Makeup & nails
Bold Eyeshadow Is Primed for a Comeback
Presenting the fresh, modern way to dress up your lids.
by : Katherine Lalancette- Dec 11th, 2023
Collage: Anne-Sophie Perreault, Photography: Getty & Steven Pan
When makeup brand Merit held a company brainstorm to discuss making a foray into the eye-colour category, the first question posed to the team was “Who here wears eyeshadow?” The response? “Nobody in the room raised their hand,” recalls chief marketing officer Aila Morin. “It just wasn’t a relevant everyday product.”
Merit staffers weren’t the only ones who felt that way. After growing steadily in the 2010s, eyeshadow sales saw a steep decline. By 2020, they were down by 42 percent, according to a Nielsen report. While it’d be easy to blame the pandemic, the slump began well before we all baked our first loaf of sourdough. A year earlier, The Business of Fashion had published a piece called “The Great Makeup Crash of 2019,” while Vogue Business had announced that “The US Cosmetics Boom [Was] Over.”
Analysts cited the growing popularity of skincare as the main reason why beauty spending habits were changing. The contoured faces and flat matte lips of the vlogger era were being replaced by a more natural aesthetic—one that would eventually come to be known as the “clean girl” look. Elaborate eye makeup suddenly seemed out of place in the new paradigm.
The way people adorn their eyes actually reveals a lot about a particular period, says makeup historian Sara Long. “When we look back through history, it’s very interesting [to see] how we evoke different emotions with the types of trends, shapes and colours we use—in particular around the eyes because the eyes are how we communicate.”
In times of peace and prosperity, for instance, eye makeup tends to be softer and rounder, whereas it becomes more angular during moments of political or economic distress. Take the ’80s, for example—the height of the Cold War, when it was all about harsh, straight lines. “It was highly reflective of the anxiety of the time, like, ‘Oh, my gosh, is there going to be nuclear warfare?’ Makeup mirrors a lot of what’s going on in the world,” says Long.
So where are we at now, nearly four years since COVID began? It seems we might be ready to welcome shadow back into our lives. A survey conducted by Merit showed that while shadow was the product consumers used least, it was actually the one they most yearned to see the brand create. The question was: What would it take to bring eyeshadow back to people’s daily routines? “There was a little trepidation in taking on a category that everyone wanted but no one was using,” says Morin.
The segment was certainly ripe for a rebrand. Twenty-shade palettes requiring multiple brushes to apply now felt overwhelming, not to mention completely at odds with the current effortless ideal. Consumers wanted simplicity and to appear as though they hadn’t tried too hard.
Known for its minimalist ethos, Merit sought to capture the mood with Solo Shadow, a cream-to-powder formula launched this fall in eight shades: four neutrals and four “statements.” The finger-friendly texture was specially devised to go on with zero fuss or fallout and stay put without settling into lines. Most importantly, its effect is casual enough to sport with a T-shirt and jeans.
This is the ideal soft grey for creating a smoky eye that’s sexy but not severe. We love how the matte finish gives it a cool ’90s feel.
That’s precisely the look that’s become French makeup artist Violette Serrat’s signature. (You might know her better as Violette_FR, her highly popular social-media handle.) Somehow, in her Paris-bred expert hands, even sparkly magenta lids manage to read as the height of insouciance.
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Serrat tends to favour applications comprising one or two colours maximum, usually blended sans brush either just along the lashes or from lash line to crease. She doesn’t worry about making it pristine from the outset and simply cleans up any mess afterwards with a cotton swab dipped in makeup remover. Easy-peasy.
“It’s a balance—you have to think in a 360-degree way and not just look at one zone,” she says of how to make vibrant shadow feel laid-back and not overdone. “So if you do a green smoky eye, for example, your hair needs to look clean but not overly styled. Maybe you skip foundation, or use very little, and you go neutral on the lips.” The outfit is also part of the equation. Serrat’s favourite ensemble to pair with a bold eye is a sweatshirt (usually borrowed from her husband), blue jeans and shoes that “are elegant but not high heels.”
Done the Violette way, twinkling purple feels just as right at a holiday party as it does on a regular Tuesday morning. Also, the liquid formula is a dream to apply; simply swipe it and go.
Interestingly, throughout her career, marketing experts have often warned the pro that there’s little demand for colourful shadows. “I’d be consulting for companies and people would tell me, for example, ‘Forget blue—it doesn’t sell,’ and I’d say: ‘But blue is fantastic! It’s just that a really good one hasn’t been made.’” She’s gone on to design a succession of bestselling brightly hued eye products for brands like Dior, Estée Lauder, her own eponymous range and, most recently, Guerlain, where she serves as creative director of makeup. Her newest collection for the beauty house includes an opulent holiday palette featuring flashes of emerald, gold and amethyst.
The glittery zebra-striped packaging alone is enough to make up covet this limited-edition palette, but what’s inside is even better.
“I’ve realized people actually do like colour; it’s just a matter of how it’s developed,” she says. “My biggest joy is creating strong colours but making them super chic, and so far, it’s worked really well.”
Merit experienced similar results. Not only did Solo Shadow prove to be a smashing success, rapidly selling out, but sales of the “statement” hues—a rich navy, a forest green, a soft mauve and a charcoal grey—far surpassed projections. “It’s really interesting because I think as much as we all love an everyday neutral, there’s almost an appetite for having a little fun with our makeup again,” says Morin.
If you think you suck at applying eyeshadow, you haven’t tried these sticks. With their buttery texture and easy-to-grip format, they make embellishing lids virtually foolproof.
Long isn’t surprised. During a time when we were all afraid of getting sick, it made sense for a fresh, healthy aesthetic—flushed cheeks, glowing skin—to be all the rage. She views the return of eyeshadow “as a kind of rebellion in response to the pandemic, when everything was so restricted.” Now, we’re ready to let loose, paint our lids with a quick, imperfect swipe of a finger and enjoy living again.
Because at the end of the day, opting for vivid eyeshadow shouldn’t be about subscribing to a trend, says Serrat. “You should go toward colour because you crave it, you have a need for it and it just makes you feel really good.”
Hermès recently entered the eye-makeup space with a collection of shadows, mascaras and application tools. Let’s have a moment of appreciation for this exquisite palette-cum-objet d’art.
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