The Glossier sales associate, who’d introduced herself as an “editor,” was addressing a rapt audience. “Basically, our whole message is just democratizing beauty in an age where everybody is heavily covering up their faces and using so much heavy makeup,” she said. “The real importance is skincare… If you have good skin, it’s going to be easier.” The women around me were enthralled. We were loosely gathered in a room that looked like a luxury hotel bathroom without toilets or showers, one with gigantic vanities and mirrors and excellent selfie lighting. It was the grand opening of the Glossier flagship store; there had been a line outside the frosted storefront half an hour before its opening.
The editor, whose technical title was “offline editor,” continued: “The other thing is the interacting with editors and customers, that’s why people are so crazy about it. It was this thing on the internet that spun off —”
“So that’s why my friend likes it so much,” an Australian tourist said, cutting her off. “Where do we pay for —” she gestured to the tubes artfully arranged across the faux medicine cabinet.
The sales pitch was over, as the editor reached for an iPad tucked away in a back pocket that was big enough to fit an iPad. “Oh, I can finish your transaction here if you’re ready!” The tourist looked exceedingly pleased. Other women started buzzing over the testers strewn across the vanities, focusing on their changing faces in the mirror.
Glossier is a makeup and skincare brand, but not just a makeup and skincare brand. First an online-only store, the brand went viral on Instagram through word-of-mouth and careful ad placement, interacting with potential customers and updating its Instagram Story with fan-produced content revolving around the potency of their makeup products. Glossier only started offering curated pop-up store experiences in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York after Emily Weiss, its founder, secured $52 million in Series C funding for the brand. On Thursday, it finally opened a permanent flagship store at New York’s 123 Lafayette Street in a bid for posterity beyond the internet, as a community-building space for Glossier’s consumers and a “New York landmark-to-be.” As someone who hadn’t really bought into skincare and makeup as a lifestyle outside of the occasional splurge at Sephora, I was resolved to enter the world of Glossier, and understand its appeal.
Much in the way that Glossier is not just a makeup and skincare brand, the Glossier flagship store is not just a typical retail experience. When I walked in, I was greeted by excited editors, who directed me towards a red gravel-paved staircase winding up to a showroom shaded in millennial pink. All the windows, even the one at the storefront, were frosted pink; dozens of incandescent bulbs were placed strategically around mirrors and hidden in ceiling nooks, to ensure the best lighting possible for soft lit selfies. There were magnificent fake-flower arrangements framing fake Ancient Greek plaster busts of unidentified women, and small slabs of granite. Every surface was smooth and some shade of pink besides the round pats of display tables, which featured what I could only describe as undulating slots for products like lipstick and facial cleansers.
Almost every editor wore a plain millennial pink mechanic’s jumpsuit. The showroom exalted Glossier’s signature aesthetic: vaporwave-lite, but feminist.
The same went for their products and the rest of the store. Tubes and bottles of makeup were left mostly unmarked, save for colored bands promising specific shades of blush or lipstick or scents, with names and descriptions of the products written in lowercase. Songs from Yelle, Jeremih, Frank Ocean, and other gentle nu-R&B artists blared over hidden loudspeakers across the showroom. At the end of the showroom was a room filled with mirrors and human-sized replicas of makeup tubes of their cult product/brow pomade, the Boy Brow, which purports to easily thicken and lengthen natural brows. Everything was pared back, undifferentiated, utilitarian.
The Glossier flagship store, as was stressed to me by several different offline editors, is supposed to embody the lifestyle it promotes, providing spaces like the Boy Brow room and lots of mirrors for people to create content with in some manner — all in the pursuit of the democratization of beauty. But what does democratizing beauty even mean, besides nothing? Two women who I had talked to in the long line in front of the store took it as a commitment to “clean beauty,” which to my understanding involves not using acids and chemicals that are toxic for your skin and the environment in the long run, even though Glossier is notoriously opaque about how its skincare products are brewed. An About Us page says that “you’re the beauty editor,” referencing personal choice as an important part of the brand, but it’s also careful to sidestep the question of whether you’re empowered by choosing Glossier, and Glossier only. Glossier, the brand, was built out of Emily Weiss’s popular makeup blog Into The Gloss, which featured honest products reviews and advice on putting your best face forward. The brand itself, however, does not focus on educating women about skincare as a process, instead insisting on the efficacy of its own products. Plenty of lay-consumers are unaware of Glossier’s sister blog, and take the brand’s word seriously.
Every single skincare and makeup product they sell, the offline editors told me, is meant to enhance your natural features. With its emphasis on products that “bring out your best before reaching for makeup,” what Glossier sells is a better version of you, one that can decry patriarchy and capitalism but still effortlessly manages to meet the cruel beauty standards around us. The beauty industry sells products to fix you; Glossier, however, is the friend who says that your selfie looks great, but still goes ahead and FaceTunes it for you. It’s a kind of ironic beauty — one that doesn’t really try all that hard, only a little. Its preferred shade of millennial pink is best described as the bored sigh of a slender, pretty girl who wishes that femininity and beauty aspirations weren’t by-products of a patriarchal society.
The modern selfie is a carefully calibrated stunt. Every picture has to look effortless; gone are the days of rampant filter-adding and unrestricted hashtag usage. This is just a new form of “authenticity,” but you can’t even try to be authentic without a tinge of irony, acknowledging that every social media post is a façade and that genuine, spontaneous authenticity is no longer possible.
So Glossier creates a space where you, too, can stage your relationship with the brand. You can take as many selfies as you want all over the space, and pose with the gigantic Boy Brows. Your purchases literally descend from a conveyor belt after you finish paying for them. It’s not for nothing that Glossier uses the language of content creation to describe its business model. In this space, under the auspices of Glossier, you too are a piece of content waiting to be perfected and released back into the world. Your sales associates are your friends, your offline editors. You are your own spectacle, you are your own aesthetic; Glossier’s just here to help. Fittingly, when I attempted to interview a sales associate, the store manager referred me to their press team.
At least Glossier is honest in reflecting its customer’s detachment and alienation, even as the company is fundamentally oriented towards generating as much profit as possible. I don’t doubt that it’s sincere in its advocacy for natural beauty, and from the perspective of being a person who has to live in the world instead of thinking about it, it’s certainly easier to give in than spin in circles wondering how you can fight the system by becoming part of it. As an NYU student said when I asked why she liked Glossier so much: “Their marketing really worked on me, and the lifestyle they’re selling, and their aesthetic...” She trailed off before she could complete the thought, and began rattling on about the efficacy of the company’s skincare products for herself.
As I made my way through the store, I found myself fixating on the features of my face that I hated, as I looked at my moving reflection in the countless mirrors across the halls. I didn’t want to be convinced to buy the better version of myself, the one I saw after lightly applying blush and lipstick. I told myself that no amount of skincare or lipstick would save me, but as I saw wave after wave of young white women with streaks of blonde in their hair gushing about Glossier’s mission, all these normally disaffected women in chunky heels and culottes trying on eyeshadow shades, my self-hatred curdled into guilt for begrudging them their joy. I bought some lipstick and blush to make myself feel better.