Inside a glossy, perfectly round tomato sits the smooth, creamy surface of a complexion-brightening face mask. A sullen panda bear holds the contents of a cooling-on-contact eye gel. A miffed bunny rabbit contains a pitch-perfect apricot lip tint. Welcome to the Korean beauty shopping experience. “They’re actually really good products,” says Charlotte Cho, cofounder of Soko Glam, one of three K-beauty import websites profiled in the September issue of Vogue that are curating the best of what the country has to offer. Dressed in crisp summer whites with a slim gold chain around her neck, the 30-year-old entrepreneur is combing the aisles of Manhattan’s Tony Moly—which, at first glance has more in common with Toys “R” Us than Sephora. “I have this,” she says, picking up a bright pink Velcro bow designed to hold hair out of your face while you wash off your makeup. Everything in the store, from the mustache-shaped wrinkle-reducing patches to the scrub resembling Pop Art–worthy lips is knee-weakeningly adorable. And if the history of Korean beauty trends has proven anything, your vanity table is about to get a lot cuter, too.
For all of the forward-thinking makeup and skin care advancements on American and European soil, from stem cell facials to lengthening organic mascara, South Korea’s wave-making influence has become impossible to ignore. Famous for popularizing BB cream, sheet masks, and facial essences, the country has cemented its international audience: This summer alone, Lancôme openly credited the inspiration for one of its biggest launches to date, the Miracle Cushion Liquid Compact, to the nation’s foundation technology, and Estée Lauder recently tapped K-beauty blogger Irene Kim to act as a global beauty contributor. And if South Koreans take the subject seriously (this is, after all, the birthplace of the ten-step skin care routine and home to the world’s highest rate of plastic surgery per capita), their packaging is judged by an entirely different rubric.
Turning over a banana-shaped sleeping pack in her hands, Cho explains, “Korean shoppers are super savvy [about beauty products], and they’re not loyal to a single brand, so companies have to make something that really grabs your attention to stand out.” She should know. To keep her three-year-old site up-to-the-minute relevant, it’s her business to not only test the contents of every jar, packet, and pig, but to determine what will sell. Her forthcoming book, The Little Book of Skincare: Korean Beauty Secrets for Healthy, Glowing Skin (due out in November), even chronicles the cultural obsession in a section titled “Cute Is Not Overrated.” “If you’re going to have to look at something several times a day,” she writes, “it might as well make you smile.”
Of course, innovation is the true father of the doll-house-as-hand-cream phenomenon. With heavy investment in research and development, South Korean companies like Etude House, Skinfood, and PeriPera require as little as six months to take a product from conception to consumer. “They’re focusing on what’s next,” says Cho, which enables brands to look past creating an heirloom-worthy jewel box compact in favor of the kind of limited-edition packaging that incites sneakerhead levels of hysteria among its collectors. Even Cho has woebegone tales of missing out on a set of blotting papers stored within a sleepy kitten.
It’s a template that strikes a chord with just as many Americans. Around the Vogue offices more editors are likely to stop dead in their tracks over a $ 5 set of hair rollers fashioned as foam strawberries than they are for a $ 400 serum. And companies from Urban Outfitters to Ulta are paying attention, stocking cartoonish face creams and blushes adorned in dinosaur drawings next to cult-classic American and European stalwarts. This month, we’ve taken the liberty of combing some of our favorite K-beauty retailers stateside for the most charming products that will turn your powder room into a playroom—because above all, shouldn’t beauty be fun?
The post The Cult of Cute: How Korean Beauty Is Changing the Face of Your Vanity Table appeared first on Vogue.
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