Beauty in the ’80s was about creating your own unique look, says Inès de la Fressange, the French model and designer whose own rakishly cool short hair, arched brows and insouciant air inspired Karl Lagerfeld to make her his muse at Chanel in 1983. While “many different styles were possible,” she says, the point was to “avoid the normcore.”
Beauty products of the day sculpted and defined the features without being shy about it. Today, that concept has returned: With our cultural obsession for contouring and strobing, many popular products are anything but subtle. It’s a time that recalls the beauty aesthetic of the early ’80s, when cosmetics companies pioneered many of the classic skin-care products that are used today. In honor of T’s Culture issue — which celebrates New York culture from 1981 through 1983 — we found five beauty products launched in the early ’80s that are still alive and well.
The Multitasking Matte Makeup
Lancôme’s Dual Finish Foundation ($40), released in 1981, featured a morphing texture that was ahead of its time: The compact could be applied wet, like a liquid base, or dry like a matte powder — a feat that was “huge,” says the makeup artist Sandy Linter, who frequently worked with models Christie Brinkley and Patti Hansen in the ’80s. The hybrid formula “covered skin but in the most natural way,” adds the makeup artist Mary Greenwell, who uses the same application technique then as she does now: blending it in with fingers for a result that “looks like real skin.”
The Vibrant Fuschia Lipstick
“Yves Saint Laurent lip shades in purples and fuchsias were all the rage,” says Linter of the early ’80s. Rouge Pur Couture Lipstick in No. 19 ($37), a vivid magenta shade that debuted in 1979, really took off in the early ’80s, which was a pivotal moment for makeup, says Greenwell: “It was a transition time from ’70s makeup, after David Bowie, when colors were still full-on but you wanted to keep the natural beauty of the face.” No. 19, with its almost balmlike texture, melts into skin and accentuates the fullness of the lips without overpowering them — which explains its enduring appeal.
The Bright White Nail Polish
Essie’s Blanc ($9), an opaque white nail polish, graced the French manicured tips of everyone in the day, says the manicurist Roseann Singleton, who now applies it under neon-bright colors to make them pop. The polish was part of the original 12 colors that launched the Essie brand in 1981 — and proved founder Essie Weingarten’s uncanny “ability to identify minuscule variations of pink, buff, bare, beige,” says Linda Wells, the chief creative officer of Revlon and founding editor of Allure.
The Potent, High-Tech Skin Creams
“In the early ’80s, beauty and health were increasingly linked,” says Wells and skin-care companies invested heavily in scientific formulas. In 1982, Estée Lauder launched Night Repair Complex — now Advanced Night Repair Complex ($68) — one of the first anti-aging serums, which is still beloved by Elizabeth Hurley, The Estée Lauder Companies’ Breast Cancer Ambassador, who’s worn it religiously for the last 23 years and considers it a “miracle.” And in 1980, Sisley-Paris debuted its Ecological Compound ($250), a still popular plant-based moisturizing emulsion that protects skin from pollution and pairs a high price tag with basic packaging for “a kind of a reverse chic,” says Wells.
The Heady Floral Fragrance
In 1984, Chanel released Coco ($130), a floral, spice-forward fragrance that has a “unique warmth, sensuality and richness,” says Yann Vasnier, a senior perfumer at the Swiss fragrance company Givaudan Fragrances. Wells considers it the “younger Chanel No. 5” and it became so widely liked in the ’80s that Vasnier remembers how women “would always leave you with some on your cheeks after kisses hello and goodbye.” De la Fressange, who modeled in the campaign for Coco, says the fragrance still reminds her of the decade’s “extravagance” and “creativity.”