The Future of Beautiful

Interpreting past and future beauty

If Cleopatra and her girlfriends could have looked into the future, would they have been surprised to see their kohl-lined lids–originally created for reflecting the sun–on the likes of Bridget Bardot, Priscilla Presley and other 60s stylemakers? And given a crystal ball, would Bridget and Priscilla have seen the return of their elongated eyeliners in the 90s?

Such is the beauty of beauty. For all its fickleness and fabulousness, it plays an enduring role in defining our style culture. Images of beauty have tremendous staying power in our collective consciousness; a Grecian urn, a graceful portrait, and icons such as Audrey Hepburn, Catherine Deneuve and Josephine Baker.

Such symbols, animate or not, affirm that beauty is an individual interpretation. As we’ve shifted from admiring beautiful things to admiring beautiful people, we come to see beauty as something we can create for ourselves. Maybe we can’t have Keat’s urn, but we can have–or come close to having–Sophia Loren’s lips or Bette Davis’ eyes. All of this is to say, beauty is something we all want for ourselves. Nancy Friday, author of The Power of Beauty, calls it a “biologically based human need for beauty.”

But more than just an innate motivation to look good, beauty has evolved to a need for individual expression–a trend far more enduring than blue eyeshadow or this year’s ubiquitous pink. Thank goodness beauty is not immutable and, overwhelmingly, people agree. When asked for their take on the future of beauty, arbiters of beauty gave a collective nod to individuality–to a singularity that most people could intuit, but that few could name precisely. If there was one beauty trend to be divined from our informal survey, it was that “je ne sais quoi” comes from an inner vibe, not a bottle or a pretty dress.

“Beauty is about what is on the inside that radiates to the outside. You can use all the makeup you want, dress in the finest clothes, but it won’t make you beautiful if it doesn’t come from the inside,” says Edoardo Mantelli, chairman of Tocca, a trend-setting lifestyle company.

Mantelli isn’t the only one who sees beauty in intangible places. Sheryl Sciro, president of media for the Spa Finder Company, was inspired by the quintessential “fair lady.”

“When I think about what the future of beautiful is, I am reminded of what Gregory Peck once said when speaking of Audrey Hepburn: ‘It’s an inner glow that only comes from an inner glow,’ ” says Sciro. Not a bad observation about someone who described herself as an “insecure, inexperienced, skinny broad.”

And it’s not only observers of beauty who have come to understand its spirituality–it’s the beautiful people themselves, like longtime Lancome model Isabella Rossellini.

“I believe beauty can be of many kinds. The beauty I admire most doesn’t hide flaws, but underlines uniqueness, our absolute singularity. That for me, is style…an expression of one’s mind, intelligence and personality. What I like most in people is humor, fantasy and practicality. These qualities, I believe, are key to beauty,” she says.

While feeling good about looking good isn’t a new concept, the way women–and increasingly men–are doing it is. From using more, better products that peel, scrub, texturize and voluminize, to finding a more beautiful self through the new spiritual cosmetics, people are creating and consuming beauty on their own terms. And with a world of products that appeal to people’s individual needs, and increased access to them, beauty will never be a thing of the past; it will continue to be an ever-evolving, ever-enigmatic part of style culture. Poet and author Diane Ackerman comments on why the future of beauty is always entrenched in the present.


“…will beauty obsess tomorrow’s women? I’m sure it concerned our ancient ancestors as much as it concerned our grandmothers as much as it concerns our daughters–because wanting to feel beautiful, in our own and others’ eyes, is simply one of the many gifts and burdens of being human.”

Or, you might say, to be beautiful is human, to be gorgeous is divine.