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The Hygge Effect: How Beauty Is Cashing In on Cosy

The movement towards 'all things cosy' is a boon for the beauty industry, argues Sarah Brown.
Le Labo's Santal 26 candle | Source: Courtesy
  • Sarah Brown

Welcome to Inside Beauty, a new column by veteran journalist Sarah Brown on the $630 billion global beauty industry.

NEW YORK, United States — Eight weeks ago (according to my Instagram), I eschewed previously scheduled evening plans in order to stand in front of the bathroom mirror in an old T-shirt and wait, patiently transfixed, as Bioré's new charcoal-powered pore strip hardened into a dry, brittle layer across the bridge of my nose. Once removed (snapped off like a piece of Scotch tape), it promised to take with it excess oil and "weeks of dirt," delivering in one swipe my "deepest clean."

What a satisfying evening! And after several different set-ups, what a great selfie! Then, last Thursday, instead of going out to dinner, my fiancé and I lounged on the couch luxuriously draped in cashmere blankets, watching "The African Queen" on Netflix while Bliss’s Mask-A-Peel turned into a pale blue layer of (radiance-revealing) rubber on our skin.

By now, we are all familiar with hygge (you know: "hue-guh"), the irresistible Danish term — noun, adjective and verb — for all things cosy. It is a broadly encompassing, smile-inducing word that makes one feel not so bad about never wanting to leave the house (even though it is quite possible to hygge outside of the domestic realm, too). It helps explain how silky pyjama dressing, which first flounced on to the scene via Marc Jacobs and Miuccia Prada a good three years ago, is still going strong. And why I can spend an entire afternoon contentedly, obsessively, scrolling through vintage chandeliers on 1st Dibs.

In my estimation, this current global phenomenon is due, in part, to a renewed love of home — and, by extension, all of the tantalising things one can buy for the home (and thus display on social media as evidence of our expertly curated lives) — as well as a reaction to the uncertain, often troubling times in which we now find ourselves. We are looking for comfort, safety, happiness. Special moments, togetherness. As a December article in The New Yorker notes, hygge's etymology stems from the 16th-century Norwegian word hugga — to comfort or console — which loosely found its way into English as "hug."

As I was recently mulling some cider (yes, really) and thinking about the bath I would take later on, the Jo Malone oils I would generously pour into the running water (a quarter bottle, at least) and the million-dollar candle I would light tub-side, it occurred to me: This hygge thing must be a tremendous boon for the beauty industry.

Small indulgences. Me-time. It's a cultural moment tailor-made for beauty.

Just think of all of the hygge-propelled purchases that are surely being made in the name of creating quiet sanctuary in the midst of our otherwise frenetic lives, of nurturing wellbeing for both body and mind, of taking the time to very simply take care of ourselves. If you are going to bury your head under the covers, you might as well do so in Chantecaille's nano-gold de-puffing under-eye mask, right?

Yes. NPD Group, a market research firm that studies consumer shopping trends, reports that of all the industries it tracks, beauty is currently the fastest growing in the US. “It’s by and large thriving, while others are almost flat,” says Karen Grant, NPD’s beauty analyst.

Makeup is leading the way: “It’s quick, easy, affordable and one way people can give themselves a little treat,” notes Grant. “A little treat” is the key here: NPD’s research reveals that across every industry, people are spending money on things they consider “pampering,” “special” and experiential. “Stress and anxiety — we’re all feeling it,” says Grant, “and it’s something we see reflected in the choices we’re making. People are saying, ‘I have to find ways to do something for myself.’”

Small indulgences. Me-time. It's a cultural moment tailor-made for beauty. "With the barrage of information and social media, it's so hard to keep up," says Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily, the pioneering K-Beauty e-commerce site. "We're starting to see more conversation around hygge in a slow-it-down sort of way. Skincare goes hand in hand with that: A meditative, mindful moment, which is a luxury and ultimately helps you embrace the day more fully."

Peach & Lily launched its own sheet masks this past November, which sold out within the week. For her website, Yoon shot the Reset Button mask, which calms irritated skin, very simply on a white blanket. “It wasn’t as much ‘here’s a quick skin care hack;’ it was 'treat yourself,'” she says. “We’re encouraging you to reset entirely, not just your skin. We were very intentional about this. It wasn’t about the new hot trend; we positioned it as a precious thing and I think that’s why it’s resonating.”

People are gravitating toward products that are more about how they make them feel — and less about results.

The thing that's really interesting (and right out of the hygge handbook) is that people are gravitating toward products that are more about how they make them feel — and less about results. The trend, says Grant, is for items that are focused on "caring for the skin, not necessarily correcting a problem."

This is big business! While anti-aging products still command the most market share, that segment has not grown “in years,” says Grant. At Sephora, masks of all ilk are huge — indeed, global mask sales surged by 24 percent last year, helped along no doubt by armies of sheet-masking Instagrammers — as well as aromatherapy and anything that “cocoons” the skin.

Violet Grey launched Bath and Body as a category last year in response to demand from consumers and enlisted the actress January Jones — mistress of the bathtub selfie (check her Instagram) — as its newly minted Bath Critic. For a recent feature, in which she was photographed in the bathtub — black and white, Hollywood screen siren-style — Jones thoughtfully reviews various bubbles, salts and soaks.

“She’s incredibly passionate about her bath rituals,” notes Violet Grey founder Cassandra Grey, herself a fan of a weekly vinegar bath, a tip from the French makeup artist Violette.

Candles, notes Grey, fly off the shelves at Violet Grey both physically — in the jewel-like Melrose Place boutique — and virtually, on the website. Especially Le Labo’s Santal 26, which she first sniffed at a housewarming party for Jennifer Lopez. “She had like 900 burning and the smell was just intoxicating,” she recalls.

“We’ve become a candle nation. I mean, did you have scented candles growing up? When did this happen?" says Grey. "Now, I feel they’re a key part of the style guide for your house.” She’s right: Candle sales are up 16 percent, with the entire home fragrance category — “fragrance experiences” — growing by 19 percent and outperforming “personal” fragrance, according to NPD.

If staying in is the new going out, it’s no wonder that the market for home devices — everything from DIY laser hair removal to collagen-stimulating lasers — is growing at such a brisk pace. According to New York-based market research firm P&S, the device segment reached $23.4 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow at a compounded annual growth rate of 19 percent through 2022.

It is also very good news for the growing wave of on-demand spa services. LVMH veteran Marta Cros launched The Ritualist, an order-in facial service, last June in New York and San Francisco and has seen double-digit growth each month. Cros’ licensed aestheticians set up a table, light a candle and bring music, but “some clients like to play their own music — that’s the beauty of being in your own home,” says Cros.

Her clients, many of whom fall asleep during their treatments, not only appreciate the convenience of having the spa come to them, but “once you’ve had a facial and your skin is fresh, the last thing you want to do is go out into the street and find a taxi. Being in your own environment prolongs the feeling of wellbeing.”

Hardcore devotees of the on-demand massage service Zeel (“Massage Zeelots”) receive their own massage table as part of a yearly massage membership. Launched in 2012, Zeel now employs over 8,000 licensed therapists in 55 cities and counting. Appointments can be booked as little as an hour in advance and scheduled for as late as 10:30 PM.

So, what’s the takeaway? The next time a friend calls to say she can’t come out because she’s washing her hair, she’s telling the truth.

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