Plato defined beauty as a “privilege of nature,” while Aristotle concluded it to be “a gift from God.” And until this summer, the word “beauty” prompted me to think exclusively of physical attributes. As a professional in the personal care and cosmetic industry, I defined beauty in terms of makeup and clothes. This changed when I spent four months living in the small Italian village of Bussolengo, on the outskirts of Verona. With each Italian city I visited, my definition of beauty became more profound—I began to question how beauty should be defined. Is it a physical attribute, something soulful or a mixture of both? Each piece of knowledge I absorbed illuminated opportunities in this industry. After all, we are in the industry of selling beauty.
My ponderings began in Verona, where shopping is more than a hobby; it becomes a true cultural experience that incorporates Italian lifestyle at every turn. Verona is a town for lovers. It is the home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the Italian legends
of eternal love. I began to think of what Verona would be were I to bottle it as a fragrance; it would have characteristics of love and quaintness. Perhaps there would be notes of a light flower with hints of vanilla or honey. I realized I was starting to think outside the box.
Italian consumers see beauty as expressively self-defining. The products they apply to their bodies do more than bring about physical aesthetics; they develop a consumer’s attitude and confidence. Trying to find a self-conscious Italian consumer walking the streets of Verona is difficult. To be beautiful, one must feel beautiful.
My next adventure took me to Milan, the city for the ultimate shopping experience. A blend of classical history and modern consumerism fosters “chic Milanese,” a consumer atmosphere combining sophistication and class. Good marketers know the customer’s overall shopping experience must be positive. Shopping at MaxMara in La Galleria was much more exhilarating than on the streets of New York City, and I walked around with my head held a bit higher that day, walking side by side with the other sophisticates. That’s right—beauty is a confident attitude.
In Venice, I discovered beauty in everything from the waterfront to Piazza San Marco to the canal streets. Here, I first sensed the natural and organic trend sweeping through Europe. I learned the French company L’Occitane is using packaging from recycled algae pulled from Venetian canals. Yet, I still did not understand the consumer demand for natural beauty products. Then I stumbled upon LUSH Cosmetics, maker of natural, handmade cosmetics and personal care products. I bought a face mask hand mixed with fresh avocados and lemon juice right before my eyes. The combination of personal attention and fresh ingredients made my skin feel simply wonderful, and that helped me understand how Western Europeans view physical beauty—natural and fresh. Beauty is not necessarily about creating beautiful attributes, but rather intensifying the attributes we already have.
In Rome, I realized that the combination of history and tradition help shape who Europeans are. Inspiration for beauty can be drawn from the past. Off the famous Piazza di Spagna lies the most famous shopping street in Rome, Via Condotti, which hosts Valentino, Zara and Yves St. Laurent among other top companies. As a marketer, I kept the weight and influence of the past in mind, since Europeans do not necessarily like all that is new, and these experiences helped me understand trends and general attitudes toward consumerism. More importantly, I was able to return to the U.S. with my own definition of beauty greatly enhanced.
This new definition is one I can apply to my industry and business in general. Beauty is about taking the products we put on our face, our skin or in our hair and generating a feeling of comfort. Beauty is about defining personality and being confident enough to show it. Beauty is about taking risks and feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. Beauty is about acknowledging our history and traditions and incorporating them into who we are today. Beauty is about taking the time to appreciate little things.
Beauty is more than a product, and it allows everyone to create a personal beauty definition.
For more on the author’s European beauty experience, read “European Beauty.”