Right now, in the white-knuckled weeks before the election—newly complicated by President Trump‘s coronavirus diagnosis and the ripple effects to come—the world seems to be silent-screaming the same four-letter word. (Vote, that is.) The message sparkled across Michelle Obama’s clavicles on the opening night of the Democratic National Convention back in August, when she wore a ByChari necklace that soon went viral. Rhinestone bobby pins and Brother Vellies socks splash the word from head to toe—a fashion statement turned democratic cri de coeur. High-profile designers have showed up for the Biden-Harris ticket, with bandanas by Joseph Altuzarra alongside Vera Wang sweatshirts. But this week’s addition to the pro-Joe landscape comes as a surprise, given the bare-faced septuagenarian it champions. The beauty merch has arrived.
BIDEN Beauty—a pop-up line pitched as “arguably the most important influencer brand launching this year,” in terms of the geopolitical balance at stake—began as an anonymous effort by a group of industry insiders. David Yi, of the beauty platform Very Good Light, since came forward as the creator of the brand in a TMZ story on Friday. The Biden/Harris team is in no way involved, though the campaign reportedly passed along its blessing. All proceeds go to the DNC and the presidential ticket, making its flash sales akin to any other fundraising drive—only here, there are gifts with purchase. In its four-week run, supporters can look forward to a BIDEN Bounce Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer ($32) and a We Glow High Kamala Highlighting Stick ($18). But first up is a pocket-size bauble: a dual-ended beauty sponge ($20.20) in a responsible shade of blue.
You’d be forgiven if you have no earthly idea what that is. Boyfriends’ wrong guesses about such squishy tools have made the internet rounds. In this age of hibernation and masks, even those who once regularly dappled on foundation might squint their eyes with a faint recollection. But the makeup-agnostic are not BIDEN Beauty’s target demographic. The rising class of voters—weaned on YouTube beauty tutorials and now modeling Euphoria-esque looks on TikTok—are the focus, as the branding makes instantly clear. “Statistics show that the Gen Z (born between 1996 and 2015) have the power to make or break this election, and this demographic of 24 million people has a strong connection with the beauty industry because of its ability to transform and inspire,” a BIDEN Beauty founder, coyly undercover, wrote by email earlier this week. “We know this generation didn’t show up in full back in 2018, and we think we know why. They don’t feel connected to politics. They didn’t see themselves within the candidates. They didn’t feel inspired!”
It all begs a question or two: Can merch really convert the masses, or does it preach to the choir? How much does a beauty-obsessed 25-year-old see themselves in a bare-faced grandpa? You can puzzle it for a minute, as the cloying aftertaste sets in—the game of anonymity, the Insta-genic design. But fundraising isn’t exactly something to find fault with, when putting soft power to patriotic use could potentially tip the scale. The BIDEN Beauty team is big on metaphorical reach when it comes to explaining their first drop. “Sponges are one of the most diverse and useful tools when it comes to beauty,” the founder wrote. “They’re inclusive no matter the texture of your skin, your skin tone, or if you love foundation or a simple moisturizer.” Its two-sided design speaks of bipartisan compromise and blended families, of an America where fault lines are smoothed over for a soft-focus effect. You don’t need to wear makeup to put the BIDEN Beat, as it’s called, to use. After this week’s debate, I imagined cutting one up and stuffing it deep into my ears. Dipped in water, it could seal the letters written to your congresspeople, or the absentee ballot you’ll mail a full four weeks in advance.
Of course, a beauty sponge also has subtext, given the president’s much-discussed facial tan lines. That sense of charade—the hair, the permanent Palm Beach glow—is spoofed on the current cover of Los Angeles Magazine, itself a twist on George Lois’s Nixon. One could say it’s a blessing to have Biden’s name slapped on beauty products he knows little about—the less artifice, the better. He seems like a guy who follows the science: a little cream to protect the skin barrier, a layer of sunscreen under the mask.
“We plan to launch new products all the way up to the election,” the BIDEN Beauty founder wrote, explaining that the brand wraps on Election Day. “It’s limited, just like our time getting to the polls. […] Know that when a product sells out, it sells out for good. So get it while it lasts, America!” That’s meant to sound like a spur to purchase, but you can’t help but ominously wonder what “it” might refer to. The right to a safe and legal abortion, to health care for people with pre-existing conditions, to environmental safeguards and civilized debates?
“Beauty has always been political,” the founder continued, offering up a snapshot of makeup history, from “pharaohs who used kohl eyeliner to signify they were gods” to Mayan rulers who underwent rudimentary plastic surgery to “mimic higher beings.” There’s more than cosmetic effect. The brand envisions the beauty industry’s push for inclusivity as a model for government to follow. “We want to finally see representatives who look like America,” the founder wrote, conjuring up congresspeople—like lipstick-wearing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez—who more easily resonate with a multicultural, YouTube-reared generation. “America is beautiful,” the founder added, echoing the slogan on the brand’s cornflower-blue tote bag ($15). “And Washington should reflect all of us.”
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