Crazy for Cosmetics
Both male and female visitors to Moscow are often most struck by one thing – the women. Cliched it may be, but women want to look like them and men can’t stop looking at them. Almost without exception, Moscow women are immaculate — hair styled, make-up flawless, nails preened. No matter what the occasion, it is worth getting dressed up for. How many Russian women have you seen out of their high heels? This has long been acknowledged; as early as 1976 The Beatles were singing the praises of Russian women “Moscow girls make me sing and shout…” This ‘lust for beauty,’ as business magazine Expert dubbed it, brings with it a booming Cosmetics industry. At the moment, Cosmetics is the second fastest developing retail sector, with growth of about 40% per year and industry analysts forecast that it could triple to $18 billion by 2010.
Why the sudden explosion of the cosmetics industry? As with many things, Russia’s long and complicated history explains a lot. Not even quite a generation ago, the plethora of products available in beauty stores all over Russia today, was unimaginable. French perfumes and toiletries were something that most women could only dream of. There were of course Soviet products and brands, but perfume was produced in the same way as steel – according to a centralised plan.
The Soviet mantra – ‘Sovetskoe znachet otlichnoe’ (‘Soviet means excellent’) was applied to the beauty industry as well and even beauty products were given revolutionary names. For example, before the revolution there had been a French perfume factory, ‘Brokar’ whose the most popular perfume was ‘The Empresses’ Favourite Bouquet.’ This imperial name however was certainly not in keeping with the rise of the proletariat and the revolutionary rhetoric of the time, and ‘The Empresses’ Favourite Bouquet’ was renamed ‘Red Moscow’!
Talking to friends, they recall Soviet cosmetics with an ironic smile, “It’s not that there weren’t any” my friend Anya explains, “It’s that there wasn’t any choice. We all ended up looking and smelling exactly the same.” The Russian women’s yearning for beauty wasn’t crushed however. Whatever they couldn’t find, they often found ways of recreating. If there was no rouge to be found in the shops for example, many women improvised and coloured their cheeks with beets “An effective alternative” Anya recalls, “But a nightmare to get off!”
After the collapse of the USSR, the cosmetics industry exploded. Privatisation brought with it choice and variety and Russian women could hardly wait to get their hands on everything that had been unavailable to them. Most women who are old enough remember the opening of the first real cosmetics shop ‘Golden Rose’ in Moscow in 1989. There were queues for weeks and such was the novelty that many women proudly displayed their coveted purchases in a prominent place in their flat.
The early years of perestroika brought with it a massive influx of foreign brands. There was a huge demand for brands such as Chanel, Lancome, Christian Dior and Nina Ricci. The luxury producers however had no outlets that matched the quality of their products. Metro kiosks and open-air markets were hardly the outlets that Coco Chanel would have imagined her products being sold out of! Distributors of luxury western cosmetics began to open their own specialized stores such as L’Etoile and Arbat Prestige where these products were far more fittingly displayed. This wasn’t the only thing that had to change — western producers demanded western service. This however according to one report, proved much harder to change. Convincing shop assistants who were born and raised in the USSR that the customer really was the most important thing proved harder than most management had anticipated!
The Russian brands initially found it difficult to compete, not only were they unused to the intense competition, but in the early years, the demand was for the luxury foreign products. The old Soviet cosmetics giant ‘Kalina,’ struggled through the first few years. However, the consumers’ love affair with elite imported brands did begin to wane. Towards the end of the 1990’s, the demand was not only for quality, but for value as well. This was of course accentuated by the 1998 crash. The initial frivolity with which people spent their money on cosmetics diminished and the cosmetics industry experienced a new type of more ‘consumer aware’ customer. It was at this point that the Russian brands began to make a come back. Kalina sought new plans to attract the now streetwise Russian market and set up modern European style cosmetic stores where everything is beautifully presented with professional sales girls, but offering a variety of products to suit a wide range of customers. The historical roots however have not been abandoned. Red Moscow is still sold and a survey by Gallup media includes it in the top ten most popular ladies perfumes.
What is the situation in Russia now? The Russian passion for beauty is still very much a part of Russian life. This is particularly evident in the different direction that the Russian beauty industry is taking in comparison to that of the industry in Europe and the USA. In the West, there is an emphasis on natural beauty. Beauty from within. In Russia, however, beauty is created and enhanced. Many Russian women don’t embrace American style feminism; they want to be feminine. As one industry commentator explained many “seek miracles from cosmetics”. A survey by Ernst & Young shows that in Russia, 1.3% of GDP is spent on cosmetics, compared to 0.5% in Western Europe.
A recent phenomenon has been the rise in popularity of the salon. Many people now treat a trip to the salon as not only a practical purpose as they did in Soviet times, but also a leisure activity. Groups of friends go to a salon together and spend several hours having various treatments whilst caching up on all of the gossip. Salon treatments in general have also become much more popular. Goldwell Professional Haircare has been supplying professional salons with high quality haircare products in Russia for four years. Marketing Director Alla Soboleva explained that in that time there has been a surge in the demand for professional salon products. People now expect professional quality for the high prices they pay and according to Alla, the demand is still largely for imported products.
For the foreigner in Moscow, the salon can be a daunting experience. Even the most comprehensive dictionaries do not provide a good translation for ‘Balancing Facial Cleanser’ or ‘Skin soothing after shave balm.’ It is fairly nerve-racking booking in for a treatment, praying that you have chosen the right option and haven’t confused ‘waxing’ with ‘colonic irrigation’. (For future reference, ‘epilatsia’ is the Russian translation for waxing!)
One way to avoid this dilemma for the non-Russian speaker is to head to the Expat salon on Skatertny Pereulok which provides a complete service for anyone at sea in the world of Russian salons. There is a strong emphasis placed on client comfort and as Flora Iton, who helped to set up the salon explained; “We take the extra step to make our customers feel more comfortable.” Prices here are slightly higher than many Moscow salons, but for the service rendered, they are certainly still competitive.
There are of course many alternatives and most areas of Moscow offer a range of salons if you do a bit of research. Almost all salons that I have visited have offered good service, and prices seem to be fairly similar across Moscow. ‘Estetika’ at Frunzenskaya is a very professional salon and has competitive prices. They also often provide chocolates whilst you wait, which certainly won my loyalty! Another option that comes on good recommendation of a very glamorous haircut is the ‘Salon Parikmakherskukh Uslug’ (Salon of Haircutting Services). This is very competitively priced and despite its name, offers most other beauty services as well, such as massages, manicures and cosmetology treatments. These however are merely a few drops of water in a very large ocean. To attempt to limit the Moscow salons to a few would be absurd as the sheer number would make such a survey a subject of many years’ work and a frequently changing hairstyle!
The cosmetics industry in Russia is an enormous sector and as it caters for such a fastidious audience, there is nothing that you can’t find if you are looking in the right place. Appearance is a high priority of the glamorous Russian women and Moscow girls continue to make people ‘Sing and shout.’ This has created a booming cosmetics and beauty industry. Salons line every area of Moscow, ‘beauty super stores’ dominate many central streets and everywhere you go, you see people clutching ‘Arbat Prestige’ carrier bags. The development of this industry can even be seen as a microcosm of the progression of the Russian economy. Who says that facts and figures need to be the indicators of a country’s macro, and micro-economics? Surely it is much more pleasant to study an economy in terms of after-shave and lipstick!
The Expat Salon – 23 Skaterny Pereulok, Tel.: 291 64 67
Estetika – 12, 2nd Frunzenskaya Ul., Tel.: 257 26 46
Salon Parikmakherskukh Uslug – 6 Ul. Bochkova, Tel.: 686 96 81
Goldwell Professional Haircare – Office 602, 34/1 Noviy Arbat, Tel.: 252 15 35
A few Vocab hints!
After Shave – Sprey posle britya
Body Cream – Krem dlya tela
Eye Lash Curler – Zazhim dlya zavivki resnits
Eye Pencil – Karandash dlya glaz
Shaving foam – Penka dlya britya
Mascara – Tush dlya resnits
Razor with extra blades – Britba s dopolnitelnimi lezbiyami
Sponges puffs and brushes – Gubki, nukhovki i kisti dlya makiyazha