Provenance Repackaged

Pearlfisher Insight Director Sophie Maxwell explains how beauty companies are repositioning brands from exotic souvenirs to sources of expertise and quality.

by Sophie Maxwell

How we perceive the idea of provenance has changed. And as a result the idea is being repackaged - literally. How foreign beauty secrets are communicated has moved away from the exotic dream and well, grown up. And it’s the most forward thinking beauty companies that are redefining the message.

In the past, exotic allure has been the fallback. Bottles of Monoi de Tahiti festooned with frangipani flowers and idealized illustrations of palm trees and sunsets: the magic of a far-flung place nailed in a bottle. Now it has moved beyond the myth, away from previously unreachable destinations and away from the idea of exotic souvenir. We’re over the fantasy – if it’s Moroccan who cares? But - and here’s the thing: if its Moroccan ‘USP’ works, we’ll have some. Because a product, whatever it is and wherever it hails from has to deliver. An ingredient’s origin or provenance is now about offering a real, tried and tested source for expertise, quality and efficacy and it’s down to the brand makers to repackage that, anew.

Showcasing the Ingredients

The influx of Amazonian or rainforest inspired hair and beauty brands won’t have gone unnoticed. How the newest brands have chosen to relay that message reflects the currency shift from place to ingredient – but it’s not necessarily a clear-cut solution. For the New York-based shampoo brand, Rahua, provenance is flagged up clearly on pack and it speaks of ‘rainforest grown’. But it also lists key ingredients together with key benefits, which highlights ingredient efficacy as opposed to exoticism. Any of the latter is drawn from the imagination of the viewer and not from visual triggers. Still, Rayua is not immune – an Amazonian warrior icon followed with an emotive tagline might seem a backward step.

Beyond Exotic Location

Can you relinquish reference to place? The Estée Lauder hair brand Ojon manages to. Its key ingredient is ojon oil, which is extracted from an indigenous nut, sourced from a region in the tropical rainforest of Central America. Its bottle design crystallizes the exotic through color and the use of symbol (an icon reminiscent of the ojon nut from which the oil is extracted) – with no reference to place. The ingredient itself is listed, without reference to origin. The branding strategy has been to superimpose provenance with something else: the American approach to beauty, which is prescriptive and about solving problems - getting results. Function overrides origin.

Provenance Retuned: Quality Talks

So then, should every brand quit talking about place? Not if the luxury hair brand, Philip B has anything to do with it. Place is an integral selling point to his fine line in super luxury (eye-wateringly expensive) shampoos and conditioners. As Italy is the place for shoes, Cambodia for oud, Scotland for tweed, Philip B has sought out Russia for its amber, Africa for its shea butter. Its communication on pack relates to expertise and quality, and the exotic is there by association.

An Integrated Proposition

It is no longer enough for a product to offer inspirational promise of the exotic - it needs to do more. What matters is that the ingredient or product delivers power and unique results – and this is the message to communicate. The value of origin has become an integral characteristic – in the same way that the most forward thinking, natural skincare companies such as Nude are communicating their natural credentials as an integral part of the package, rather than a hyped up selling point. That the product uses a quality, efficacious ingredient, and directly solves a beauty problem is the first communication point for this new line in provenance.

About the Author: Sophie Maxwell is Insight Director at Pearlfisher. Contact her at or