Last autumn, when a top make-up artist was selecting a platform from which to launch her first own-brand product, she didn’t choose a high-end boutique, department store or even Facebook: at the end of September, Pat McGrath, arguably the most influential make-up artist in the world, decided to showcase her first product on Instagram. Something of a frenzy resulted and the very limited-edition Gold 001 pigment sold out immediately. She followed it late last year with Phantom 002 ($240), a palette of jewel-toned pigments for eyes, lips and face, that also sold out in minutes.
Proof, if it were needed, that to stay up to speed with the fast-moving world of beauty, you now need to be on Instagram, where everything pops up by the second – hair and make-up inspiration, product launches, direct footage from backstage at the catwalks and commentary on all the above from women at large. As with YouTube, Instagram was initially the province of millenials but, like YouTube, it’s fast becoming an invaluable resource for cash-rich, time‑poor professional women who want to stay up-to-date with everything the beauty world has to offer – top make-up artist product launches and all.
Instagram has grown expeditiously since its launch in October 2010. There are 400m people active on the site every month and 80m photos posted every day. With visuals as the platform’s raison d’être, it’s become the best way of following the work of favourite hair and make-up artists. A pantheon of top catwalk and brand names is now to be found there, from star make-up artists such as McGrath, Lisa Eldridge, Dick Page and Tom Pecheux to hairstylists Guido Palau, Eugene Souleiman and Sam McKnight to global brands like MAC and Bobbi Brown and hot indies such as Illamasqua, Skinesis and Philip B.
“Instagram is my favourite channel because it allows you to be creative and visual,” says make-up artist and brand founder Charlotte Tilbury (840,000 followers). “It’s the perfect home for fashion and beauty. It’s like my own magazine.” It’s no surprise that Tilbury’s own Instagram feed is a high-gloss ride through the world of red-carpet glamour – her celebrity connections are legion and faces like Gwen Stefani and Alicia Vikander often crop up. Tilbury’s make-up looks are on there too, forming a pleasing grid of easy-to-access inspiration, usually achievable for women of all ages, from rock-chick smoky eyes to flawless base faces created with her new Magic Foundation (£29.50).
Terry Barber (18,500 followers), MAC’s director of make-up artistry, also sees his Instagram feed as “like a column – it’s a point of view. It’s available to everybody. The instantaneous nature of it means it can often have humour attached to it; it can be irreverent if it wants to be.” It’s this curation aspect, where users can create an edited world within their feeds, that makes it interesting to watch beauty creatives putting their work and wares on the site. “I use my Instagram as a personal diary,” says hairstylist Sam McKnight (90,000 followers). “It’s about what I’m doing – photoshoots, shows, looking back through archives. And my gardening obsession.” And access to the feed of a fashion-show maestro such as McKnight is like a backstage pass to couture and ready‑to-wear hair – the instant it’s created. His behind‑the-scenes shots of hair for the Chanel shows often garner a prodigious response when he posts them on Instagram. Earlier this year his wondrously architectonic “croissant” up-do hairstyles for the label prompted many women to take his shots to the hairdressers and demand this gloriously chic and precise look for their forthcoming cocktail parties, weddings and balls. He also posted the Picasso sculpture alighted upon by Karl Lagerfeld that originally inspired the hair.
Make-up artist and artistic consultant to Burberry Beauty, Wendy Rowe (42,700 followers), has also noticed strong responses to certain of her trendsetting posts. “People love Instagrams that tell them a story or provide information – especially when it comes to how to get a look,” she says. “There was a popular shot of Amber Anderson that I posted a couple of months ago from the Burberry spring/summer 2016 beauty campaign. Her face was beautifully made up, very subtle and natural apart from a bold sanguine lip created using Burberry’s Oxblood shade.” Even though Instagram is not a “how to” format like YouTube, women are taking notice of pictures that appear there and replicating the looks for themselves. Rowe also had a big response to a younger party look she created for Suki Waterhouse on the red carpet, with glitter gently diffused around the outer corners of the eyes. Instagram, as much as the catwalk and red carpet, is now where trends start. Following talented make-up artists like Rowe means the opportunity to see influential looks right at the genesis of a trend.
The inspirations behind a lot of these looks can also be found on beauty creatives’ feeds. McGrath (768,000 followers) often posts pictures of old photoshoots by the likes of Serge Lutens plus images of Parisian artists’ muse Kiki de Montparnasse and musicians David Sylvian and David Bowie to show how her mind travels from source material to finished look, and users, too, can take inspiration from her creative processes. A feed can be utilised as a creative notebook, a collation of photographs of colours in nature, old magazine shoot cuttings, or pictures of classic movie stars. A user’s own feed, as it grows, will often flag up a particular taste or nuance that until then hadn’t been apparent to them, influencing future style directions or purchases.
Lancôme Make-Up creative director Lisa Eldridge (538,000 followers) peppers her feed with images of her favourite muses, from Marilyn Monroe to Marlene Dietrich. And hair colourist Josh Wood (8,400 followers) will often post quite abstract inspirations from Pantone shades Polar Mink and Alaskan Red Fox to pictures of forests and foliage with interesting colouration. These can easily be taken to a hairdresser and shown as a useful reference to hair colours a client might have in their head but be unable to describe without Wood’s expertise and train of thought immediately to hand. “I love posting ‘colour worlds’ that refer to some of the tones we have created,” Wood says. “When creating hair colour there is always a narrative, and I think that message is more easily transmitted in source pictures. Sometimes a shot of a bleached head of hair can just look like a bleach without conveying the mood and spirit of why it was created.”
Barber also uses his Instagram feed to post inspirations as well as finished looks. “I think it’s interesting to show the references behind fashion. A lot of people who don’t work in fashion think it’s all about supermodels still, which it’s not.” He recently posted a picture of Madonna’s Like a Virgin album sleeve to illustrate the trend for very full, bushy brows. “I am posting some things related to colour at the moment. I did a show in Milan for Marco de Vincenzo and I posted a picture of some conkers, because the lip was a conker red. I posted a shot of some cranberries as well because there was a pink feeling going on – the particular pink of cranberry juice.”
As well as acting as a kind of mood board for beauty creatives’ inspirations, Instagram, rather fascinatingly, serves to transmit their personalities and extracurricular obsessions too. McGrath for example is generous-spirited enough to regularly post less well-known make-up artists’ work, from gold-leafed lips to gorgeous jewel-toned, ombre eyes (both great party looks). And as top Michaeljohn colourist Debbie Bhowmik is also a qualified yoga teacher, there are interesting ideas for asanas on her compelling feed alongside, say, a post about one of the latest hair contouring trends, Hollywood Lights.
Instagram has already surpassed Twitter in its number of users – between December 2014 and September 2015 alone it grew by a breathtaking 100m users. Already it has created a level playing field between global conglomerates and niche brands and has given creatives their own distinctive voice. “The influence of social media will continue to dominate the beauty industry,” says Chrissy Hilton-Gee, beauty editor at trend-forecasting agency Trendstop. “Attention will turn next towards highly influential but ordinary online users. We have already seen YouTube vloggers become the new beauty authority [Caroline Hirons and Ruth Crilly are great “grown-up” vloggers worth following], and it seems almost inevitable that Instagram will follow suit. These people will shape the future of the industry and will set a more democratic approach to beauty ideals, away from celebrity culture.”
As yet there are not any indigenous Instagram breakout stars for beauty, but YouTube favourites like Crilly and Hirons are on there, as well as Sam Chapman of cult vlogging duo and brand Pixiwoo, and a plethora of lesser-known hair and make-up names, all furiously creating. As Hilton-Gee predicts, the site will doubtless forge its own stars in the future, or make names for more backstage industry figures – the ultimate decision makers are Instagram’s users, who will vote with their fingertips.