How Beauty Startups Like Vênsette Are Profiting From The Instagram Economy

With $200 hair and makeup, the look fades–but the photo lasts forever.

“I’m going to give you a sun-kissed look, like you just got back from a vacation.”

Josephine, my Vênsette makeup artist, holds my chin lightly as she scans my bare face. Dressed in a black smock, her dark hair pulled into a low bun, she raises none of the alarm bells (Lascivious lips! Heavy-rimmed eyes!) that the artists at department-store makeup counters tend to set off. She tells me that she got her first break in 2004, with a gig on the set of a Destiny’s Child music video.

Back then, music videos were one of the few outlets available to makeup artists. But the rise of red-carpet photo culture, fueled by Instagram, Pinterest, and innumerable gossip blogs, has spawned a parallel ecosystem of beauty services. Vênsette, which charges $200 to dispatch a hair and makeup artist to your door, is unabashedly among the most expensive.

Lauren Remington PlattPhoto: courtesy of Vênsette

“Women already have a lot of things; they’re more interested in services,” says founder and CEO Lauren Remington Platt, a fixture on the New York City benefit circuit. “They’re willing to spend a lot on making their lives easier.”

Since Platt launched the company in 2011, apps for beauty-related services have exploded. Many, like StyleSeat, are similar to Opentable, with booking platforms that connect customers and salon appointments. Others, like Zeel (massages) and Blownaway (blow-outs) deliver specific services on demand, at home or work. Vênsette, with its premium pricing, is focused on a particular clientele: The time-strapped woman who expects to be photographed, and who’s willing to pay for consistently high service. Each of Vênsette’s 250 artists, Platt says, has at least five years of experience and trains for four days to learn the company’s menu of looks. Only one in 10 applicants passes her initial screening test.

The Vênsette app

“These are women who have very limited time,” Platt says of her customers, half of whom rebook within two months. Clients range from corporate executives to celebrities like Kendall Jenner. “Traveling to the salon, that’s time that a woman could be spending with her children or working. She’s not getting hair and makeup done because she’s frivolous; she understands that her appearance is a representation of herself. That blowout, that manicure–these are all things that are empowering women.”

Jewelry designer Cindy Chao, who attended last week’s Met Gala, is typical of Vênsette’s user base. “My trip to New York was so busy and traffic is so terrible. I wanted someone who could come to me so that I wouldn’t lose time running around town,” Chao says. For red carpet events, she relies on professional artists: “I try to relax and catch up on emails while they work their magic.”

A Vênsette artist executed Chao’s signature look–smoky eye, nude lip, and polished ponytail–in her hotel suite. She then donned a custom-made gown, by French haute couture designer Stephane Rolland, and worked with her artist to turn diamond and titanium brooches from her latest collection into hair ornaments. The resulting hair and makeup look “even lasted through the after-parties,” she says.

Photos: Instagram user @cindychao_artjewel

On Instagram, it will continue to endure. Photographs of Chao from the gala are arguably just as important to her brand as the traditional marketing that she chooses to do.

Fashion houses, acutely aware of the power of images, are among Vênsette’s clients as well. For major events, Platt says, brands will hire an “army” of artists to prep their executives and brand ambassadors for the cameras. In a similar vein, Vênsette recently introduced group wedding packages for brides and bridesmaids.

“Brides don’t want hair and makeup just for their wedding day–they want it for the rehearsal dinner, for the bachelorette, for the engagement photos. They want it for their mother, their bridesmaids,” Platt says. “It really comes back to pictures. It looks funny if the bride is full-on, and everyone else is not in professional hair and makeup.” Walking down the aisle, it would seem, is the non-celebrity equivalent of a red carpet moment.

Did I have any red carpet moments in my near future? I glanced hopefully at my calendar as Josephine applied fiber mascara to lengthen my lashes, and then handed me a mirror. Contoured cheekbones, bright eyes: She had made me feel beautiful, but the feeling began to fade as I realized I had no camera to pose for, no event to attend. Beauty, perhaps more than ever, is in the eye of the beholder-slash-Instagram follower. And as long as women seek that attention and are willing to pay for it, beauty services like Vênsette will thrive.

About the author

Staff writer Ainsley (O'Connell) Harris covers the business of technology with a focus on financial services and education. Follow her on Twitter at @ainsleyoc.

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