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If you’ve been shopping regularly at Anthropologie over the past year, you’ve probably noticed that the brand has been ramping up its beauty offerings. After a year of slow, deliberate expansion, most stores now have a well-defined beauty department featuring makeup, bath and body, fragrance, tools, skincare, and haircare.
Anthropologie is having a growth spurt. Last summer, URBN (Anthropologie’s parent company that also owns Urban Outfitters and Free People) announced that it would be growing its beauty and accessories departments.
Beauty, specifically, is a big part of the company’s overall growth plan. URBN started rolling out large-format "department stores" called Anthropologie and Co. with beauty shops-in-shop that are as big as 2,000 square feet. (The most recent just debuted at the King of Prussia mall in Pennsylvania.)
Everyone knows the Anthropologie aesthetic: Etsy and Pinterest have a baby and move to Williamsburg. This feeling is carried seamlessly throughout the beauty department, where soaps wrapped in vintage-looking paper sit on wooden farmhouse tables next to vegan face oils. There are also displays for the so-called "beauty bites" — quick, inexpensive buys meant to inspire spontaneous purchases.
The larger department stores carry about 800 products, and approximately 130 of the retailer’s 200 regular stores carry an expanded assortment of beauty now. You can find the most selection, from about 150 different beauty brands, on Anthropologie’s website.
Catherine Moellering, the general merchandise manager of beauty at Anthropologie, was brought on three years ago to build out the department. When she started, the store mostly offered soaps and fragrances that were meant to be gifts. "Beauty was something the customer was asking for for a long time," Moellering says. Her biggest challenge was creating something "different" in a crowded space.
"I say this with all due respect to our competition, but sometimes I go to some of these big-box beauty stores and it almost feels like I’m in a nightclub," Moellering says. "The lighting, the hard edge, the music. There is definitely a need and a place for that, but that is not what we’re doing."
Anthropologie wants you to feel like you’re shopping in a cozy home —"our customer values a beautiful life more than a flawless face," Moellering notes — so the experience of shopping for beauty in the stores is pure, well, Anthropologie. You won’t find sleek black packaging or images of glassy-eyed models. Instead, everything is soft, from the scents to the colors to the packaging.
While efficacy and ingredients are high up on the list, what the product looks like is also really important. Of her guiding principle, Moellering says, "If you had guests coming over at the last minute, would you leave this out on your sink or would you feel like, ‘Oh my god, I have to hide this!’? Our stuff has to pass the I-would-leave-it-on-the-sink test."
And, yes, Moellering has passed on brands that don’t have packaging that’s up to snuff. She describes a "life-changing" sheet mask that had horrible packaging; ultimately, she decided not to stock it.
But there are occasionally good outcomes for brands with bad packaging. Moellering discovered another collection she loved, but the packaging was subpar. She flew the maker out, who agreed it was indeed terrible. Anthropologie worked with her to design exclusive packaging for its stores, and that collection will be launching soon.
Ingredients are also important, but Moellering says that Anthropologie never gets preachy about it. "I use the term ‘ingredient-conscious.’ We’re not on a soapbox, and I think every customer needs to decide for herself what’s best," Moellering explains. "I’m someone who will go on a juice cleanse and get Botox in the same week, and to me that makes sense. What we try to do is curate what we think is the best."
There are a lot of special, beautiful brands that you’ve likely not seen anywhere else, and Moellering says that one of the most rewarding parts of her job is giving nationwide exposure to small brands. Some of the more popular ones include Youth to the People (try the cleanser — it’s really great), a vegan "superfood"-based line, and Pursoma, which makes beautiful bath soaks. Oils have also been popular, like the UK-based Votary collection and UMA Wellness oils, which are based on ayurveda.
Be on the lookout this holiday season for Mer-Sea, a brand founded by three moms in Kansas City, Kansas who grew up on the east or west coasts and all miss the ocean. The line features handkerchief-covered soaps, salt scrubs, and lotions. Moellering says when she placed the first "huge" order with them, they delivered on time thanks to their kids helping to pack in their garages. The second collection will hit stores soon. (Brands with a particularly good origin story seem to be in Anthropologie’s wheelhouse.)
In the future, Moellering hopes to increase the beauty offerings in all Anthropologie stores, so keep an eye on this beautifully designed pillow-strewn space.