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Talk of inclusion in beauty has rightfully reached a fever pitch. Brands like Rihanna’s Fenty have proven that if you make a wide range of shades, people will buy them. Instagram has made beauty a lot more democratic, giving a diverse range of faces exposure they probably never would have received otherwise. Then there are brands like Dove, which tries to use diverse models but often flubs it terribly. The images we see in retail and beauty ads still have a long way to go.
Sephora (whose parent company LVMH also owns Kendo, the incubator that, incidentally, developed Fenty) has been improving its store imagery over the last few years to be more inclusive, changing its tagline from “The Beauty Authority” to “Let’s Beauty Together.” Its last several campaigns have featured models of different ethnicities, skin tones, and ages, but the campaign the retailer is releasing on November 2nd may be its most diverse yet. Rather than hiring professional models, it reached into its own pool of 11,000 North American store employees.
“We’ve been having the conversation about unique perspectives in beauty and celebrating diversity in our marketing for a number of years,” says Deborah Yeh, the senior vice president of marketing and brand at Sephora. “But this is our first opportunity to really show it in such a demonstrative way, by elevating real people from the real Sephora beauty community.”
The theme of the campaign is “Reach Out and Gift,” which is the result of some internal research Sephora did. Two things emerged: First, people said that beauty is a great gift, but challenging to give because it’s so personal. The retailer presumably hopes that casting a campaign with a wide variety of non-models will give people ideas about what to buy for the unique people in their own lives. And the “reaching out” part comes from an acknowledgment that our current political environment causes some familial drama.
“If you’re going to start making connections after a very tumultuous year, let’s do it over a shared love of beauty,” says Yeh. “So you can make that connection with all the unique, colorful, infuriating one-of-a-kind people you love.” Politically, it might be very optimistic to think that those on different sides of the aisle can find common ground over their favorite lipsticks. But the results of this shoot will at least increase your Grinch-y heart by three sizes, regardless of what it does for the relationship with your problematic aunt.
Over 1,000 “cast members,” as Sephora employees are called, submitted video entries of themselves for consideration, speaking about what beauty means to them. Ten people were chosen, and they represent freestanding Sephora stores in Canada and the US, as well as Sephora Inside J.C. Penney shops. They flew to New York City to shoot with Inez and Vinoodh, the photographers behind countless fashion editorials. The “models” will be featured in store windows and in a print and social-media campaign. Local window unveilings will take place in the markets where each model lives.
Consideration was given to each subject’s personal style when the stylists and makeup artists planned their looks, though Sephora is still trying to sell stuff, so the makeup looks encompass current trends and products for sale in the store.
By all accounts, the 10 models bonded immediately, making for a “summer camp” sort of atmosphere. Yeh says that after the shoot, the photographer said half-jokingly, “You guys should open up a casting agency.” That’s kind of what happened. One of the subjects is currently working with Sephora on the company’s YouTube channel, and Yeh says Sephora will tap into that homegrown talent pool for future projects.
Meet four of the 10 cast members, who spoke to Racked about themselves and their take on what beauty means to them, in this exclusive first look at the campaign.
Works at: Sephora Powell Street in San Francisco as a Color Consultant
Employed at Sephora for: Two and a half years
Chaimae Boulayad has always had a passion for makeup and beauty. She started working at Sephora after she came to the US to attend college, where she is majoring in business.
She is from Morocco; English is her third language after Arabic and French. “I came here to finish my studies and find more opportunities when it comes to work,” Boulayad says. “Because obviously America is the land of opportunity, definitely more than Morocco, so that’s why I wanted to grab a hold of it.” She still feels strongly about this, even in light of the politically tumultuous last few years.
At the shoot, Boulayad says she was not nervous, and was excited to meet Inez and Vinoodh. She says she feels the final portraits captured her personality perfectly. “The stylist was very talented. She knew my culture already and she knew my religion — I’m hijab-wearing — so she made sure I was very modest-looking.”
Boulayad really believes in the spirit of the campaign. “It’s something very special; it connects people together. That for me is very important, as someone who’s very different, as an immigrant, as a Muslim, as an Arab woman. I felt like that’s something that I needed to do and I felt almost like it was the right thing to do.”
Chaimae's eyeliner: Kat Von D Ink Liner ($20)
Works at: Sephora Inside J.C. Penney in Medford, Oregon, as a Product Consultant
Employee for: Five years
Joanna Samano went to vocational school to be a makeup artist, and she practices elaborate special effects looks on herself to stay challenged. She suffers from an autoimmune disease which causes alopecia, a condition that makes her lose all the hair on her body. She says this is partly what drew her to makeup.
“When I found out about makeup and that you can change your appearance, it just really helped me feel comfortable in my own skin. That’s kind of what I loved about it and why I wanted to work at Sephora,” says Samano. “I wanted to help make people feel so confident in themselves with something just as simple as a lipstick.” She calls her style “edgy.”
Samano tells a story of doing a makeover on a shy customer who didn’t really talk about what she wanted, so Samano did a look and hoped for the best. “Once I finished, I told her to look in the mirror and at that point I was just like Oh my gosh I don’t know what she’s going to say.” When the customer looked in the mirror, she asked Samano for a hug, saying she felt really beautiful.
Of what she hopes people will get out of her Sephora pictures, Samano says, “I look different. I felt that I could really represent people who are suffering from hair loss or any form of just physically looking different. That’s what I felt really spoke out.”
Joanna’s lipstick: Too Faced Melted Latex Liquified High Shine Lipstick ($21)
Works at: Sephora in Beverly Hills, California, as a Senior Skincare Advisor
Employee for: Five years
Terrell Britten is a licensed esthetician who performs facials and waxing for his friends in his spare time and is also a personal assistant for a woman in Beverly Hills part-time. He says customers come in asking him jokingly (but not) for a “miracle cream to reverse time.”
Britten says his manager encouraged him to apply for the campaign. In the end, he was scouted in his store by a member of the Sephora creative team. In his shoot, he was given a holographic makeup look (“clean skin just highlighted to the gods!” as Britten put it) and sometimes will post pictures on his Instagram with a full face of makeup. “On a regular basis, I don’t wear makeup,” Britten says. “I just do it for fun and I look at it as an art. Since [some of] my friends that I have are makeup artists and they’re super talented I say, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and show a different side of beauty for guys in general.’”
Britten calls the shoot “humbling,” a word used by his co-models, too. He says he passed out face masks to everyone on set. “Being there with everyone at the shoot was really great. We were always checking in with each other making sure everyone was okay,” Britten says, “It was a positive experience and there was no ego, which was really, really nice.”
Terrell's highlighter: Milk Makeup Holographic Highlighting Powder ($30)
Works at: Sephora in Town Center Plaza, Kansas City, Missouri, as a Senior Artist
Employee for: Six years
Alley Gage trains other cast members in artistry and trends, as well as dealing with customers directly. She hates when clients want her to make them look completely different. “To me, I look at somebody and I see all the good and the beauty that I want to show off,” she says. She says a trend she’s noticing is that more people are coming in wanting to learn how to do makeup that will look good on camera. Gage wanted to apply for the campaign to represent Kansas City, a city she acknowledges is not known as a destination one goes to in order to be discovered.
As far as her own style, she sometimes does pin-up modeling and has a love for vintage, which is why her hair was styled in victory rolls in this shot. Kesha is her ultimate style inspiration, though: “I love her. She always looks pretty and there’s a girly element, but there’s always something that’s a little rock ’n’ roll to it.” Her best memory of the shoot was Kesha themed. After hearing the artist was Gage’s favorite, the photographers “put Kesha on and they said, ‘You guys are going to be dancing under a confetti glitter gun,’ and I had this moment of I’m dancing to Kesha under glitter with Inez and Vinoodh. Does life get better than this?”
Alley's eye shadow: Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Eye Shadow Palette ($42)