Look any which way in beauty and fashion right now, and you’ll find nostalgia. We’re nostalgic for simpler times — times before a pandemic locked us in our homes indefinitely and took us away from our normal lives. And even before that, we were becoming nostalgic for an era where social media and our phones didn’t dictate so much of our lives and our psyches. This feeling of nostalgia applies not only to ’90s babies who grew up with AIM and flip phones, but it’s also affecting Gen Zers who have mostly grown up with Instagram, YouTube and other social platforms. That is to say, people are simply nostalgic for a time before they were born.
In beauty, the ’80s are having a moment. For Marty Bell, 30, co-founder of 2021’s “it” sunscreen, Vacation Inc., the ’80s have always had a special allure. Bell was born in 1990, but called himself “massively nostalgic for the ’80s.” He’s been obsessed for at least the past seven years, he said.
“It was just a simpler time…and everything feels so not simple right now,” he said. “The chaos of being always on, always connected, on social media… [I’m] kind of dreaming of a time before all of that, when there was no pressure to be on Instagram or get likes.” In Bell’s mind, the summer of 1986 “must have been the most exciting time ever.” Vacation’s aesthetic was largely inspired by a “treasure trove” of photographs from Club Med in the ’80s. The brand launched in June and has close to 16,000 followers on Instagram. It follows just one account, Jimmy Buffett’s.
Bell and his co-founders, Lach Hall and Dakota Green, are not the only founders taking inspiration from the decade.
Jonathan Villafane, 24, co-founded Tecco Skin with his boyfriend, David, 26. (David asked to not share his last name.) It was David who introduced him to the ’80s aesthetic that ultimately served as inspiration for the brand. Cultural touchpoints like “Stranger Things” and “American Horror Story” cemented the obsession, he said.
Having grown up in a Puerto Rican family, Villafane said, he’s experiencing ’80s culture for the first time. “To me, it is new. I’m going to the past to look to the future. It’s like Dua Lipa’s album ‘Future Nostalgia,’ that really hits with Gen Z.”
Tecco’s first products are part of a “VHS collection.” The visuals recall VHS tapes, but the letters themselves stand for “vibrant, hydrated skin.” The brand’s core demographic is 17- to 28-years old. The brand aims to make skin care fun, in a way that Villafane feels has been lost in a lot of contemporary branding. “A majority of the skin-care brands use [packaging that’s] green and white and silver, and very simple and clean, to express clean beauty. But, we’re here to break the standard and really showcase that you can have fun and almost toy-like packaging, while still [offering] a luxury experience, and being beneficial for your skin,” Villafane said.
Tiffany Tarazi, 32, and her husband and co-founder, Steve Elassy, 31, are babies of the late ’80s. Like the other members of this niche group, they were too young to have been adults during the ’80s, but they became fans of the era. In the ’80s, Elassy said, when you saw beauty, “you saw glam, you saw beauty, you saw fierce. People were just happy and didn’t really care about others’ opinions and thoughts.” Tarazi echoed the sentiment: “People had fun with their makeup back then.”
The brand launched in November 2020 with one product, the Swatch Me Face Palette, Vol. 1, which it calls “the first-ever VHS-inspired makeup palette.” The included shades were inspired by ’80s icons like Molly Ringwald, Whitney Houston and Madonna, Tarazi said. The currently popular concept of future nostalgia applies here — while the shades might harken back to a vintage vibe, the “modern twist” comes by way of the formulas, which are highly pigmented, “clean,” cruelty-free and vegan, Tarazi said. “Back then, I don’t think the consumer was educated on what goes into a makeup product and what goes into a formula,” Elassy said, “Today, everybody’s really educated and wants to know what they’re putting on their face and in their bodies.”
Of course, the reality is that no era was perfect or absent of its own complicated history. “When you look back at anything, you tend to only remember the good parts,” Bell said. “But I bet there were tons of political dramas going on at the time. We don’t think of any of that. It just looks like it was the best time ever.”