The Art of MAKE UP FOR EVER | Marie-Christine Nkodo

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Founded in 1984 in Paris, MAKE UP FOR EVER has been part of the world leader luxury group LVMH since 1999. LVMH model is based on a long-term vision enhancing heritage and, with the will to offer excellence, stimulate collaborators creativity and cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit.

MiND talked to Marie-Christine Nkodo about her experience as Head of International Store Design at MAKE UP FOR EVER in Paris.

Could you tell us about your background and what encouraged you to pursue architecture?

I always wanted to be an architect. When I was a very little girl, I was fascinated by furniture shops and my bookcase was a mix of decoration catalogues and children books. My mother was fed up of explaining to the vendors who called to know the project of Marie Christine Nkodo, that she was just 7 years old and to call her (me) in a few years! And at 8, after convening my parents to tell them I would be an architect, I contacted my future Architecture School to obtain the registration file which was proudly laid on my childhood desk for years!

"Merging talent, promoting artistry and sharing knowledge are at the heart of the brand"

MAKE UP FOR EVER Kuwait flagship store.

What was the first project you worked on as an Architect?

One of my first projects was the refurbishment of a slum in Venezuela during my academic exchange year. During architecture studies, you learn how to draw, how to be creative, how to present and communicate your project but not how to create a link with your client. No matter if you draw the best project of the world, if you’re not able to create a connection with your interlocutors, to understand and translate their needs, you could never bring an adapted solution.

For this project, I had in front of me a big family father who built his house almost entirely by himself. He received a city subvention to refurbish his housing with the Urbanism Institute of Caracas. At the beginning, he didn’t understand what a young European woman of 22 years could bring him! Without creating a good dialogue with the people of the slum, his family and him, the project wouldn’t have taken shape.

"Thanks to my first project, I learned to approach my works with humility, empathy and a sense of resourcefulness"

Since you’re working as an architect in the cosmetic industry, what is your opinion of the cosmetic industry?

To me, this industry is a reflection of our society. At the end of the 2000s, the message was to sublimate. Cosmetics were a way to reach an ideal beauty based on standards. Then, mentality and trends evolved, and cosmetic brands arrived with a different proposal – to reach one’s own ideal, the best version of oneself. Now, a new inclination is emerging – the acceptance of imperfections. No need to be a cosmetic expert or to wear the latest trends, cosmetics brands help people to accept them as they are.

"Beauty brands don't carry change or transformation messages anymore but ones of freedom. They are more sensitive to their social and ecological impact"

MAKE UP FOR EVER Kuwait flagship store.

How would you describe MAKE UP FOR EVER’s overall aesthetic?

Former fine-arts student, Founder and Artistic Director of MAKE UP FOR EVER -Dany Sanz- started to paint theater sets and, eventually, worked her way to the human body. By using her paintbrushes and academic techniques in a very different way, Dany Sanz discovered an entire range of new emotions and characters. Since then, “the stage” has never ceased to influence MAKE UP FOR EVER’s vision of makeup.

MAKE UP FOR EVER is the professional makeup brand who provides performers with the makeup and tools needed to transform for the stage. Since our beginning in 1984, we have created high quality products for professional makeup artists and makeup fans all around the world.  All our stores offer a backstage pass into the world where professional makeup artists, creative artists and every day women discover and join in our passion.

"We believe that “Life is a Stage” and people are the artists of their own lives"

Marie-Christine Nkodo.

Where do you and your team draw inspiration from?

With the internet, we can draw inspirations from wherever, whenever. What is very important in our work is to create emotions. We need to dedicate time to observe the reality, people’s behaviors and reactions, what they like, search or wait for…

That’s why with the team we introduced half a day a week of “free” moment. This time is dedicated to visit, to share feelings or to think about problems that we want to address. So, we go to museums for exhibitions, attend fairs, eat in new food courts, or brainstorm with other brand’s departments…

"The store is no longer a place to buy products, it is the product itself"

What are the biggest visual challenges faced by cosmetic stores today?

Angela Ahrendts, ex Head of Apple Retail, described Apple Retail not as a channel in the market, but as “Apple’s biggest product.” Instantly, this perspective raises sales space to a higher level, requiring the same kind of care and intent as in the design and manufacture, for example, of an iPhone.

The role of a store, as a place to store and distribute products is long gone, since it can be done faster and cheaper online. A store today must be a space of engaging experiences, ideas and interactions, with a great deal of humanity.  The store should be thought of as a “place of destination” to discover the brand and build a cultural relationship; to play on aesthetics, with highly “instagrammable” shops, and to meet customers. In a very competitive environment, I identified as challenges the fact of offering personalized experiences, the reduction of pain points such as queuing or beauty advisors waiting…, the eco conception in layout stores and to express transparency on brand values.

In your opinion, how important is digital innovation for store design? Can you give an example of how MAKE UP FOR EVER is incorporating it in stores?

Digital and customer experience are intrinsically connected. Store visits start with smartphones, so retail should offer an omnichannel experience, and create a connection between the physical and the digital.

Three years ago, I visited a “connected” restaurant. To look at the menu and order, you should download the restaurant app. They didn’t have a menu card! After a long and painful talk, the head waiter came back to me with a hand written menu! When orders arrived on a rolling tray, they were not the right ones and I waited for ten minutes before being able to inform someone of it. It was a long and irritating lunch. By betting all the experience on “digital innovations” and forgetting the human part, they missed the experience.

"Going through the doors of the store is like walking on its website".

MAKE UP FOR EVER Kuwait flagship store.

When digital is a support for a qualified staff and strengthens the seamless experience, it’s a good point. We have to remember that if people make the effort to come into our stores, they need to meet someone and want to live a special experience which goes beyond the web offer, where you can already find tutorials, real augmented services and customer reviews.

MAKE UP FOR EVER shares its passion through education. As mastery unleashes creativity, the brand teaches all makeup techniques to free one’s personality.

When you go into a store, you may not find a virtual mirror but a professional make-up artist who will have received specific training to answer all your needs and expectations, taking into account your make-up knowledge and the time you want to dedicate to it. They could, of course, use digital tools as a skin hydration measurer to support his speech; but in no case, these tools can replace the make-up artist expertise.

By: Lisa Zanon & Akanksha Salunke