Welcome to the era of beauty without boundaries.
From re-examining the tenets that have defined physical beauty to the ever-increasing intersection between health, wellness and beauty to the technologies that are transforming everything from product creation to consumer marketing, the global beauty business is shape-shifting at the speed of culture.
At the WWD Beauty CEO Summit, held May 9 and 10 at Casa Cipriani in New York City, the industry’s leader’s came together to decode the future. Titled “The Silver Summit,” the event marked the 25th anniversary of WWD’s beauty summits. Just as Leonard A. Lauder presaged the coming changes in the industry when he was the keynote speaker at the very first event, this year’s presenters envisioned a future full of promise — and change.
“Instead of redefining beauty, maybe a good way to create the beauty of today, of tomorrow, is to ‘undefine’ the notion of beauty,” said Sue Y. Nabi, Coty’s chief executive officer. “The idea is to unleash every vision of beauty.”
Here, the top eight takeaways from the 2023 WWD Beauty CEO Summit, with in-depth coverage on the pages that follow.
All the Feels
Forget looks, beauty is an emotional category. “We are an industry steeped in emotion, and that has been the catalyst to our resiliency,” Larissa Jensen of Circana said, reporting that beauty is the only category tracked by Circana that is up in both dollar and unit sales.
Shoppers want to feel connected to what they’re buying. “We use the term ’emotional whitespace.’ That is our guiding light,” said Sol de Janeiro founder Heela Yang, noting the genesis of the brand was to evoke the joy of Brazil. “I became absolutely obsessed with this feeling of liberation, freedom and nonjudgment. I thought: ‘I’ve got to spread this message.’ That’s how it all began.”
The Wellness Revolution
Wellness isn’t just a buzzword. “Wellness is the name of the game,” said Nabi, calling it “the next frontier for most of our brands.” Behaviors that started for many during the pandemic have now become mainstream, with people seeking out products, services and experiences that enhance their sense of self. “It is a big part of the category,” said Ulta Beauty CEO Dave Kimball, referring to the retailer’s successful Wellness Shop. “We see a lot of opportunity to continue to expand and it’s so naturally connected with beauty.”
The Experience Economy
Shoppers want unique experiences — online and in-person. “This year it is becoming even more about shared experiences,” said Asmita Dubey, L’Oréal’s chief digital and marketing officer. Coming out of the pandemic, consumers are seeking human connection and community — and looking for brands and retailers to provide it. “We believe that the physical experience of beauty, the human touch, is more important than it’s ever been,” said Jo Horgan, founder and co-CEO of Mecca. And it’s not just retailers who are thinking about new ways of engaging. The point was reinforced by Andrew Stanleick and Tarang Amin, chief executives of the Beauty Health Co. and E.l.f. Beauty, respectively. Amin said, “I often think of us more as an entertainment company that happens to sell cosmetics and skin care.”
The Importance of Authenticity
As the first social media native cohort, Gen Z is no stranger to filters. But when it comes to real life, they’re looking for unvarnished reality. “What’s beautiful to us is truth and honesty, what cuts through Gen Z’s bulls–t filter is people who speak with clarity and with authenticity,” said Juv Consulting’s Ziad Ahmed. For Hailey Bieber, founder of Rhode, remaining steadfast in her approach to skin care is key to connecting with her followers. “When you have a brand that is growing fast, there’s a pressure to put new things out more quickly — that’s something I’ve had to continuously fight against, because I know that the core value of the brand is to never overwhelm the consumer,” said Bieber.
Moment of Impact
Brand loyalty goes far beyond a product offering. Consumers are seeking out brands and founders that ignite meaningful conversations and social change. “One of the first things I said when we first started talking was, ‘I’m not here to be a pretty face or pretty smile. I’m here to be a thought partner in what we’re doing,’” said Amanda Gorman, Estée Lauder Global Changemaker and National Youth Poet Laureate. “Is there a way that we can put our money — or as I like to say our makeup — where our mouth is and actually get things done?”
Science Will Win
Pfizer, whose CEO Dr. Albert Bourla was the summit’s keynote speaker, made the saying famous. And it holds equally true for beauty. For today’s consumers, efficacy is everything. “Forget marketing, do good products,” said Nabi. “At the end of the day what counts are formulations that deliver and surprise people in terms of efficacy.”
The Demise of Demographics
Age, gender, race, nationality — such factors no longer govern consumption patterns. “We’re seeing teenagers lusting over high-end luxury brands. We’re seeing men discovering the delights of skin care and makeup and we’re seeing 70-year-olds being introduced to beauty trends by their 14-year-old grandchildren, truly the demise of demographics as we know it,” said Horgan. Michael Clinton, founder of Roar Forward, drove home the point during an analysis of the new longevity, noting that 10,000 people a day turn 65. “It’s about inclusiveness. The reality today is more of an intergenerational melting pot — everyone wants a seat at the table,” he said. “Everyone wants to be loved, to be seen and to matter,” said Kevin Cureton, chief operating officer at Solésence Beauty Science.
Simply the Best
When it comes to messaging, keep it simple. “We’re very proud of our science because it’s a part of our DNA, but the everyday consumer is not memorizing any of that,” said Giorgos Tsetis, CEO and cofounder of Nutrafol. “If you’re not able to convey your message in a very simple and concise way and make it memorable, you do yourself and the world a disservice.”