The Architecture of Cosmetics | Season


from Season in the Sun
from Season in the Sun

The Architecture of Cosmetics

by Louis Postel

First published in Stewart Weiner’s Season in the Sun 111, Palm Springs, CA

The Packaging is art. The thinking behind it is science. What a beautiful combination.

Lancaster Monaco Cosmetics were looking cheap. The packaging had devolved from gold to a muddy mushroom color with navy accents. Once the makeup of choice for the aristocrats orbiting around the young Princess Grace, Lancaster had fallen on  hard times, bought and sold and all the worse for wear.

Finally Coty bought the brand and hired industrial designer Kenneth Hirst to bring it back to life.

Sketchpad in hand. Hirst started with a single phrase to guide his hand: ”a drop of liquid sunshine.” After all, the Lancaster factory was still in Monaco, the ingredients from that Mediterranean part of the world where light, air and water all seem to mix into one heady concoction. Radiance of skin and smiles was the “visual territory” Hirst wanted to cover. He first translated the “drop of liquid sunshine” into the re-design of the lipstick tube, “ the hero of the line,” as he calls it, placing “a gold accent on the top of the cap as though you dropped a pebble in water.”

Combining the gold with silver “to make it look more modern,” Hirst created line extensions one Coty approved the lipstick look- compacts, nail polish, a foundation.

(Don’t go looking for it. Although the brand was successful re-launched in Europe and Saudi Arabia, it is not yet available in the U.S.)

Hirst, 49, is at the top of his form, a leader in the ranks of cosmetic package designers. Debonair with a cheery Australian accent, he would easily pass for one of the Princess Grace set. Over his career he’s launched a wide variety of cosmetics from upscale Lancaster based in Monaco to mid-market Nautica and celebrity lines for Jennifer Lopez and Celine Dion.

Other talented individuals are doing the same:

  • Mare Rosen, once the art director od Elizabeth Arden, is busy creating ampoule-based cosmetics for world-traveling women for Lisa Hoffman, wife of Dustin.



  • Norman Kay of IBC/Shell packagers is hard at work making eco-friendly packaging out of biogradable plastics (“the Europeans are ahead of us on this we have to catch up”).

And that’s just a random sampling.

The world market for new and different makeup solutions seems insatiable. Take a look at any cosmetics counter – the choices are too numerous to mention, a kaleidoscope of possibilities.

How, then, do designers like Hirst differentiate their products, make them unique and beautiful just as they keep us unique and beautiful?

One part is sheer inspiration – “the drop of liquid sunshine” guiding your sketching hand. Another part is the ability and knowledge in staying “on trend” as they say in the fashion world. And indeed, cosmetic packaging is at the very forefront of the fashion world, intimately connected to whatever else is going on: runway fashions, street fashions, even architecture.

Yes, architecture. For example, there’s an entire look emanating from Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. Its titanium skin and floating forms have creator of cosmetic packages (as well as their contents) experimenting with the same kind of shimmering effects that change completely when under a cloud, or in rain, or a shadow; or seen from a different angle. As our world becomes smaller there’s no corner of it that doesn’t exert some influence on fashion and the way we and our products appear.

As our technological prowess increases there’s no end of special effects possibilities for packaging.

To name just a few, there’s glistening, “wet” package surfaces, anodized metallic, glazed, blurred, and gilded. There’s even a panoply of interesting patinas: your compact can have the same look as a bronze statue of Aphrodite left out in the weather for centuries.

Sunny Mafeo is an expert in the look and feel of cosmetic packaging. She knows what it takes to keep it “on trend.” As the Creative Director at Englehard in New Jersey (part of the BASF plastics conglomerate), Maffeo travels the world trying to figure out what’s next in fashion. She’s in Paris at least three times a year at various shows, camping out at L’Oreal and other firms just to see what’s going on. And she makes her way to the desert, too. “As a matter of fact,” says Maffeo. “I am a member of the Color Marketing Group and we just had a conference in Rancho Mirage.”

Palm Springs happened to be an ideal location,” because trends start on the high end and usually work their way down. Except for glitter on packaging which started low and then went up.”

Maffeo calls this lifestyle pattern the “porcelain phenomenon” – after Marie Antoinette, “people now are absorbed in taking care of themselves. I tracked vanity tables on the ‘net. At first they were almost non-existent; and now it’s a big thing. Time is being spent at those tables and now the trend is to have beautiful things to leave on them  as well as “companion packaging” – smaller items of the same design you can take with you.”

Maffeo sees designers creating this boudoir-friendly cosmetic packaging in basically four different modes:

MODE 1: “This book is about calm: meditation, delicacy – subtle contrast and layering, tone on tone. Punched-out or clotted things in lettering.

Non-quite-geometric printing on boxes and labels but soft wall paper effects. Opalescent. Resembling luxe fabrics. There’s sometimes a very faint gold dusting-over that can be seen at certain viewing angles.

“The color palette is an elaborate one of skin tones: Delicate rosy to warm tans. The packaging has a luster emulating healthy skin a healthy glowing reflection.

“As for the ‘Flemish face’ or ’no make-up make-up look’ – trust me, it takes a a lot of product to do that look right,” says Maffeo.

MODE 2: “You will never get away from pink in cosmetic packaging. Though, in the fashion world at-large, pink is ceding its top spot to green, there are new pinks coming from the  Far East that are highly influential, especially geometrically-patterned pink packages combined with black and off-white. Think raspberry pink and coral pink especially. For the Teen and early Twenties makeup markets, the graphics are often smudged or blurred and “softly trashed.” For this crowd, the shock of imperfection is important. And if you take this same palette to a more sophisticated level, the package and its contents will be much more about perfection, like an exquisitely made-up mannequin. The packaging won’t be shiny or glossed but very satiny and sheer—just like the makeup expertly applied to forehead, cheeks, and chin. It’s very lady-like, rubber doll skin, Stepford Wives in its approach. There’s no smearing, just a sprinkling or shading from matte and opaque which gradates to sheer to transparent. The ‘70s-influenced, pink monochromatic packaging reflects this mood.

MODE 3: Maffeo calls this Resonance. It involves classic blues and reds with a new twist—a vibrant edge with filtered or fuzzy effects. It’s about an extremely well groomed elegance in the style of “Lucy Ricardo”—Capri pants with a half-over skirt—and represents a backlash to today’s overly relaxed design. Maffeo witnesses in Paris how fashion designers are now showing cinched waists, and thick belts and turned up colors from the ‘50s. “Striking reds are moving up to browns,” she says, “and the blues are moving up to violets, creating both warm and cool.” There’s also a shimmer of gold as opposed to the glitter effect, which has been out for two years. While this particulate plastic of glitter creates vibrant, rather conspicuous color reflections, shimmer is much more subtle offering little distinct glints of light. Shimmer in this Resonance Mode plays with light from different viewing angles. At night it adds mystery on décolletage and calves: in the day a fresh, luminous glow to the skin. There’s a mica-like pearlessence, a couture mood, a movie-star, voguish quality. There’s a gold worn on the lips like a kind of gilding, a flash of baroque gold on the packaging too. Embossed or moiré: gold along with red, blue and pink, or used alone. Adhering to this Resonance Mode, cabochons and compacts are all to be bejeweled.

(Memo from Maffeo to Kenneth Hirst about the gold accent on his lipstick tube for Lancaster: “I heartily approve. Think gold, be bold and experiment!”)

MODE 4: Maffeo calls this the Polychrome. It’s a very mysterious with special effects influenced particularly by the automotive industry. It’s the new car surfaces but with a sensual twist: Think rich moiré and solarized textures—Modern and sporty. This is especially true for the burgeoning men’s makeup market. The Polychrome palette is deep and intense in tone. The packaging is often coated, or embossed with gold, bronze, copper or occasionally silver and finished in multiple layers. “This results in metallic sheen,” says Maffeo, as in the complex mica-based car colors… with all their rich reflections.”

Depending on the viewing able, the colors shift into three or four different ones. “The packaging makes people want to pick it up. It has a sense of light and reflection to it. When a consumer walks down the aisle, it appears something is moving. It brings the eye toward it. For en, there’s a brawny industrial inspiration to the Polychrome look. Its packaging is sturdy and appears handcrafted; it reminds them of dad’s worn, old sports bag. For women, it reminds them of the onyx and mother-of-pearl cigarette cases of their mothers and aunts. For both sexes, there’s strong architectural references like the glamorous, glimmering Art Deco Chrysler building in New York.

These then are a sampling of the ideas designers of cosmetic packaging are using, but only a sampling. To stay “on trend,” Maffeo reminds us, designers need to stay open-minded and sensitive to everything they see and touch “from an Indian sari to the particular cut of a man’s sideburns in Seattle.”

It’s all material, mutating very fast, a global bazaar experienced in fast-forward. Especially with the Internet, the world has become our new neighborhood.

The inspiration that comes from “a drop of liquid sunshine” in Monaco can appear anywhere.