Form over function? In the image-conscious world of K-beauty, the form is function. Skincare isn’t just a practical chore bookending the day but a marvellous show that the Koreans call ‘skintertainment’. As the name suggests, skintertainment denotes the idea that people should be entertained by their skincare, which has propelled Korean cosmetic brands to develop products that aren’t just good for your skin but easy on the eyes. Over the years, K-beauty has matured and its packaging aesthetic has broadened, ranging from the syrupy sweet to the impossibly chic. We take a look at how K-beauty’s design has evolved as it’s market positioning has transitioned from cheap and cheerful niche-pleaser to industry game-changer.
The nascent era of K-beauty is defined by a suitably naive, child-like packaging with emphasis on kawaii cuteness. Bestselling items of the period include Tony Moly Banana Mask Sleeping Packs and Etude House Baking Powder cleansers that wouldn’t look out of place in a manga cartoon. Compared to no-frills Western makeup products at a similar price point, Korean cosmetics delivered eye-catching options and could offer a few ‘frills’ without breaking the bank.
As K-beauty made a play for higher price points, its respective brands adopted a more professional aesthetic strongly informed by major French names like Lancome and Dior. The brand that did this most successfully is undoubtedly Laneige with its unapologetically and unironically French name. This market segment was defined by the sleek, sophisticated aesthetic for which French brands are renowned and more subdued hues in dusky rose, dove grey and hints of silver.
It’s no secret that Korean dramas and K-pop have long dominated the Asian market. Asian customers with deep pockets have increasingly sought products with an authentically Korean flair, so higher-end Korean brands such as Sulwhasoo and Hanyul have quickly harnessed traditional Korean arts, paying homage to the earthy tones characteristic of Korean paintings and even using Korean wrapping methods such as pojagi. While you could put it down to branding, this culturally-inspired packaging also perfectly aligns with the local Korean ingredients used in such products.
While a lot of customers are feeling minimalist fatigue, current Korean cosmetic design offers a wonderful alternative, combining simple lines and artistic sensibilities. One of the best examples of this is Tamburins, a skincare brand dreamed up by the wonderkids behind Gentle Monster, a high-end Korean sunglasses designer. Extrapolating some of the modern design tropes of Gentle Monster and the smooth elegance of traditional Korean ceramics, Tamburins is a veritable cocktail of luxe and urban. Its signature hand cream features a delightful gold chain that’s both practical and aesthetically pleasing.
This evolution in packaging only spans a decade and is testament to the innovative, forward-thinking mindset of the Korean beauty industry. Outside skincare, makeup is another beast altogether, with new designs and textures. Korea’s wildly popular Kaja Heart Stamp Blusher is a delightful case of a product design that amplifies both convenience and cuteness, getting to the heart of what makes K-beauty so appealing – why settle for less when you can have so much more?