Like many people my age, I am a fucking clown for a well-branded item. All anyone has to do to sell me anything, from cookies to washing up liquid, is slap on a good-looking logo and display the product somewhere I can see. Which is to say: I was on the Glossier train as soon as it pulled out of the station, pastel-coloured steam puffing up out of its cylinders.
Glossier started in 2014 as an online-only make-up store, founded by Into The Gloss' Emily Weiss, beauty expert and one-time contemporary of Lauren Conrad on The Hills. It hardly mattered when Glossier launched that nobody had tried the products. They took off on the strength of their branding, which was all about 'no make-up make-up', beauty as skincare and what became known as 'millennial pink'.
Beauty aficionados everywhere clamoured to get their hands on these mysterious "Your skin but better" holy grails and, as demand grew, Glossier opened two permanent stores in Los Angeles and New York. Now, there's also a pop-up in Austin, Texas – and as of today (Wednesday the 20th of November), there's one in London too. To date, the company has generated a valuation of over $1 billion.
Glossier's London shop is tucked away on a side street in Covent Garden, and will be there until early February (there was a previous London pop-up in November of 2017, which welcomed 10,000 visitors over a week). Its decor is influenced by British members’ clubs and, as one PR official tells me when I visit before the opening, the brand has been working on the unit since September, with design teams dedicated to every last detail. This London store, then, is basically Glossier’s second-to-none stage management up on its feet – the gold standard of branding, primed, polished, and now, open to the public.
Floral print dominates the space – on walls, floors, furniture, the lot. The London store's wallpaper (and the carpets and upholstery) was created by Glossier’s in-house designers in New York. The colour scheme changes between hot pink, deep green, dark blue and bright yellow – all the better to match whatever outfit you've got on. At the end of your route through the store is the photo op de résistance: a somewhat confusing but no doubt impressive 'London rooftop,' painted baby pink.
Though the Glossier London pop-up is, fundamentally, a shop, it wants you to forget that. As reported by the advertising business publication The Drum earlier this year, “For both Gen Z and millennials, there is a greater emphasis placed on experiences over material wealth, and experiential activations therefore allow brands to give these audiences what they crave.” That’s exactly what Glossier London (and indeed, all the Glossier stores I’ve visited) does. It’s basically a Willy Wonka experience for make-up hypebeasts, with beautifully-lit selfie mirrors (“YOU LOOK GOOD,” the text on them affirms. In this light, purposely designed to sell me any make-up I am trying on while bathed in it, yes I do!) and seating, alongside product samples enshrined on white plastic plinths, like little idols.
Like the LA flagship, Glossier London is designed to be more than just a place to go if you need to top up on mascara (Lash Slick, I have to say, is a fine choice). Glossier wants you to come in, chill out, be with your friends, take photos. It wants more than for you to be a loyal customer: it wants to become an intrinsic part of your life and your routine.
For many, Glossier has achieved this by embodying an ethos centred on the needs of its millennial client base. The shade range offered seems to work for many skin tones; its social presence showcases different body types and genders; the boiler-suited store assistants wear stickers informing shoppers of their preferred pronouns (though recently, many millennial and Gen Z consumers, however, have complained about the brand’s overzealous use of packaging, which isn’t in line with the eco-consciousness that both groups have demonstrated of late.) Regardless of whether you see this as genuine progress, or a cynical co-option of it, it’s undeniable that Glossier, and especially its rarified retail spaces, has hit a nerve among shoppers, tapping into genuine desires among millennials for both simple beauty packaged like special, luxury items, and Instagrammable experiences.
Certainly, if the queues of customers outside Glossier London in the cold this morning are to be believed, huddling forwards for a peek inside the store and a chance to cop a Boy Brow and a coveted Glossier selfie, the brand does it all better than anyone.