World Beauty Day: hair and make-up in the metaverse

The beauty industry has never shied away from technology and innovation, but how does choosing cosmetics work in a digital dimension?

Digital avatars from Clinique's diversity-friendly Metaverse More Like Us beauty campaign. Photo: Clinique
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Charlotte Tilbury is now an avatar. In April this year, the beauty mogul stepped into the metaverse, meaning wherever you are in the world, you can channel her expertise in a few clicks. By virtue of augmented reality, Tilbury appears in fairy-godmother-like fashion, inviting you into her digital world: the virtual reality Pillow Talk Party. In this beauty wonderland, you can shop, attend a masterclass and connect with like-minded cosmetics fans.

The British beauty brand isn’t the only one. Clinique launched its non-fungible token campaign, Metaverse More Like Us, this summer, in which three global content creators and make-up artists designed three looks — NFT Profile Pictures, or PFPs ― for customers to purchase for their avatars. MAC has long been utilising virtual try-ons or VTOs, while Byredo recently launched its first digital scent.

If you're feeling a little lost at this point, we don't blame you. You may live and breathe the latest eyeshadow palettes and skincare science, but keeping up with the technological advances in the (digital) world of beauty is a whole other story. So, what, as consumers, do we need to know?

The theory: what is the metaverse and how does beauty slot in?

When it comes to a definition, even the experts at the pulse of the technology can't agree on just the one. Louis Chen, chief strategy officer and senior vice president of Perfect Corp, an AI and AR beauty and fashion tech solutions provider, says: “There is not a single common definition of the metaverse at the moment. To us, it means a more immersive virtual experience further augmented by the ever-developing capabilities of AI solutions. This form of the new virtual reality unlocks a plethora of possibilities for brands to engage with their customers, removing many barriers associated with travelling to a physical space.”

Faced with a global pandemic but armed with this evolving technology, the beauty industry has been quick to jump on board. L’Oreal, for example, filed 17 metaverse-related trademarks this year.

The practical: virtual try-ons and digital diagnosis

For the day-to-day consumer, entering the metaverse will come from a much more practical sense. Brands have been experimenting with AR services for several years. While much of this took place in a brick-and-mortar store, the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated supply and demand.

Late last year, MAC launched a try-on service for one of its most popular products, Studio Fix Foundation. We know what you're thinking: selecting make-up is such a sensory experience and so hard to emulate online, but the response to the technology was overwhelmingly positive. Importantly, the AR tools proved effective.

You can also find your perfect hair shade from Schwarzkopf, use Clinique's diagnostic AR tools to shop for a custom-fit skincare regime, and try hundreds of nail polishes before you commit to Sally Hansen’s VTO service.

And the stats prove it’s a win-win: MAC reported a 200 per cent increase in engagement, while Sally Hansen's launch garnered a 110 per cent increase in conversion while customer exchanges and returns dropped, making a strong argument that the technology enhances customers’ shopping experience and satisfaction.

Not only is the use of AR and VR bringing the very sensory experience home (or anywhere) in a more authentic way, but it can also open previously shut doors for many consumers. Where a costly trip to a dermatologist might have been out of the question, a free skincare diagnosis using advances in technology no longer is.

The personal: avatars, NFTs and digital diversity

There is more to the beauty metaverse than enhancing experiences that ultimately end up as a projection in the real world. It's increasingly about how we identify online and how we craft an individual digital presence.

Brands are striving to offer personalised experiences and virtual products to enable consumers to build this — and beauty is just dipping its toes into the power and potential of this new reality.

“In the metaverse, consumers will want to use products to express their style and personality, so beauty brands will have to adapt further to meet this demand,” says Chen.

Yes, we're talking digital avatars — how we design them and how we adorn them. They may seem otherworldly to the uninitiated, but it can help to think of avatars as a natural evolution of the social media profile, a representation of yourself online that the beauty industry is helping to facilitate.

Chen explains part of Perfect Corps’s mission is to help brands with “creating digital versions of their physical products”, moving the beauty metaverse from simply an external glance at what a hold-in-your-hand product has to offer to something that solely exists in the digital world.

Think of the three make-up looks created by beauty gurus Emira D’Spain, Sheika Daley and Tess Daly for Clinique’s metaverse campaign created to encourage self-expression online. Find the look you like and purchase it as an NFT for your avatar to wear.

TikTok beauty creator and model D’Spain said of the project: “My big hope for the metaverse is to create a safe space that is welcoming to all types of people.” For an industry without the cleanest slate historically when it comes to diversity, the metaverse is a chance for beauty to try again, to create a place that truly is representative and allows people to feel seen.

This is nothing new for those immersed in the gaming world, which has intersected with luxury fashion in recent years, with brands such as Balenciaga, Louis Vuitton and Burberry designing “skins” (virtual clothing that can be purchased and downloaded to update a video game character's wardrobe) in collaboration with Fortnite and Mythical Games. The trend isn’t going anywhere, and the beauty industry is close on its tail.

The interpersonal: virtual reality, new worlds and open communities

Tilbury's Pillow Talk Party is only the tip of the iceberg. Perhaps what’s most exciting is what’s yet to come, the new worlds that brands will be building for us to step inside, learn about, interact with, shop in and possibly more: a place where all of this comes together.

As Chen puts it: “The metaverse is the next rung on this ladder, where AR and AI beauty and fashion technologies help customers enjoy unique experiences and experiment freely in an incredible virtual world.”

Nars drew on the power of Roblox — an online game platform and game creation system — to create a limited-time gaming experience that immersed users into its world, incentivising with challenges, earning badges and virtual beauty looks up for grabs.

Japanese beauty brand SK-II created a Sims-like virtual world for its followers to explore destinations, while also getting some BTS insight into the brand.

Like most game-changing innovations in the history of the World Wide Web, better connection is at the core. As beauty enters the metaverse, consumers will be able to form bonds with brands, products, personalities and fellow customers more intimately than ever. Right after picking the perfect lipstick shade for their avatar, that is.

Scroll through the gallery below to see the UAE's first metaverse wedding

Updated: September 09, 2022, 4:11 AM