Welcome to the April edition of The Beauty Conversation.

This month our gaze on TBC returns to South East Asia, a region where innovation, opinion and even regulation appear to be evolving and updating monthly. We look at new (and some old!) media titles extending into Asia, examine how different cities in China outside of Shanghai and Beijing are affecting national trade and list some exciting creative names and brands to have on your radar. Read on for reports from Tokyo, South Korea, Shanghai Fashion Weekend and more. 

As always, we love hearing your feedback. Join the conversation on Instagram.

This month we’re talking about…

Inside Shiseido’s new HQ S/Park. While in Tokyo this month, our co-founder Katie Service took a guided tour around the brand new Yokohama Shiseido HQ. Not unlike the great edifices of Apple and Google, this is 16 floors of box-fresh, sparkling tech and glass. It’s home to Shiseido’s research facilities and staff offices but will also be a place for consumers to come and experience – and most importantly influence – the goings on at Shiseido.  There are purpose-built “collaboration labs” and “living labs” where scientists can mingle with consumers, an S/Park cafe serving beauty drinks and green juices and a Beauty Bar, where visitors can have their skin analysed by technicians and bespoke skincare products created in labs on site. Particularly impressive is the world’s largest Crystal LED display system, developed by Sony, across which a whale the size of several double decker buses floats and the Cryo Fib Sem –  the world’s most advanced scanning electron microscope. The level of financial investment is impressive, it will be interesting to see how this innovation centre pays back for them. Experience is key to a good sales model in current climes and this is certainly one to be experienced.

Retail for all the senses. In other retail news, Hong Kong’s new K11 Musea mall is poised to steal Hudson Yards’ thunder. Opening in Q3, this culture-meets-retail destination will offer the opportunity to blend beauty shopping with multi-sensorial art and music experiences. For Asia’s emerging super-consumers, these immersive content-driven malls are a key attraction of luxury retail. In a similar vein, Shiseido has just opened its art installation and retail space at Singapore’s Jewel Changi Airport. Inspired by the Japanese deep connection to nature, the colourful digital installation aims to ‘transcend boundaries of the senses, art, culture and beauty’.
KonMari-style cosmetics. We love this Lego-like packaging by South Korean makeup brand Stonebrick. Its modular, click-together design lets clutter-averse users customise it according to their needs. Also significant is the shift to bold, colourful expression, a pivot for Asian brands, which historically have erred on the ‘natural’, understated side. Stonebrick’s parent company Shinsegae aims to use colour expression to tap into the new generation of cosmetic lovers harnessing make-up as an empowering self-expression tool. 

A question of QR. We had an eye on the ground at Shanghai Fashion Weekend earlier this month, the consumer event that boasts a footfall of over 10,000 people daily and exhibits 65 brands. Aside from the KOLs live-streaming beauty tutorials from the FROW (a spectacle in itself), the exhibit was an eye-opener when it came to QR code shopping. Each designer stand featured a QR code enabling shoppers to carry out all transactions on their phones with products home-delivered, leaving their hands free to enjoy the rest of the event. 

Nomenclature. While it couldn’t be truer that 2019 and 2020 are looking set to be big years for Japanese Beauty (given the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and arrival of mainstream brands like Cle de Peau in the UK market), many of the more prestige Japanese beauty brands are voicing concern that the term ‘JBeauty’ doesn’t fairly represent their offering. ‘JBeauty’ brings with it connotations of the cheap and chic, sometimes gimmicky tropes of KBeauty – and whilst we certainly shouldn’t knock the successes of Kbeauty, Japanese Beauty claims to be something different; age-old tradition, science, craft and design.

Skintellectual rising in Asia. Thanks to advances in technology and increased transparency around ingredients, an emerging breed of hyper-knowledgeable shopper is emerging in China. According to the CBN Data beauty report, the online sale of single-ingredient concentrates saw a 50% year-on-year increase in 2018 in China while the number of ‘decoding skincare ingredient’ posts on Weibo from Jan 2018 to Oct 2018 has increased by 133%. In response, brands in China are putting a greater emphasis on higher concentration formulas. The Home Facial Pro Niacinamide Essence and CosRX are both appealing with their easy-to-understand products that position effective ingredients with an affordable price tag.  

Harnessing China’s new youth media power. Game on: both Dazed and relaunched youth magazine, The Face are eyeing up the lucrative China market. The strategy seems focused on attracting the local community via creative contributors and on-the-ground brand partnerships. The Face has tapped Chinese-Australian KOL Margaret Zhang as creative director at large for Asia and Hong Kong-based fashion designer Jason Mui of Yat Pit as a contributor. Meanwhile, Dazed has partnered with youth wear multi-platform behemoth Yoho! for its forthcoming Dazed China launch. “[Yoho! Group CEO] Liang Chao has built this incredible platform by being really authentic to street culture, to his roots, to his audience’s interest," says Dazed Media founder Jefferson Hack in this excellent Business of Fashion report. Our take? With the Chinese market unusually localised, working closely with knowledgeable partners on community-nurturing will be key to meaningful commercial tie-ups.

Beauty pioneers – up-and-coming make-up artist Lu Wang. This Beijing-based make-up artist has collaborated with visionaries such as Ren Hang and Leslie Zhang and we’re excited to see what she does next. Follow her creative make-up looks on Instagram. For more inspiration WWD has listed its top tastemakers in China who are finding new ways to portray Asian beauty. 

Looking beyond first and second tier cities.  Over 50% of China’s luxury consumers live outside its 15 top cities, according to Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Spending in the country’s lower-tier cities is expected to triple to $6.9 trillion by 2030, fuelled by young Chinese consumers making their first luxury purchases. However Gen Z consumers are not necessarily swayed by KOL influencers and branded content. A report published by Tencent explains how they often prefer to buy based on recommendations by peers or local micro-influencers. This is a trend we’re noticing all over the world as we all see through the facade of social media and celebrities, instead looking to our own friends and people we can identify with, underlining the increasing importance of hyper-local strategies for brands.   

A Just Cause.  Our co-founder Navaz Batliwalla will moderate a panel on Monday 13th May at Paddington’s Pilgrm Hotel on the cause and purpose movement. The event brings  together REN CEO Arnaud Meysselle, Workshop Coffee CMO Richard Frazier, and Grenson owner and creative director Tim Little to discuss what they’re doing to champion the movement of responsibility. RSVP here – we’d love to see you there!

In other news… China will no longer require animal testing on beauty products from 2020. K-beauty retailers are launching their own private-label brands to the Western market (paywall). Glossier #GRWM LOLs. Five Hong Kong creatives inspired by body and sensation. Are make-up sharing pods a good idea? Recommended read – WeChat Founder Allen Zhang is the anti-Zuckerberg. Boots beauty is changing. Sign us up for manis, meditation and a mindfulness library at Amy Lin's Hudson Yards nail salon. It’s all about community-built brands

(Image: Instagram/Kanata)

THE LAST WORD… meet Kanata, from Tokyo, Japan

“I don’t think Japanese people are that interested in beauty.  Japanese are natural, because they like it as it is. Also they’re busy and don't even have skincare routines because their work comes first. For my make-up, I’m inspired by various things in everyday life. There are lots of colourful miscellaneous goods and clothes in Japan, so I like to think about make-up that suits it. I use mostly NYX because It’s cheap, has good performance, and can be purchased in Japan. For skincare, I use rice bran soap, a traditional Japanese beauty product.” Kanata, 23, make-up artist. Living in Tokyo, interviewed by The Beauty Conversation

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