Beauty / Commentary / Pop Culture / Shopping

A Makeup Museum is Opening in NYC: Is it Culture or Commerce?

If you follow the world of beauty, you might have noticed advance buzz about a museum dedicated to all things beauty.

Opening this spring, The Makeup Museum is located at 94 Gansevoort Street and the first exhibition is titled “Pink Jungle: 1950s Makeup in America,” I, for one, can’t wait to check it out. After all, if there can be a Museum of Sex and a Museum of Ice Cream, why has it taken so long to create a museum that celebrates the history of what according to Business Insider has become a $532 billion industry?

And therein lies the (marketing) rub.

Makeup is a huge industry, and if Mad Men was anything to go by, mainstream America had a blast going beyond the glossy exterior and delving deeper into the marketing of beauty. More than that, a segment of beauty addicts have become fascinated with the history of makeup as well. And as someone who consults, lectures on and writes about beauty history, I see firsthand the one-on-one fascination and understanding by women of all ages and across all cultural divides about why makeup is so important culturally and emotionally.

Beauty history is hot right now. This spring we’ll also see Netflix’s Self Made (starring Octavia Spencer and Tiffany Haddish, no less!) inspired by one of my idols, Madam C.J. Walker. Walker, born Sarah Breedlove was considered the wealthiest female entrepreneur who also happened to be African American and made her fortune by creating hair care treatments specifically geared for African American hair. But back to the museum; can they really make money on beauty exhibits? Probably not. Which is why key partnerships are crucial.

An exclusive partnership with Nordstrom was just announced by the Makeup Museum. According to Chain Store Age, “the gift shop, signed as “Gift Shop by Nordstrom,” will feature goods inspired by iconic looks and products of the 1950s. The assortment will include products to create the perfect cat eye, red carpet essentials, iconic fragrances and a curation of red lipsticks alongside tote bags, compact mirrors, and other items with exclusive Makeup Museum designs.” Which sounds a lot like the steady stream of items hawked by beauty influencers on Youtube.

The heavy merchandising aspects are to be expected, since the museum co-founder, Doreen Bloch is also the CEO & Founder of Poshly, a beauty data and analytics company. Combining a marketable retail experience with the visuals makes smart business sense. A quick glance at the merch sold online includes impressive beautifully designed graphic printed makeup accessories that are just slightly expensive. A notable souvenir for any makeup lover to commemorate their visit to NYC.

As reported by Bloch said about the Nordstrom partnership “Iconic retailers were an important part of the retail experience for the 1950s beauty consumer, and so much more than just a place to shop.” It will be interesting to see whether the location is more museum, or more hybrid selling experience with cultural aspects.

When my first book “Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ’40s-’60s” came out back in 2006, the creative geniuses at Henri Bendel created an immersive mid-century experience ranging from the 5th Avenue windows done up Hello Gorgeous! style, to the first floor cosmetics counters set up as different rooms in a classic mid-century home. What that helped do was visually transform the ideals of makeup as simply something you wore to attract a man or feel pretty, to the salon culture of the 1950s. The display also allowed people unfamiliar with the history of makeup to better understand the evolution of  women’s spending power and how it applies to the cosmetics industry in general.

So, is the new museum more about celebrating makeup and women’s relationship with products and their spending power? Or is it more about getting people to spend money on products celebrating makeup and allowing women to exhibit their spending power? We’ll know soon enough.


Top photo credit: Makeup Museum