Online Exclusives

Beauty by the Book

By Christine Esposito, Associate Editor | February 12, 2010

L’Oréal has published an encompassing and lavish text that traces the origins of and the future of beauty, as well as the social issues surrounding it.

As the world’s largest beauty company, it seems only fitting that L’Oréal should tackle a subject as encompassing as the history of beauty.

In a project funded by the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation, the Paris-based beauty conglomerate has published “100,000 Years of Beauty,” a unique book that aims to share knowledge and encourage the emergence of new perspectives about beauty.

The research for the 1500-page book developed over a four-year period and included 300 authorities engaged in disciplines ranging from sociology to psychology to history to anthropology. Inside the five-volume, pyramid-stacked set are lavish photographs and engaging text that’s billed to be as entertaining as it is educational.

This comprehensive body of work—which will be used by the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in its graduate degree program in Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing and Management—was the basis for special panel discussion held in the school’s Katie Murphy Amphitheatre on Feb. 3.

Speakers at the event included “100,000 Years of Beauty,” contributors Maxine Craig, associate professor of women and gender studies at the University of California-Davis, and Michael Bisson, professor and chair of the department of anthropology at McGill University in Montreal, as well as Elizabeth Azoulay, the book’s editorial director. Rounding out the panel was Linda Wells, editor-in-chief of Allure. The discussion was lead by Stephan Kanlian, chairperson of FIT’s master’s degree program.
In her opening remarks, Béatrice Dautresme, executive vice president corporate communications and external affairs for L’Oréal and chief executive of the L’Oréal Corporate Foundation, provided insight into why L’Oreál embarked on the project. She noted that while some may see beauty as “superficial” it is, in actuality, cultural, psychological and controversial all at once. “It’s a deep and profoundly cultural and human subject,” Dautresme told the audience.

According to Dautresme, the project was in keeping with L’Oréal’s commitment to research and exploration.

One of the topics discussed at FIT included whether or not there is a universal definition of beauty and how the concept of beauty has evolved in a global context.

Making a comparison between beauty and language, Azoulay commented, “Everyone has the need to speak, but everyone speaks a different language—and the language evolves.”

The session also addressed the origins of beauty and its future. Using a definition of beauty as the need to transform the body, Bisson noted some of the earliest examples, such as use of pigments on the body, which date back thousands of years. On the flip side, Wells spoke of plastic surgery and the increasing role of science in modern beauty, suggesting that in many ways, it is replacing the “romantic” side of beauty.
The panel at FIT included (l-r): Maxine Craig (University of California-Davis) and Michael Bisson (McGill University), Elizabeth Azoulay, (editorial director), Linda Wells (editor-in-chief of Allure) and FIT’s Stephan Kanlian.
The brief discussion provided a glimpse into all five volumes of “100,000 Years of Beauty.” Volume 1 (Prehistory) features the origins of beauty in the earliest human societies; Volume 2 (Antiquity) examines the great changes that transform, from a sociological and psychological point of view, the pursuit of beauty; Volume 3 (Classical Age) explores the medieval and early modern periods as bringing about worldwide shifts in fashion and beauty; Volume 4 (Globalization) journeys through the modern era, which are marked by the age of the individual and the desire to achieve social equalities such as fighting against racism, claiming equal rights for women, and sexual liberation; and Volume 5 (The Future) looks at the the new digital age and alternative movements where beauty is a focus for cutting-edge medical and biotechnological research.

“100,000 Years of Beauty” is available at for $295 in English and French language versions.

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