The Death of Trends? How the Beauty Industry Is Redefining Our Culture of Cool



In August 1998, an article in Allure pronounced that bold, messily applied lipsticks in plums, berries, and browns were the next big trend in lip colour. Images of celebrities like Cindy Crawford, Mira Sorvino and Catherine Zeta-Jones were plastered throughout its pages, their rich red and purple pouts blurring outside the lines, as predicted.

A few months later, runway models from Comme des Garçons and Katharine Hamnett walked down the spring/summer catwalks at fashion week sporting the same bold, grungy lip looks reported by Allure. And the following year, in 1999, MAC launched what would become its all-time most iconic lipstick, Ruby Woo (a "very matte vivid blue-red"), securing the daring, cool-toned '90s red lip in the trends hall of fame forever. To this day, a MAC Retro Matte Lipstick in Ruby Woo is sold every four minutes, inspiring '90s nostalgia each time.

As recent as 15 and 20 years ago, this was how beauty trends were born: from the bouffant hairstyles of the '60s to the Technicolor eye shadow of the '80s, trends started at the top—on runways and in magazines. The life span of a beauty trend began backstage at fashion week with makeup artists' creations; these products and looks were then reported by an elite fleet of beauty editors, popularised by celebrities on the red carpet, and finally, they reached the masses.

Trends began only in these few, exclusive arenas, so they were easy to keep track of; thus, anyone with an interest in them followed along, knew exactly what they were, and flocked to makeup counters and salons to pick up the indigo lipstick they saw on Cindy or the heavy bangs they loved on Heidi Klum. As beauty writer Sarah Brown wrote for Business of Fashion in 2017, the backstage makeup scene at New York Fashion Week 15 years ago was "a magical, secret world few had ever seen. … It was a different time. … Trends trickled from the catwalk to the street, instead of vice versa."

Over the last five years, however, makeup artists and hairstylists have begun denouncing trends altogether, or at least their role in setting them. "I get inspired by everyone around me and by the beauty and things I see every day—I don't necessarily sit and think what is the trend I want to set," says Patrick Ta, one of today's most looked-to celebrity makeup artists (he flaunts almost 950K Instagram followers and a robust client list including Gigi and Bella Hadid, Shay Mitchell, and Olivia Munn). "It's a very organic process for me."

Additionally, as backstage makeup artists and hairstylists continue to deliver season after season of "clean skin," "no-makeup makeup," and imperfect "real-girl" hair, there appears to be an overall shift in the culture of beauty trends toward embracing an inherently less "trendy" sense of individuality. "People aren't looking to magazines … to tell them what's 'trendy' or 'cool' anymore, but rather as sources of inspiration for them to decide on their own—or at least, that's what it seems," comments Byrdie U.S. Editorial Director Faith Xue.

Patrick Ta agrees: "What we can tell is that what's cool now is dictated more by 'normal people' (read: street style, YouTubers and other influencers) rather than unapproachable fashion runways or magazine spreads like back in the day." These changes in how we choose "what's cool" beg the question: In 2018, does anyone care about trends anymore? Are widespread beauty trends becoming obsolete? And if consumers no longer care about following trends, or learning about them in magazines or on runways, then how do they decide what to buy, how to apply, and who to aspire to be like?