Mascara guru brushes off pretenders

LASH OUT: Mascara guru Jean-Louis Gueret says mascara is all about the brush.
LASH OUT: Mascara guru Jean-Louis Gueret says mascara is all about the brush.

How we choose mascara, apply mascara, even they way we use mascara to achieve a certain look has been shaped over the past 35 years by one man.

But Jean-Louis Gueret is not a technician nor a scientist but a marketer: he knows what we want before we do and has the resources at his disposal at L'Oreal HQ to provide it.

Gueret was responsible for Lancome's first waterproof mascara in 1976 and in 2004 he launched the Hypnose line, which remains the biggest selling mascara ever. They call him ''Mr Mascara'' and he's hailed in the industry as a visionary. Gueret, however, says it's it all down to the brush.

''Instead of starting with the formula, I tailored the brush to the formula; the competition did it the other way around,'' he says from Paris.

''I told the labs they were free of the formulation, free of the constraints. It was the brush that would make the performance.''

Before 1985 mascara brushes had been static, with rigid stems (''it was a mess'' to apply, says Gueret) but making a dynamic or ''smart'' brush allowed the effects we now take for granted to be effortlessly achieved - volumising, curling, defining, lengthening.

''It's all the same formula - 10 or 15 products with the same formula and different brushes. The effects are made to measure with the brush.''

But, cautions Gueret, in 2012 we are not to talk about effects such as ''volumising'' any longer. The marketspeak is about the overall look. Mascaras are sold for their ''intensity'', their ''blackness,'' their ''extremity''.

''We have been talking about brushes and their effects for 25 years and today we can go much further,'' Gueret says.

''When you look at a brush, a brush is a brush. No woman pays attention to it - she pays attention to the overall look. Women want a way of expressing their personality, an ambience, an atmosphere.''

Hence Hypnose Doll Eyes, Lancome's 2011 success story (the latest version, Doll Eye Extension, was launched this month).

''It opens the eyes like you are surprised, like you're hypnotised,'' says Gueret.

''Dolls eyes are those you make at a friend. All your lashes are not straight but in a curl and spread in such a way that it's a new look, a new effect. Thanks to the brush. It's a new way of playing with formula.''

Gueret, who joined L'Oreal in 1971 as a trainee product manager, says he invented the baby-doll concept years ago, experimenting with his own eyes.

''It's a very, very, slow process. You can't create on demand. You've got to build on your knowledge,'' he says. ''I see something and 10 months or three years later I see something else.'' His inspiration is not magazines nor models (''none of that'') but, like a true marketer, other players in the market place.

''You've got to look at the competition and see if they're improving. It's impossible to invent if you're a scientist. I have a marketing mind.''

Which works. Gueret made Lancome the world's No. 1 mascara brand when the market was a hundredth of the size it is today. And there it remains. Hypnose is the No. 1 mascara franchise in the world. But the market is never static.

Says Gueret: ''The trend for a woman is rapidity and easy access. A woman shouldn't be driven any more by the tool. She should drive the tool. Remember, mascara is the look. It's the centre of everything.''

- Sydney Morning Herald

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