Men, Women and Makeup: The Importance of Cate Blanchett's Naked Faced Magazine Cover

Cate Blanchett is on the cover of "Intelligent Life," The Economist's bi-monthly lifestyle and culture magazine.

Normally, this wouldn't get - or deserve - any more attention than any other lifestyle magazine cover with a beautiful and famous face on the front. After all, that's what magazine covers are for - to sell, in one way or another, the beautiful whatever that the cover portrays (famous person or not).

Why this cover is getting so much attention, however, is because Ms. Blanchett's face is naked. No makeup. No Photoshop. And she's still beautiful.

The move was so different, however, from what the rest of the magazine industry does, that it warranted a comment from the Editor, Tim de Lisle, who said:
She looks like what she is - a woman of 42, spending her days in an office, her evenings on stage and the rest of her time looking after three young children. We can't be too self-righteous about it, because, like anyone else who puts her on a cover, we are benefiting from her beauty and distinction. But the shot is at least trying to reflect real life. It's a curious sign of the times that this has become something to shout about.
Which leads us to Fabrizio Freda, the Chief Executive of Estée Lauder and a comment he made in an otherwise seriously great interview he did with the Financial Times.

In that interview, he was asked about the new Tom Ford line of makeup which includes a lipstick for $45. Frankly, when you're buying that level of quality with that level of branding investment and a known name like Mr. Ford's, a $45 pricepoint is neither surprising nor unexpected.

Why this deserves attention, however - and correlates with the Cate Blanchett photo shout-out - is because when Mr. Freda was describing the lipstick, he described it as being "aspirational." Technically, that makes this is a market entry issue. It translates to a woman's ability to purchase what is, ultimately, the lowest priced item in a high-priced line.

The underlying message, however, is that, every time she pulls that lipstick out of her purse and uses it, she'll feel that she's 'more' or 'better' than before - which will lead her to want to buy even more of Mr. Ford's product line.

But it's the use of the verb 'to aspire' that is at the heart of the problem - and leads us back to Mr. de Lisle's comment.

The reason that Ms. Blanchett's naked face is something to shout about is because the men who run the corporations that sell to women have spent eons of time and bazillions of dollars convincing women that what they are isn't enough. That they have to aspire to being more in their personal appearance.

That their naked face - no matter how beautiful - is remarkable because it is naked. Not because it is beautiful.

All of which leads us to the original Estée Lauder, herself. She founded her company with a face cream that she developed, marketed and sold. Then she built an empire. But what's most important here is the quote that is attributed to her:
There are no ugly women. Only lazy ones.
According to various versions of her story, she said that before she entered into the world of make-up - which means that the lazy women were the ones not taking care of their skin. Covering it with makeup wasn't an issue. Yet.

Maybe the guys - in and out of her company - should pay attention and aspire, themselves, to being more supportive of women defining their own aspirations and goals. Then, having beautiful, naked faces like Ms. Blanchett's on a magazine cover won't even raise an eyebrow.

On Risk, Innovation and Aspiration

Besides everything else I do, I write for Horticulture Week and Garden Retail - both UK specialty trade publications for their sector.

I love writing for these guys.  The editors, Kate Lowe and Matthew Appleby, respectively, are not only great but they're risk takers.  After all, they asked me to write for them and I'm far removed from their sector and their country, for that matter.  (The writers and staff are great, too!)

Yet the issues are the same - especially when it comes to innovation and aspiration and risk.  That's why the blog post I wrote for them today on the Garden Retail Awards I judged was particularly happy-making.

I thought I'd share, so here it is!

Garden Retail Awards - It Was a Good Year!

Each year, I wait with trepidation to find out if Matthew Appleby is going to invite me to be a judge for the Garden Retail Awards.

The reason for my trepidation is two-fold.  First, I really want to be asked.  It's a great opportunity for me to see what all of you are doing out there and, particularly, how you are defining everything from "innovation" to "quality" to "best of breed."  And when the applications are good, I get to simply beam for you guys for doing what you need to do to change your world.

The second reason isn't as happy-making.  That's because for the past couple of years I've been disappointed - particularly in the levels of innovation risk - that I've seen in the applications.  There wasn't a whole lot of big idea/big concept world changing going on.  At least not driving the industry forward from within.  Or at least not based on the applications I was reading.

Some of you, at this point, are going to be very angry with me.  You'll say that I'm an outsider and that I don't understand what it means or what it takes to succeed in your market.  You'll accuse me of being an American - and, even worse, from the Silicon Valley - which gives me unrealistic expectations anyway.

And you may be correct - because all of that is true.  At least the part right up to the unrealistic expectations.  Because what I know - and what I've been writing you guys about for years - is that you can do far more than you believe you can do.

As well, it's not that there isn't good, innovative work being done in the industry.  There is.  It's just that, for a few years there, the moves were all incremental.  Way incremental.  Baby steps.  Miniscule.  Teeny-weeny.

And that being said, for those who were taking those steps I know they didn't feel that way - which is why I give great credit to those who try and risk and aspire.

Now some of you will say that in these tight economic times - particularly when we were in the early stages of the downturn and no one knew what was going to happen next - it made perfect sense not to be too different.  To try too hard.  To extend too far.

And that's okay as far as it goes.  Except the risk you run in those cases is that someone out there is willing to take those risks and do the things to which everyone else is saying, "oh no - not now - maybe later."  Only by the time "later" comes along, those who didn't push and innovate and aspire are playing a game of catch-up - which is much harder to win.

That's why I was so happy and excited - application after application - to read about what many of you in the industry have done in this past year.   

Somewhere along the way, in the categories I was judging, you guys got past the fear and took some really creative, far-seeing steps - all of which have netted you excellent results.

I'm proud of you guys.  All of you.  Those who aspire and those who are still afraid - because simply by being in the business you're in, working within the regulatory and competitive confines within which you work, you're still brave.

But when you attend the awards dinner on the 31st October and, particularly, read up on what the winners did to deserve their award, think about what you're doing now and next and learn from this year's crop of winners.  Then, next year, show the industry what you've got.

And, if Matthew invites me again, I'll be there cheering you on.