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Where folly bleats

Sephora, a multinational chain of cosmetics stores owned by the luxury behemoth LVMH, operates over 1700 branches in 30 countries worldwide, generating over $4 billion in revenue as of 2013. Their flagship emporium in the Champs Élysées in Paris attracts over six million people a year, and even the smallest town in Italy boasts a branch of Sephora, while the larger cities, like Palermo, always have more than one.

I cite these statistics to make it clear that the story I’m telling isn’t about a fly-by-night operation, a mom-and-pop outfit somewhere in the Sicilian boondocks. We’re talking giants here, a veritable Coca-Cola Company of unguents, creams, and assorted eyewash. Because otherwise my story wouldn’t be instructive or edifying.

Anyway, I was passing the Sephora near my house – all halogen lights and architectural minimalism, as befits the public deportment of a multinational giant – when my eye was drawn to the posters displaying images of its current advertising campaign. The tagline runs as follows: WHERE BEAUTY BEATS.

What the hell does that mean? Where does beauty beat? Who – or, if you went to a private school, whom – does it beat? Or what? Finally, why is beating something to do with beauty in the first place? And what are the non-English-speaking Italians or, for that matter, Frenchmen, to make of Sephora’s mysterious communication?

Oh, yes, I realize it was supposed to evoke the human heart. A heart beats, right? Then why can’t beauty beat? Gosh, I even read on the company’s site that sephos means “beauty” in ancient Greek, so you see?  Sephora – beauty – beats – like a heart. But the plain fact is, it don’t work. It’s gibberish. Beats my… well, we all know the rest of that apophthegm.

Funny thing, it was a damn foreigner, “copywriter” Gabrielle Attia, who composed the slogan under the watchful eye of “creative director” Florence Bellisson, another damn foreigner, for the French “advertising agency” BETC. Who do these people think they are, and what sort of imbeciles do they take us for? Here’s what Gabrielle Attia, a woman whose photograph prompts the surmise that she gets beaten by ethereal beauty less frequently than by fat lesbians, tells us about her brainchild. I retain Miss Attia’s spellings: “We created Sephora's first brand campaign. We imagined for them a new glamourous glossary, full of neologism, so the brand has its own language. We also chose a visual code that litteraly beats to illustrate their new tagline ‘where beauty beats.’”

“Surely the advertising industry’s movers and shakers are cognizant of the fiasco,” one would think, repugnance verging on panic. “Surely the industry as a whole is aware that beauty only beats if you can’t speak English?”

Dream on, gentle reader. Here’s what the authoritative Trendhunter has had to say on the subject: “This new campaign for the cosmetics giant was conceived to introduce the company's new international tagline, ‘Where Beauty Beats.’ The ads feature kaleidoscopic imagery with bold pops of neon color and faces of models dripping with different eyeshadows, lipsticks and blushes. The gorgeous colors and visuals alone are enough to make you want to run to your nearest Sephora.”

A parting observation, just to make the whole thing really unforgettable. Contrary to what it says on the site, sephos does not mean “beauty” or, as far as I can make it out, anything else in ancient Greek. Can you believe it? These people rake in $4 billion a year, and they won’t spend $40 on a second-hand Liddell & Scott.

Andrei Navrozov

Andrei Navrozov, born in Moscow, lives in Palermo and is European editor for Chronicles.  The former publisher of the Yale Lit, he is a widely published author and translator.  His Italian Carousel: Scenes of Internal Exile was published by Peter Owen Publishers.

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