Julia Coquard on Creativity and Authenticity in the Beauty Business

by Diana Drake

Knowledge@Wharton High School’s Emmie Stratakis sat down recently with Penn junior Julia Coquard to discuss her teen years as a well-known beauty blogger and makeup artist in Sweden through her blog Makeup Is Art, which she ran from 2010 to 2016. After getting her makeup done (check it out!), Emmie explores the success of Julia’s YouTube blog (it all started with a facemask reveal) and why she believes that beauty bloggers shouldn’t be afraid to “show and share their flaws.” 

Knowledge@Wharton High School: Hey, everyone, welcome back. I’ve just spent the last couple of minutes getting my makeup done by one of Penn’s most renowned makeup artists. A lot of you are going to be surprised to find out that the beauty industry was valued at $532 billion in the United States in 2017. It turns out it takes a lot of effort and countless products and services to keep us looking and smelling our best. It’s an industry that’s also relatively resistant to economic downturn, remaining stable during the economic recession of 2008. In today’s economy, the beauty industry is booming. Today we’re here with Julia Coquard, a junior at the University of Pennsylvania who became the second biggest beauty influencer in Sweden at the age of 14. Since then, she has gone on to host her own TV show and to work for MAC [Cosmetics] full-time. Julia, thank you so much for joining us today.

Julia Coquard: Thank you for having me.

KWHS: Can you tell us a little bit about how you discovered and began doing makeup?

Coquard: I think for me it was really interesting, because I was never a girly-girl. I was never into all the stuff that girls my age were into. But I was always huge in painting and drawing. I spent a lot of time just being creative when I was younger. Both my parents are musicians. I grew up in a very creative household, and I think makeup just kind of became a natural extension from that. I was just kind of fascinated by the idea of painting — but painting on a face, rather than painting on paper. And I think makeup, from a very early age for me was never about looking pretty or about making yourself look like a different person. It was always just kind of a way for me to play with colors and play with textures and do it on a canvas that was living. And I thought that was really fascinating at a very young age, I think.

KWHS: How did your blog gain momentum?

Coquard: I actually just started doing my own makeup and was going home from school, just putting on my makeup, washing it off, doing it again — doing it again all the time, just practicing and becoming better. And eventually I was like, “I want to just have a platform where I can upload photos for my own sake,” because I want to be able to keep the photos and look at them. So I never really intended for the blog to become a thing.

I honestly don’t really know how it works, like how it spreads. But I started uploading these photos. I was uploading a couple of YouTube videos, but this was pre-social media time. This was in like 2008 to 2010. So Instagram, Twitter, all that wasn’t really a thing. But I uploaded a couple of YouTube videos, and one of them was just like literally me peeling off a facemask, and I look horrible. It got like 400,000 views, and it was a really weird thing to me. I don’t really know how that happened, but I got a lot of followers.

KWHS: I’ve watched that!

Coquard: Everyone watched that, which is not the best, but it’s fun. So I think from there I just got a lot of followers who came to my blog, but this was also kind of during the era of blogging. Everyone was reading blogs, and everyone was super into the blogging space. And I think through a lot of Google searches and a lot of references from other people in the beauty industry, I started gaining traction. But, yes — that wasn’t really my original plan.

KWHS: How did MAC discover you, and what did you do for them?

Coquard: I was a super-loyal customer to my regional MAC counter, which is one of my favorite makeup brands — super colorful and super inclusive.

I was there, shopping, talking to the staff, and one of the ladies who worked there approached me about potentially applying for a job. And they knew kind of who I was. They knew a little bit about my platform, about the blog and what I was doing — even though I was 16 and had absolutely no professional training within the makeup industry.

But yes, I was asked to come back for an interview. I did and somehow was able to gain a full-time employment position at MAC, which was really fun. So I started out working retail. I was selling makeup and doing makeup on customers, and then quite quickly became a product specialist. So I was like a super-nerd. I knew all the names of the all the lipsticks and all the eye shadows, and all the ingredients, and all the foundations. And I was super-nerdy about the entire product line. So I think from there, it was kind of natural that I became the product specialist from my counter. So I was in charge with just like educating all of the other staff members on the newest launches, on how to use different products that they maybe weren’t as used to using, and how to tell which products were the right fit for which customers, and stuff like that.

So I did that for a couple of years, and then I went on to become a trainer. So I was a trainer for Southern Sweden and Copenhagen region, which essentially meant that I was just traveling to different counters and training the MAC staff to essentially keep being creative and thinking of new ways to use products and new ways to wear makeup and apply makeup — and also, all in all, just give better customer service.

As part of being on the training team, you also get to do all the events. So I did all the Fashion Week stuff and all the editorial stuff, and those types of things, too, with MAC — which is really exciting.

KWHS: How do you respond to people who say we tend to focus too much on outside beauty, and that the proliferation of beauty blogs and images set unrealistic expectations for young women?

Coquard: I think this is a really interesting question, because for me personally, the beauty community — especially with social media — was never about looking pretty. It was always just about kind of finding a way for a creative output. I think that’s a lot what we’re seeing now, in just social media in general — especially Instagram.

You see so many beauty accounts who show the way they apply their makeup, starting from scratch. And they’re very comfortable putting their faces out there without any makeup at all.

And a lot of times, it’s not about looking beautiful, which is kind of like what I was talking about before. But it’s about kind of playing with different colors and doing weird shapes, and just kind of playing with shadows and lights and seeing how it affects the way your faces look. And yes, so I think the beauty community has kind of two sides to it. I think it’s a lot about being creative, but of course — and there’s also this side to it — that it’s about being beautiful and looking perfect.

I think with social media in general, you’re going to have that within any section. You’re not going to have that exclusive to the beauty community. You’re going to have that within the fashion industry. You’re going to have that within the lifestyle influencers and health influencers. I think in general, social media is just a way for people to kind of put their best face forward, and I think the beauty community is a part of that. But I think there’s also this whole other section to the beauty community that is much more about being your individual self and kind of letting you express yourself using makeup as a way to do that.

KWHS: That’s amazing. So what do you see as the hottest trends right now in the beauty business?

Coquard: It’s really interesting talking about social media and the role of social media and trends, because I think the No. 1 trend right now is anti-beauty. I think especially within fashion, you’re seeing a lot of really stripped-back looks. It’s not very polished. It’s all about going back to raw skin — making everything look authentic. You see a lot of chunky mascara and like smudged lipstick and eye shadow that’s applied in a very messy way, for example. That’s a backlash to this whole Instagram perfection idea that’s been going on for a while. So I think that’s a huge trend, just like raw and natural. Glossy skin has been a thing for forever. But just in general, a more pulled-back look, that it’s less perfect.

KWHS: And what has this industry taught you?

Coquard: This industry has taught me a lot. I think mainly it has taught me the value of listening. I think as a makeup artist, the No. 1 thing that you need to be good at is paying attention to people — knowing what they’re looking for, knowing what they want, so that when you apply their makeup, you can make them feel like their best version of themselves without feeling like they’re looking at a stranger when they look in the mirror — because I think a lot of people get their makeup done and then feel like they don’t look like themselves, and they’re super-uncomfortable with the way they look. So I think it has really taught me to be a good listener. It has also taught me the importance of always being creative and thinking outside of the box.

I think the beauty industry is pretty saturated right now. A lot has been done, and it’s really difficult to come up with new ideas that people haven’t done in the past. And I think just having been in the industry for a while, it has definitely taught me the value of just staying creative and doing things that no one else has done before.

KWHS: Julia, what would you say to the person sitting in their bedroom dreaming of being the next biggest beauty influencer?

Coquard: I would say, first of all, be aware of the time commitment. People underestimate the amount of hard work that goes into being an influencer or running any type of beauty platform. Definitely know that it’s what you want to do, and be prepared to commit to it a hundred percent in order to be successful.

Secondly, I would say just be authentic. I think it’s really important that you’re honest with your followers and that you’re honest with your platform — that you don’t sacrifice your opinion for paid sponsorships or partnerships with brands. And I think also just being authentic with your audience about some of the things that you struggle with — and not being afraid to show and share you flaws and your insecurities. I think that’s really important, and that’s a change that we’re seeing more and more in the influencer space overall.

KWHS: Amazing, Julia. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Coquard: Thank you so much.

Related Links

Conversation Starters

What motivated Julia Coquard to pursue the beauty industry? Is makeup application an art form?

What does she mean when she says that today’s trend is “anti-beauty?” Would you agree? How does social media drive that trend?

What are your thoughts about social media and beauty? Do you feel that social media sets unrealistic expectations about beauty for young women and men? How do the images you see on social media influence your decisions about beauty and your self-esteem?

4 comments on “Julia Coquard on Creativity and Authenticity in the Beauty Business

  1. As far back as the Great Depression of the 1930s –tell someone they will look better/prettier/etc. they will spend their last dime on the product.
    The ‘Anti-Beauty’ movement is not new – consider the Hippie trend of circa 1968. Almost 50 years later it is getting a revival coupled with the fact that money is tight among young people who are heavily in debt for cars/rent/college. High tech industries aren’t concerned with a physical public persona for their behind the scenes employees; which makes corporate dressing and cosmetic use easier for their staff.
    Social media definitely influences the beauty industry as evidences by Kylie Jenner and her sisters. Just as TV commercials in the 1960s – 1990s sold the public on how using a product would promote better smile/hair/etc and lead to a successful personal life – the same messages are being transmitted through social media. A majority of today’s people are still caught up in the mindset that using this product will enhance their lives, they don’t take into account that Ms. Jenner has the resources to maintain her lifestyle regardless of her sales volume.
    At this stage in my life, I want to look nice for myself – not follow a trend or someone’s opinion.

  2. 1 What are your thoughts about beauty?
    Beauty is a useful tool to help people to gain confidence, find self-esteem, please other and self, and have a better life. Loving beauty is good and everybody loves to pursue beauty. However, it is unnecessary to pursue outer beauty excessively. There is a trend of students jumping to the service of cosmetic surgery for better job and partner. Since they couldn’t afford it, many of them choose to loan for cosmetic surgery. This causes some potential problems such as financing stress, anxiety, uncertain treatment outcome. There is an old Chinese saying “No rice grows on a goodlooking face.” As all you know, rice grows from hardworking cultivation. Be more attractive, not just be more beautiful. A “perfect” outer beauty can turn “ugly” if its owner exhibits arrogance, selfish, or lack of intelligence. Conversely, physically unattractive individuals with inner beauty, such as warm and kind personalities can appear “beautiful.”.
    To my knowledge, there are four main methods to improve the first impression and appearance, keep fit, makeup, cosmetic surgery, and non-surgical beauty procedures. Losing weight is painful. Some obese person choose liposuction instead of hard exercise or dieting. Liposuction, or simply lipo, is a type of fat removal procedure used in plastic surgery. Makeup can cover up some freckles and wrinkles and whiten, lighten the face. But makeup can’t solve any outlooking problem. Cosmetic surgery is a type of optional surgery that is performed on normal parts of the body with the only purpose of improving a person’s appearance or removing signs of aging. As for the cost, many plastic surgery procedures are expensive. Non-surgical beauty procedures for facial and skin rejuvenation, which can be attributed to an increase in the use of injectable fillers, volumizers, and biostimulators for soft tissue augmentation, it is really very impressive to get the cosmetic treatments without any surgery in order to avoid unnecessary negative impacts in the future, the non-surgical cosmetology procedures are really very popular ever.

    2 Do you feel that social media sets unrealistic expectations about beauty for young women and men?
    Nowadays, public media exaggerates the function of outer beauty. The propaganda makes us believe in some stereotypes such as “big breast, big money. ” Many of us think that outer beauty means a better job, a better marriage, higher salary. Social media sets unrealistic expectations about beauty for young women and men. Cosmetic surgery is no longer only a tool that can help people to build confidence; it has become an obsession and even a “hobby”. Why do so many people want to undergo cosmetic surgery? First, many women want to make themselves more western or exotic with wide eyes, full lips, large breasts and long legs. Most of them try to look like their favorite movies stars or pop singers.“There are students who take celebrities’ photos and ask for similar faces. One girl wanted her eyes to look like Park Chan Yeol’s, one of the boys in the Korean idol group, EXO” Wang, deputy director of the Orthopedic Department at the Plastic Surgery Hospital affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, said, according to Beijing Today. Second, many young people get cosmetic surgeries for economic reasons. Chinese parents see it as an investment as they believe appearances play a part in career opportunities. With bigger eyes, patients believe they look more energetic, and hence will have greater chances in the job market. While your looks improve, your salary may be boosted as well.
    Social media has a great influence on teenagers. In my view, the media should publicize the inner beauties such as “the most beautiful firefighters”, “the most beautiful teachers”, “the most beautiful doctors”, who service people best.

    3 What do you see as the hottest trends right now in the beauty business?
    Cosmetic surgeries have become a big economy in recent years. Cosmetic surgery market is a rapidly growing all around the world. According to the official Xinhua news Agency, it is a $2.5 billion a year industry in China which is growing at a pace of 20 percent a year. In China, “lunchtime” procedures mini cosmetic treatment are very popular. But, it is still expensive and inconvenient. In addition to cosmetic treatment fees, doctor fees, along with time cost, medication costs must also be factored in when considering the cost of cosmetic treatment in clinic. I believe a revolution will usher in, with DIY beauty tools and instruments innovated that emphasize simpleness and effectiveness so that people do not need to go to hospitals or clinics frequently to visit doctors. They can stay at home or office to smooth out the wrinkles, remove the hair, and improve their face and skin. From this point of view, the future of DIY cosmetic procedures may become brighter and more profitable. Small, easy-to-use, effective, safe, and convenient DIY instruments or medication such as DIY Laser hair removal, laser skin resurfacing, facelift instruments, and Botox, hyaluronic acid (HA) importing tools. These non-surgical beauty procedures will be more popular because they spare time and fee. I hope that in the near future, Non-Surgical Beauty Procedures could be like procedures of makeup which can be done by oneself. On the basis of the contents above, I see Non-Surgical Beauty Procedures as the hottest trends right now in the beauty business.

    • So many terrific points in your responses, Yun! Your observation about big eyes equating to more job opportunities is both fascinating and frightening. A lot of people (job recruiters included) would argue that they don’t discriminate against job candidates based on their outward appearance; however, many of us have unconscious biases that we don’t even acknowledge. And don’t get me started on cosmetic surgery! My hope is that more people might shift their obsession from personal pulchritude to gratitude. It’s easier said than done, but that ability to appreciate things as they are could influence us to stop longing for what we don’t have and start loving what we do.

  3. As a teenage girl, I have always been interested in beauty. Because of my interest, people asked me, “Why are you wearing makeup?” or “For whom did you wear makeup?” Any time these questions were asked, I responded the same: “I wear makeup because it’s fun to do.” Just like Conquard, I am deeply into painting and drawing, and I view applying makeup as another means of expressing my aesthetic talents. Although I greatly enjoy wearing makeup, I have never thought of making it an occupation. It may be due to a common stereotype that makeup and beauty are just for making women look better on the outside. I admire Conquard’s attitude towards beauty and the process by which she decided to become a beauty influencer. The way she became a beauty influencer was very inspirational: she altered a simple hobby, which is makeup, into a business idea through social media. Thanks to social media, it is relatively easier nowdays to share ideas and innovations with other people around the world. With a click of a button, anybody can become an artist, influencer, or celebrity. Not only beauty influencers like Conquard but also pro-gamers and mukbang (binge-eating broadcasts) YouTubers express themselves on camera to the world and make a business out of their brand identity. In such a way, communities can form online among people who have common interests. The idea that simply being ourselves and doing what we enjoy can become a business makes it an attractive career persuit. Moreover, since makeup and beauty are already an everyday, practical art both accessible and enjoyable for everyone, it is a profitable business in my opinion. The next time I watch a YouTube video, I am going to think about Conquard and how she paved the road for so many others to follow their dreams by simply doing what they enjoy.

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