fashion industry will grow stale as it shuts out young, creative talent that wasn't born with a silver spoon up their asses.**

Now, where do you work if you're a young adult who just graduated with a degree in fashion design/merchandising/marketing/industrial design, and you're not a trust-fund baby?

You work for popular "fast-fashion" chains like H&M, Forever 21, Zara, Mango, and Charlotte Russe. You work for a knockoff artist that sells their wares to Nasty Gal. Ric Owens, one of the most innovative high-fashion designers, got his start construction garments for a knockoff producer in Los Angeles.

Now, I'm not claiming that fast-fashion chains aren't problematic, but they do allow young designers to build their portfolios, and pay bills, and buy groceries. Rio's world, where Chanel polishes are made by artisans, and mass polishes are made by robots, simply isn't true. To quote Rowena at Beauty and the Bullshit: Cosmetic companies don't have factories, they have offices.

5. Trends in fashion and beauty are not started top-down.

Let us view one of the more famous monologues of recent cinematic history: Miranda Priestly's speech about cerulean from The Devil Wears Prada:
The Anna Wintours/Miranda Priestlys/Rios of the world believe that all trends are created by luxury fashion houses and then get diluted and passed down to the masses. Like supply-side economics for fashion and makeup.

This "trickle-down" model is total and complete bullshit, whether as an economic theory or a model for fashion/beauty trends.

Designers are influenced by music, films, theatre, art, and the sociopolitical zeitgeist. In the case of punk fashion, designers like Zandra Rhodes and Vivienne Westwood were influenced by the street style of young, poor punk kids in London--who were not the clientele of their respective boutiques. Should Proenza Schouler have to pay royalties to the estate of Paul Poiret--whose designs greatly influenced their fall/winter '07 season? Should Michael Kors compensate Janie Bryant, the costume designer of Mad Men, because Kors has cited that show as a major influence on his collection? What about designers that created whole collections inspired by a work of art, single garment or textile, or dark point in history (Alexander McQueen's witchcraft inspired collection for fall/winter '07)?

Of course not. Fashion would suffer greatly if designers actually got their way and could copyright and patent their designs, or cosmetics companies could copyright colors.

It's also very important to mention that many designers perpetuate the insidiousness of cultural appropriation--the copying of symbols and garments from oppressed cultures. One high-profile example of this is Karlie Kloss strutting down the runway of the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show in a Native American war bonnet.

If you actually research the history of beauty trends, you won't find one definitive answer to the origins of red lipstick, winged eyeliner, or contoured blush. And, in many cases, these trends were promoted by people who were not wealthy. Amy Winehouse, a working-class singer from Camden, revived winged eyeliner for a new generation. People like to forget that The Supremes--massive fashion and beauty icons, grew up in Detroit's Brewster Housing Project.

6. Many of the divisions between prestige and mass cosmetics are superficial.

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you've probably realized that there are plenty of cheap cosmetics that can easily whoop the asses of their expensive counterparts. So why do prestige/luxury brands continue to do so well?

Simple: There are many people who think they are "above" buying mass brands. And those people are earning more and more money, at the expense of the middle and working classes. NBC did a great report about how the growing wealth gap is affecting buying habits, and they point out how you can find similar products (T-shirts, yoga pants) at wildly different price points--for very different consumers.

Another way dupes can be beneficial is for consumers that want to avoid a specific cosmetics brand. For example, if you want to avoid a brand  that uses animal testing (which all Estee Lauder brands do, including MAC and NARS), or avoid a brand that uses racist images in their advertising (Illamasqua), or avoid a brand whose business ethics are straight-up nonexistent (Lime Crime), dupes can be incredibly helpful for consumers that want to vote with their dollars.

So, fellow cash-strapped cosmetics fans: dupe to your hearts content. Every time you wear a nail polish dupe, a mediocre beauty blogger cries.

 * I do plan on doing a post comparing Maybelline's and YSL's products, and prestige and mass lipsticks. Stay tuned!
** Doonan calls these children "lucky sperm-club members".


  1. The other thing about this whole nail polish dupe thing that is killlllinnng me is how mass companies are tripping over themselves to get in on indie polish. Someone owes some of these makers a butt ton of bux for all the glitter bombs and milky glitters etc that companies are trying to recreate.

    1. Someone commented on the original XOVain post, who is an indie polish maker. She was very courteous at explaining her process, and how long it takes her to come up with the colors for a season. Most indie polish makers I've seen interviewed have mentioned that their goal is to develop a devoted following of customers, and gradually size up. They know they can't compete with mass polishes and it sounds like they don't want to). Any mass brand is going to want to stay on trend, and indie polish makers are very innovative. At the same time, indie polishes can be more expensive, and inaccessible. And none of hem invented glitter.

    2. I think maybe I interpreted boopmynose's comment differently? I agree that if anyone is being plagiarized, it's indie designers - but then by the time Avon is making speckled, milky polish with bar glitter (they really are!) most of the indie designers have moved on. And things like milky glitter and black and white glitter polishes are usually made by so many indie folks that it's hard to pinpoint the original source of "inspiration". There are exceptions, but the idea of a certain type of polish seems like too broad a concept to be copyrighted. The mass market versions are never exact copies - and they're often worse.

    3. But also, yeah, I don't have a huge problem with Salon Perfect making a near dupe for Floam (for example), since Floam is always out of stock . . .

    4. Yeah I basically meant if anyone had a right to claim plagiarism it's the indie makers since their creations take actual skill and have changed the nail polish industry tbh. And not just "hey that red looks like this red"

    5. Quoting your post: "There are many people who think they are "above" buying mass brands. And those people are earning more and more money, at the expense of the middle and working classes."

      "At the expense of" ??? Not sure I understand the logic of this series of assumptions.

      Life isn't actually getting cheaper for anyone. Why shouldn't people be allowed to buy what they want with their own money without having others randomly attack their values and worth as human beings? We are talking makeup here, after all.

    6. They're not buying things at the expense of poorer people; they're earning money at the expense of poorer people. At least that's how I took it. Savannah can clarify herself, I'm sure.

      But obviously if there's anything we should be doing, it's being more polite to unspecified rich people in blog posts . . . ? Pointing out the wealth disparity is surely devaluing exploitative wealth folks as human beings. (As you can see, I don't get the logic of your comment either.)

    7. To clarify, I was discussing the current economic model, which provides greater financial benefits to people who are already wealthy, and continues to squeeze the middle-class, and fuck over those who are poor. I'm not saying "all people who buy prestige cosmetics are evil", because guess what--I have a shitton of prestige cosmetics and skincare, and calling myself evil would be giving myself too much credit. When I worked in cosmetics retail, and at a high-end salon, I met plenty of people who would never buy mass cosmetics or haircare, because they were convinced that prestige products were always better (they're not), and they were adamant that mass products were below them.

  2. Loved the article. I really hate all the pompousness (is that a word?) that surrounds high end. Even when I go to the high end makeup counter to make a purchase, if I am not dressed nicely or minimal makeup, I am ignored or eye-rolled. Get off your high horse! Cannot wait for the post comparing YSL to maybelline. You ladies rock, thanks!

    1. UGH. the pompousness is very real, and it sucks. I'm sorry to hear you had such a shitty experience.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...