The OmniFuture S1-E1 - The Future of Beauty & Virtual Living
[00:00:00] Gina Clifford: Hi, I'm Gina Clifford. Welcome to The OmniFutures Podcast. My guest today is Sylvia Gallusser, a well-known futurist whose brilliant human-centered approach to futures-thinking is both thought-provoking and inspirational. As part of a series on virtual living, we've invited Sylvia to imagine how our perspectives on beauty might change in an increasingly digital world. Sylvia, welcome to the podcast. Tell us a little bit about your work.
[00:01:49] Sylvia Gallusser: Hi Gina, thank you so much for having me today. I’m really excited to be here and to launch this series with you. I'm a global futurist. I'm based out of Silicon Valley. I'm the founder also of a company called Silicon Humanism. What we do there? Well, we particularly focus on topics such as the future of work, learning, and aging. And in all those instances, we expose the future of our human and social self in a world supercharged in technology.
[00:02:16] Gina Clifford: Thanks, Sylvia. I'm so glad you could join us. As you know, virtual reality is very hyped right now, and lots of big fashion brands are creating clothing and accessories that don't exist as physical products. They're virtual products designed for your virtual self, your avatar. So Sylvia, if this trend continues, do you think people will eventually care more about their virtual appearances than their physical selves?
[00:02:44] Sylvia Gallusser: I love this question Gina, and thank you for starting with that topic. Maybe what I would do is start by replacing what happens currently in the field of beauty and this specific virtual beauty trend that you're mentioning in the larger context. And you know, as futurists like to say, to be a good futurist, you also need to be a good historian, and I would like to share with you, if I may, a few milestones from this landscaping work. For example, jewelry is considered the oldest archeological artifacts about 115,000 years ago. It's famous for featuring beauty figures that were associated with natural beauty and health over cosmetics. Then what we note also is an acceleration of body alterations for erotic appeal.
[00:03:30] Sylvia Gallusser: From the 1800's, the first figurines, which we called Venus, were female. And they, most of the time displayed exaggerated sexual characteristics. Ancient Egypt and Greece developed popular practices of makeup already five thousand years ago. The Renaissance era is famous for featuring beauty figures with sensual naked, bodies and drapery. Another interesting fact, when you look at the Elizabethan era which culminates in the 20th century with body experimentations in modern art. First, you can think Picasso, but also in plastic surgery. And what happens these past two decades is we have really entered the realm of social body image, virtual body image, positive body challenges. You can think of TikTok and the rise of the virtual body with a market of fashion and beauty products for your online avatars, as you were just describing.
[00:04:31] Gina Clifford: So, Sylvia, I think that's fantastic. How you looked at the past and you built that case for how beauty has changed throughout history, And through art. And it's interesting how you ended on the virtual body. I love that word. So pulling all of those examples together, what do you think it means for the future of beauty?
[00:04:48] Sylvia Gallusser: Well…interesting. First, what we notice is that since the beginning of our species and all along our history, beauty artifacts, and representations, have been highly significant. It's not just about narcissism or superficial, as it's sometimes stated. Beauty is deeply rooted with us becoming human. The second thing: diversity. There isn't one standard… no one unique direction for beauty. Diverse cultures have different interpretations of beauty, ideals and standards. Third, erotic appeal and sexual attraction are closely intertwined with the definition of beauty attributes from the start. Fourth, and that maybe will more precisely answer your question Gina, we see a trend from exterior, to interior, to virtual over time. Indeed, what happens is that first beauty has gone from translating in exterior artifacts, figurines, jewelry, clothes, to being applied to the surface of the body, makeup, tan face powder, eyeliner, tattoos, and so on. To finally become interior through plastic surgery or cosmetic prosthesis and so on. So what could come after, virtual is the answer. We now are trying to transcend the body itself to have beauty artifacts apply even closer to our identity. Our true self, our soul, you name it. As if we wanted to gain full control over our physical and virtual representations. As if we wanted to absorb and completely merge with our chosen aesthetics. And this transcendence of beauty takes the form of augmented and virtual beauty and it builds to AR VR. But also the whole ecosystem, which is now being built around it, namely: metaverse.
[00:06:45] Gina Clifford: Thank you, Sylvia. That was fascinating how you connected those dots and tied things together. So what kind of signals are you seeing right now that hints at the future of beauty and what it might look like if these kinds of signals continue to grow over the next 10 years?
[00:06:59] Sylvia Gallusser: Yeah, that's a lovely question. And especially as futurists, we love to mention the signals. The first one is about usage, the everyday use of beauty products. What is happening is that AR in the beauty industry has brought the virtual makeup, virtual hairstyle, accessory try-on to life. And all this is supported by an ecosystem…by a community of beauty influencers. You can think of everything. What AR technology is able to do married with an intelligent artificial intelligence, for example–it enables advanced facial recognition. Live 3D makeup simulation. Live anti-aging skincare simulation. Hair style color simulation, but also diagnostic and personalized recommendation. You know that during the pandemic all these AR makeup try-ons have been proliferating. Physical tests have been replaced by hygienic digital try-ons. Virtual tutorials by YouTube beauty influencers. You can think of Jeffree Starr, James Charles, Nikkie Tutorials. They bring millions of people to subscribe to makeup lessons, product halls, and “teach and get ready with me” videos.
[00:08:07] Sylvia Gallusser: And on top of that, you have the whole market of smart mirrors. You can think of smart bathroom mirrors, smart tablet mirrors, smart fitness mirrors, and all of those occurrences. You can see yourself in the mirror, but on top of that, you have recommendations. You have an additional layer of coaching. You can imagine you're your coach mirroring what you're doing. You can have real-time feedback, personalized AI-powered guidance, and accessories for strength and recovery, all those connected. But that's the first trend, like really going from selling to someone transactional to an experience of beauty. On the one hand, you have the fashion industry equipping avatars in gaming. You can think of Louis Vuitton, equipping a League of Legends avatar, for example, and contributing to the blossoming of the metaverse. So the fashion industry is a big driver of the metaverse, But on the other hand, what's happening is that beauty brands are reshaping, are reshaped themselves by the metaverse, as they learn to relinquish control over the image.
[00:09:13] Sylvia Gallusser: There's a direct to avatar model. You can think of Balenciaga and Fortnite creating virtual clothing and accessories for avatars in popular games, but also everything that's happening with NFTs, I think is really fascinating. They started with art, you know, with the people who made some with a superplastic Balmain with Barbie. So it's really a mix between the physical and the digital. So really the “phygital”, (a new word), a piece of art. And then what happens is that NFTs have gained an interest for all the beauty brands. Gucci, which is building and what it means for brands –it means they need to rethink their strategies. They need to rethink what is happening in the industry because the users, the consumers now are part of defining what's happening. You can think of 3D printing and everything that can be brought by 3D printing. Not only does it allow mass-produced beauty products, such as a mascara brush. That's what Chanel has been doing, for example. But it also delivers customized beauty correctives. Be it a 3D printer liners… be it 3D printed sheet mask, but you also have Air France. Now, the researchers have found a way to grow human hair follicles using 3d printed molds. You have also bio-ink technology which can reconstruct skin tissues in vitro. And you have also CRISPR – you're probably familiar with CRISPR. it’s a powerful gene-editing tool and by altering DNA sequences, you can modify gene functions. So in the industry — what that means for the fashion industry—potentially you can correct genetic defects, treating disease. So quite fascinating. I could talk forever about that topic.
[00:11:03] Gina Clifford: No. Thank you. It's very enlightening. And if you think about what you just said that co-creation and brands are kind of, not owning it completely, right? It's the consumers that are helping to shape it along with the brands. And there's a different…I guess the word “equity” is starting to emerge. There's a lot more equity for consumers to be part of that conversation. But then what you said about augmenting our bodies, almost going towards transhumanism a little bit if you think about having these 3D printed parts in our body or on our body. It used to be thought of as healthcare and now you're describing it as beauty. So that's fascinating. And I love the way you positioned that. I think you used the word augmented beauty, and I would like you to dig a little deeper into more about that and talk about like how you see that shaping our culture and maybe with an eye toward equity and inclusion and how that might look in the future.
[00:11:58] Sylvia Gallusser: That's an excellent question. Gina I think augmented beauty is one aspect of what's happening in the field of beauty and it's really intertwined with other trends at work. And we actually studied three other major future forces at work. So what, what we mean with beautiful. We mean ethnic diversity, but also disability, plus size, gender fluidity because all of these are now rippling at various scales. It's not just about product features. It's product features, branding, accessibility, representation by fashion icons, and also equity as you were mentioning, being part and owning it. Future forces at work. One is about sustainable beauty. One it's about health and wellness, so exactly what you were mentioning. And the last one is about “beauty for all” or what we usually call “diversity and inclusion”. And if I may, I'd like to focus on that latter one. Until now if disabled models have starred in a beauty campaign, it's only recently that brands really started launching disability-friendly products. A gender style…another topic and a very big topic in the beauty industry.
[00:13:17] Sylvia Gallusser: It's really the totally assumed fashion statement now. And in addition, it's interesting to observe how TV, social media, and now NFTs, and the metaverse are really changing the balance of power between the brands and the consumers. Beauty definers are no longer contained by what we used to call an elite fashion industry, deciding what's “it” for the other population. You know, now it's really distributed on multiple platforms, among many diverse influencers. And the metaverse and what's happening around this, it really enables us to go one step further with each of us becoming a sort of co-creator, co-designer of this all. [And] if there's a defect in representation and inclusion, well, creators will design collections to remedy. You've probably been seeing that, but the topic of the worlds of women– I don't know if you've followed that Reese Witherspoon has voiced her buying Ethereum to invest in NFTs from World of Women, it's a collection of 10,000 unique and symbolic illustrations of women from a variety of backgrounds and worlds. And in the first two weeks of 2022 well, this project generated [one] million dollars. So it's really the trendiest thing right now. And I think in terms of what's happening in the culture, it's really a big signal. But still, we see that despite the best intentions, there still seems to be kind of a “boys club”, that's an expression. I've met multiple times concerning the topic. And the Institute of Digital Fashion actually released a report, which is called Myself, My avatar, My identity, and they are studying diversity and inclusivity within virtual worlds. And they flag the fact that there is still an under-representation of women, disabilities, and the LGBTQ community.
[00:15:10] Sylvia Gallusser So avatars that are female or have darker skin tones, they sell for less than masculine or white avatars, despite that they are more scarce despite of their scarcity, they still sell for less, which is counter-intuitive on the marketplace. So that's why we cannot just leave it happen. There needs to be initiative that helps it be better if that's really what we want.
[00:15:30] Gina Clifford: Yeah, thank you. Sylvia. I think you really brought up a great topic I think the cultural bias it's so deep in our culture that it's being reflected in the market, even, even when, like you said that there's more scarcity, it's so deeply embedded in our culture that even that is, gonna be an uphill battle, to create equity there. But it sounds like there's a lot of positive forces that are working. And I love the word “betterverse” and I think you know, that's a new word we should all maybe be using when we start thinking about what the metaverse could be.
So in a digital-first future, how might clothing, cosmetics, and hair salon industries change to align with this augmented beauty trend and how might these virtual beauty products integrate with the physical ones?
[00:16:22] Sylvia Gallusser: Yeah, great question. And it's really here. I think about envisioning what the future could look like. And, if I may, I will try to maybe bring you into that world. And why, because I actually had a workshop a few months ago with people working in the beauty industry, a group of group designers, and together we used some tools from foresight. For example, we use the futures to jumpstart, you know, our scenario building. So imagine in this world, AR and VR tools help us create better versions of ourselves. We live with our digital autonomous doppelganger on social media. Our online and offline identities are now merging or sometimes diverging. We have new tools to reinvent ourselves. We live in a fluid mindset instead of a fixed mindset. Our life is mostly lived through virtual avatars. We date with virtual avatars. We use live makeup for our web, virtual life for virtual meetings and dates. We buy the makeup others are wearing thanks to real-time advertising. We can know exactly which products someone else is using. We only go out with VR glasses and we see people virtually, maybe a kid next to me as a filter, a kid friendly filter to see life, which is a representation of the people we pay, maybe to choose a representation of other people If their appearance of fashion is uncomfortable to us. We switch visual appearances with others. There's a whole marketplace of identity switching.
[00:18:04] Gina Clifford: So Sylvia, you brought up some really good points about mental health in your long list of ideas that could emerge as a possible future, One, there might be less depression among teens because the body image issue isn't as big of a problem if a teen is spending most of their time in the virtual world and they can design their avatar to look exactly as they prefer but then you also mentioned that new types of mental health syndromes might appear because we're not having as much physical interaction. What are your thoughts about that? How do you want to put that in perspective or what is your hope that that could come out of that?
[00:18:42] Sylvia Gallusser Even before the pandemic the beauty industry was really interested in going more on the health and wellness area, the pandemic has amplified this trend. But here again, let's take a look at some signals, so first of all about our appearance, how to deal with our appearance and this syndrome of body image issues and so on. The beauty industry insisted to that with a things, there's a “no makeup” makeup, maybe, you know, this idea, it looks as if you have nothing on the but you have to master the style of looking as if you don't have makeup, but you still have some, and you know, Beyonce is famous for this “I woke up like this” Instagram selfie. So I think what's interesting is that there's always this will to go towards natural beauty, but at the same time, this resistance, like it, still has to be designed because you're on the “representation” mode. So beauty is about identity and about representation and about the relationship and the tension between your representation and your true self. So even when you say prioritizing the feel of the look, well it's still wishful thinking, but it's really hard to get into the mentality.
[00:19:56] Sylvia Gallusser So I'm wondering when we go into the metaverse and we think also of having all this diversity of representation will we be really able to get rid of the fact that we are always in a type of representation so it stays a regular mental health issue.
And then on top of that, you have new mental health concerns with the fact that you live in a virtual world when you adjust your virtual self and you tend to lose control. And what I want to say here is that the virtual self, it's not just about the one physical self and one virtual self, it's about having multiple physical selves and multiple virtual selves. So why do I say that? You can go back to psychiatrist, Jung, Carl Jung, he was talking about all the personas that we have in different social contexts. And now we add to this persona that we have, when we're at work, when we are at home, you don't wear the same clothes. You don't have the same appearance… Let's be honest. Then on top of that, you have all these different personalities, all these different virtual selves that you are going to have in the metaverse and you have to deal with all these different personas and to switch from one to the other, like for your brain, it's a constant back and forth, like going from one to the other.
[00:21:17] Sylvia Gallusser But you were asking if I have some hope? I can definitely see some good things as well. And I like to mention that I've been a little girl.. I've been playing board games for quite a while…video games…and what happens when you are a young girl is that you have to choose. Let's say it's not an avatar, but it's a character when you play that. When I played Mario there was just one female character, it was Peach. So you played with other girls, just one of us gets to be the girl. So little girls are used to playing as if they are in the body, in the character state of mind of a male figure. Let's say. It’s the same when you read books, books are mainly written by men. At school, you study books written by men and you are in the state of mind of males and so on. So why do I mention this? Is that with other tasks today, with the fact that you can have multiple selves online, you can choose which identity you want to be. You can choose if you want to be male, female in between whatever you can be binary. You can be fluid. You can change identity from one platform, one game, one world to the other, you don't need to be always the same. You can switch, you can trade. And so it gives you more areas to explore so you can get away from traditional social models, hierarchical, very male dominated maybe, to go to more fluid world where you can get to explore for a male to explore what it is to be a more female figure, or for a female to be whatever she want to be.
[00:22:52] Gina Clifford: No, I think that It's really relevant right now, Sylvia. Because there's a lot in the media about gender fluidity, especially with the Gen Zs. There's all a lot of folks out there that are exploring those other ways of looking at themselves and their identity. And I think that the metaverse might be a way for those folks to help maybe mainstream their ideologies, for the rest of the world that is still struggling with that idea because it is an ingrained cultural norm that we have that they're challenging. So I like your positioning on that. And I think it's, it's hopeful. And I know that you and I have discussed in the past what this future could look like for occupations? There could be new roles that come out of some of this right? Security in the metaverse, what does that look like?
[00:23:45] Sylvia Gallusser Coming back maybe to what we were saying about NFTs and all this new business model around direct to avatar and so on. What's happening is that for brands, for beauty brands, fashion brands, It's really an all-new competition that is arising. They used to have a specialty in designing clothes and now there are plenty of artists able to design beautiful stuff online, and who can just take the image or the brand, the Adidas logo, and they can say, okay, now I'm designing my own Adidas shoes and so on.
[00:24:19] Sylvia Gallusser: So what's happening is they need to react. And I think an example is Nike. Nike is reacting very quickly, and I think it's an interesting role model for the other brands in that area. What they are doing is first they are hiring metaverse specialists. I just saw online a couple of days ago they are hiring a Director of Metaverse Engineering. They are hiring Designers. So they're already trying to build up their studios. They also acquired, as we were seeing digital artifacts companies. So they want to position themselves very quickly on that field. In terms of what it means for brands, that they need to hire, they need to train, they need probably to acquire the skill, but most of all, they need to work in collaboration. They need to accept that they are losing the overall control of what are the new trends and everything. It was already a first step with all the influencing models. But now with all this co-creating, collaborating model where everyone can design their own virtual set and sell them for millions and millions of dollars online on NFT platforms and so on… it's a real competition and they need to react pretty quickly.
[00:25:34] Gina Clifford: Yeah, that's wonderful. Thank you for that. I have one last question as we close this first episode on virtual living. Sylvia, what conclusions can we draw from the future of beauty on our virtual self?
[00:25:50] Sylvia Gallusser: Our virtual self will be co-branded and monetized, and our virtual self will make us either more dependent or more empowered. It can be the one or the other. So that's where we need maybe to think of how we can save God. Our independence, our autonomy, and I think deeply our virtual self will have to deal with that very paradox of being more artificial versus being more authentic. And I will close on that.
[00:26:24] Gina Clifford: Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing your fascinating perspective on our first episode of “The future of beauty” as part of our virtual living series.
[00:26:32] Sylvia Gallusser: Thank you so much, you know, such an honor to be the first one. And thank you so much for this lively conversation. I had so much fun sharing all these insights with you, and please feel free to reach out to me if you have any more questions. Thank you.