Fashion finishes first: winning decorations

17 July 2018



Decorative finishes are more than the final touch for packaging design, at once offering consumers more while defining a product’s market position and central demographic. Ceri Jones finds out how decorative finishes are helping brands gain prominence among competition.


The cosmetics and toiletries industries are growing steadily, even in developed markets. Currently, Asia-Pacific is at the fore in terms of volume, followed by the US, Western Europe and Eastern Europe. Whether standard or luxury, it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain visible in heavily saturated markets, which creates pressure for brands to differentiate and give ‘extra’.

Naturally, the choice of materials is at the core of design. Where metals have always presented a superior appeal over plastics, they also come with higher prices, locking them into the luxury ambit. It is unsurprising that rigid plastics are the most widely used material in the sector, making up almost 42% of cosmetics packaging. As the majority of global consumers purchase cosmetics from high street supermarkets and chemists, it is clear that value is of the utmost importance.

This is where finishing and decoration are important. GlobalData research reveals that 33% of people are drawn to transparent and clear packaging, with a further 33% finding surface textures exciting. Rather than try to compete with luxury materials, high street brands can easily imitate their styles, and compete through decoration and the agility to respond quickly to changing fashion trends. But how does a brand premiumise and project above the cluttered shelves?

“Growth will primarily be driven by the image-conscious trend, especially among the working population,” says GlobalData. “With so many brands, from Dior to Lush, pushing for minimalism, packaging has got to have luxury, style and elegance.”

Fashion show

With a glut of fashion-hungry consumers and a highly competitive industry, is it the public themselves or brands leading the way? “According to the projects, it could be both,” says Olivier de Lataulade, head of packaging, finishing and printing expertise at L’Oréal. “On one hand, we can define specific decoration to follow the colour of the year – purple is the colour of 2018 – and on the other hand, we could drive the innovation when we define specific perfume or limited edition make-up for designer brands, such as Armani or Yves Saint Laurent, in line with the last showcase of the designer.”

Pantone Colour of the Year is the perfect example of the push and pull nature of design. While the company designates a colour of the year – apparently chosen according to the past 12 month’s events and anticipation for the year ahead – it is ultimately arbitrary. However, not incorporating this colour in your latest packaging lines would suggest being out of touch.

Last September, L’Oréal launched one of the most exciting cosmetics collaborations to date, working with Olivier Rousteing, creative director at Balmain, to develop L’Oréal Paris X Balmain Color Riche – a limited edition collection of lipsticks in 12 bold shades.

Our products’ immediate attractiveness is due to a combination of aesthetics and perceived value; this drives our choice for the design and development of our packaging.
 – Olivier de Lataulade, L’Oréal

While poles apart in terms of accessibility, De Lataulade asserts that affordability is key to L’Oréal’s loyal customers, “Our products’ immediate attractiveness is due to a combination of aesthetics and perceived value; in addition to the cost, this drives our choice for the design and development of our packaging.” Conversely, Rousteing tackles this from a realm of excess, saying to Vogue last August, “Now we realise that we need a moment of flamboyance and maximalism, and to take risks. If Balmain is going to make lipstick, we have to make it the most exquisite possible.”

It takes exceptional decorative finishing techniques to marry these ideals and be able to sell high-end design at high street prices. For this project, finishing was everything. It was essential for the makeup to be instantly recognisable as Balmain, which saunters between highly decorative baroque and elegant art deco, to convince consumers to splash out on the more radical colours and feel like they were getting a genuine piece of fashion.

The L’Oréal X Balmain Color Riche lipsticks were presented in art deco-style tubes with marble effect to create an opulent stone aesthetic using the more economical rigid plastic.

“It was a big challenge for us to match the marketing brief on a plastic part,” De Lataulade explains. “After several trials, we achieved this amazing aesthetical result using, for the first time, a specific plastic master batch.” Demonstrating the power of decoration and embellishment, the Balmain range was offered complete with kitsch-come-cool necklaces to hold the lipstick on the chest, keeping it handy, but mainly showing off that you’d managed to bag a piece of haute couture.

Give me a design

In March this year, packaging solutions firm API Group commissioned an independent survey of decision-makers in the packaging industry. David Peters, group creative development manager at API – which has worked with L’Oréal on packaging projects – says, “Of those surveyed, 82% believed that packaging that reflects current trends can have a positive effect on consumer buying behaviour. So it is little wonder we are seeing brands, particularly in the cosmetics sector, emulating the latest cultural and fashion trends in their packaging decorations.

“Fashion trends are the main influence on print and decoration choice,” he continues. “API focuses on the four strongest trend drivers each year that will appeal to a wide audience within the luxury product sectors. For example, Neon Storm is expressive, Ethereal is feminine, Primary Matrix is science and Diamond Luxe is beauty. Our survey also revealed what people believed to be the essential elements and finishes when creating packaging that leaps from the shelves. More than a third believed that embellishments were key, and 27% believed that tactile elements, such as embossing effects, were essential in impacting consumer behaviour.”

Agility is essential in order to respond to shifting trends and still stay price competitive – a serious challenge, even for major cosmetics companies. Looking beyond the heady world of design, new technologies are also casting their influence on what is possible in decorative printing. However, is the emergence of digital printing simply a nice bonus, or can it really extend printing capabilities for the cosmetics sector?

“The continued advancement of digital-print technology means it’s a good option to consider alongside traditional methods. Digital print can be a more cost-effective alternative when quantities are small and designs change so often,” says Peters.

De Lataulade agrees, confirming that L’Oréal already has a firm foothold on the digital printing path. “Digital printing is a new trend in the cosmetics industry that we use for Elsève labels at L’Oréal, which are part of the most sophisticated labels on the market. It is a lever of efficacy and agility, and it reduces the time needed to market. For the decoration, we can also use it for limited editions.”

Luxury effects

“Metallic effect is a huge trend in some countries, mostly for luxury brands and make-up,” says De Lataulade. “We can do creative effects on all the materials we use for our packaging: cardboard, plastics, metal, labels and tube, thanks to more than 20 different printing or finishing techniques.”

According to Peters, this degree of diversity and on-shelf drama has many advantages, “Soft metallic and reflective materials work well for enhancing products and ensuring consumer appeal with finishing touches and embellishments able to ensure maximum decorative effect.”

“For cosmetic products, metallic finishes and effects suggest luxury, quality product performance and beauty,” says Peters. “API receives two types of brief requests from customers: one where impact, shine and drama are required on-shelf, and one which looks to create subtle and more sophisticated effects. This can be achieved through a variety of decoration and applications.”

As De Lataulade mentioned earlier, this style of decoration has been an enduring element of L’Oréal’s Elsève line over recent years, while still managing to stay fresh with each additional variety. The selfadhesive, printed-film labels of the Elsève range have holographic, pearlescent or metallic decorations, depending on the application of the specific product.

But even in this sector, where gold and silver embellishments are now commonplace, new decorative effects are emerging. Peters explains how API used its expertise to create packaging for Lancôme’s skincare products, saying, “The latest lens technology was utilised to craft a tear drop into the packaging, and, using our specialist lamination process, we created a premium packaging finish – the first of its kind within this particular sector – that has been positively received by customers.

“A new demand for specific finishes, such as diamond-shine, glitter, lens and pearlescence, are becoming more noticeable in the market,” Peters continues. “In the past year, there has also been a growing demand for additional metal finishes, including copper, rose-gold and zinc, which is a trend that we expect to see continue in to 2019.”

However, there is reason for caution – Peters reminds us that trends should be treated as a guide and that not all trends are suited to all categories.“It is about what you do with the trends, understanding the brand and what made it successful.” Lataulade agrees, pointing out that not everyone is drawn to glitz and glamour. As a reactionary trend, ‘naturality’ is becoming important for on-the-pulse brands. He concludes, “Customisation, personalisation, agility, uniqueness and interactive decoration are our future challenges.”

The marble-effect packaging of the L’Oréal X Balmain lipsticks give them a premium, haute couture feel.
Staying fresh but maintaining brand consistency is something L’Oréal’s Elsève range has excelled in.
Pearlescent, metalic and holographic designs are all on-trend in 2018 – and purple is the Panatone colour of the year.


Privacy Policy
We have updated our privacy policy. In the latest update it explains what cookies are and how we use them on our site. To learn more about cookies and their benefits, please view our privacy policy. Please be aware that parts of this site will not function correctly if you disable cookies. By continuing to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy unless you have disabled them.