“It feels like Christmas morning.”
Gathered outside the Shrine Auditorium, waiting for the ushers to throw open the doors, there was, indeed, an excited energy to the crowd. The anticipation in the air was palpable — the kind of anticipation where you know you’re about to secure a lot of shit you really, really want.
Cosmetics retailer Sephora’s two-day beauty extravaganza, Sephoria, took place over the weekend at the Shrine. 75 brands participated in the massive festival, billed as the “Coachella of beauty.” The festival gave participants a chance to score new limited-edition products, meet their favorite makeup artists and influencers, get free full-face makeovers and load their camera rolls with enough content to last a month.
As the crowd swarmed into the hall, they were greeted by a line of tents, a shiny playground extending as far as the eye could see. Brands were grouped together in sections, loosely based on category: makeup, skincare or fragrance.
The pop-up exhibit aesthetic was in full force at Sephoria, heartily embraced by every brand in attendance. Crammed into close quarters, each booth jockeyed to outdo its neighbor and earn the free advertising that accompanies an appearance on your Instagram page. Neon signs, sparkly disco balls, flashing strobe lights — nothing was too garish or too gauche.
Some sections had the help of a schtick. In the Glam Game Room, brands such as Nudestixcks and Kaja filled claw machines with lipstick samples and heart-shaped sunglasses (but no worries if you failed to get anything, as representatives were quick to hand you a consolation prize anyway). In the Garden section, greenhouse-inspired beauty ruled. Farmacy filled its space with Claes Oldenburg-esque oversized cherries; Gucci made liberal use of pampas grass; Innisfree shrouded an entire wall in verdant vines. In the Home Spa, clean beauty brands such as Bite Beauty and Herbivore Botanicals cozied up with crystals and succulents, showing off their paraben-free, sulfate-free Sephora Green Leaf Stamp of Approval.
Other brands were merely separated into color-coded neighborhoods and left to fend for themselves. Some honorable mentions are Fenty Beauty’s lip gloss carousel, Tatcha’s miniature bamboo forest and Charlotte Tilbury’s Broadway marquee lights. And, of course, the surefire method for attracting a crowd, eye candy: Patrick Ta, Huda Beauty and Sol de Janeiro all hired shirtless studs to pose for pictures.
“This is literally like Disneyland,” I heard someone say as they walked past me, and the comparison is apt. Throughout the entire time I was there, I didn’t stop to sit down once, too worried that I’d miss something, some once-in-a-lifetime experience. I willingly lingered in long lines, positive that the two-minute encounter at the end would be worth the 20-minute wait.
For four hours, I lapped it all up. I snapped selfies. I eagerly surrendered to the capable hands of beautiful women who knew what they were doing when they brushed glitter onto my eyelids and sprayed oil in my hair. I let myself be swept along and convinced of the magical properties of CBD-infused lotion. I needed it; I needed everything, or at least, I needed a free sample of everything.
Only at the very end, with five minutes to spare, did I find a seat, satisfied that I’d wrung every last drop of — enjoyment? value? — from Sephoria. I was exhausted; my feet hurt from all the walking. Little girls streaked by, shrieking to the Ariana Grande blasting through the loudspeakers. Someone slipped out from behind a curtain, and I strained to catch a peek — just stacks and stacks of cardboard boxes.
So that was Sephoria, then, behind the glamorous fantasy: lots of boxes. Ultimately, it was a picture-perfect facade designed to sell you something — a vision of beauty, a vision of perfection, a vision of happiness once beauty and perfection had been attained, preferably through a $150 eye cream.
There was one more perk to be redeemed as the festival wound down. As festival-goers shuffled toward the exit, Sephora representatives doled out swag bags laden with goodies. General admission ticket holders received bags containing around $250 worth of products. VIP ticket holders walked out with a bag valued at $900. I took it and wondered when I was going to use all this.