Online reviews stifle makeup launch

Li Anlan
Palace Museum Taobao shut down its first original makeup line only three weeks after the official launch.
Li Anlan
SSI ļʱ

Palace Museum Taobao’s first original makeup line was one of the most exciting beauty releases in China last year, but only three weeks after the official launch production has been shut down.

On January 5, the online retailer reblogged a review of its makeup collection and made a sudden announcement to discontinue the project:

“Thanks to all the voices, we’ve read and noted every feedback. From packaging to the actual product inside, Palace Museum Taobao’s original makeup line still has much room for improvement, so we’ve decided to shut down the production and keep improving until we can bring the best to everyone. The preorders will be shipped in spring after the Spring Festival, and the remaining products will go on the shelf. Please don’t be worried.”

The news received wide attention in the media. Palace Museum Taobao also gave details of quality problems in the comment section of the post, such as some eyeshadows being powdery and the lipstick packaging being less than deluxe.

Online reviews stifle makeup launch
Palace Museum Taobao / Ti Gong

Palace Museum Taobao's original makeup line includes eyeshadows, blushes, lipsticks and highlighters. Packaging that featured Chinese culture and history came in for some criticism.

The original post by @芒果的化妆间, who has over 750,000 followers, was a detailed review of the products with try-on photos. She gave positive reviews on the eyeshadow quad but noted the lipsticks’ “less-than-ideal quality” and said the blushes were more of collection significance than day-to-day application.

The turquoise single eyeshadow called diancui, the craftsmanship of using kingfisher feathers to decorate hair accessories, was the one she felt to be the most stunning, yet the powder was hard to blend and the color not practical in her opinion.

Beauty influencer @小蛮蛮小, who has over 3.52 million followers on Weibo, gave poor evaluations on almost every aspect of the makeup collection: ugly packaging, uneven application and dry texture of the lipsticks, warm-toned eyeshadow quad that looked dirty and cold on the eyes, highlighter with no color payoff and blushes that were just the same quality as those from drug store brands, she said.

The criticisms on the collection were mostly centered on quality, practicality and plastic material packaging, but some people still expressed support for the collection.

User @星空下的一朵熊 wrote: “I hope you can be more confident and don’t question yourself based on some weird and biased reviews. I received my blush and diancui, although the packaging is not heavy, it’s still solid and not cheap. (What is exquisite? Why the plastic packaging of Chanel or Dior eyeshadows that retail for 400/US$59.2 or 500 yuan are not criticized?) The blush is also not lesser than other brands, so how do people compare the products and define the good or bad?”

Also, around the same time as Palace Museum Taobao called a stop to its makeup line, rumors of the shop’s collaboration with the makeup brand Maogeping started to spread on social media. The new collection was shown at the 17th Hong Kong International Licensing show, and includes foundations, blush, lipsticks and more.

Maogeping is founded by 55-year-old Chinese veteran makeup artist Mao Geping, who’s most known for his work for Chinese films, TV series and stage productions.

Online reviews stifle makeup launch
Palace Museum Taobao / Ti Gong

Palace Museum Taobao's eyeshadow quad.

Making Chinese culture fashionable

With a youthful, sentimental and sometimes mischievous presence on Chinese social media, Palace Museum Taobao is no doubt the most successful museum souvenir brand in China. Its unexpected storytelling and designs have attracted young people to learn about the Palace Museum and Chinese history.

The creative cultural brand established in 2015 has launched a wide range of products featuring designs that highlight Chinese culture and history, such as tapes, small table decorations, magnets, notebooks and more, generating over 1 billion yuan in annual revenue.

From 2016 to 2017, the trend of decorating lipsticks with the Palace Museum Taobao’s beautiful tapes grew vastly popular in China. Numerous women started to customize their makeup collection creatively to embrace Chinese culture and heritage.

In response to the trend, the Palace Museum Taobao published an article on April 28, 2017, offering a hypothesis of entering the makeup industry with products inspired by Chinese culture and history. It was reblogged 57,344 times and has received 18,969 comments on Weibo to date.

People loved the idea. The comment that received the most thumb-ups was from user @我就是想换个名字23333, who wrote “If you release makeup, then all women of China will belong to the Palace Museum.”

That dream came true just a day before Alibaba’s “Double 12” (December 12) online shopping festival last year. Palace Museum Taobao finally launched its own original makeup line consisting of six lipsticks, two eyeshadow quads, one single eyeshadow, two blushes and one highlighter.

The packaging designs inspired by the jewelry, embroidery and ceramics found in the Summer Palace were stunning at first sight.

Online reviews stifle makeup launch
Palace Museum Taobao / Ti Gong

The diancui eyeshadow was inspired by the craftsmanship of using kingfisher feathers to decorate hair accessories.

But Palace Museum Taobao wasn’t the only player in the market. The Palace Museum owns four cultural and creative brands targeting different consumer groups, and Palace Museum Cultural Creative Shop released six lipsticks featuring Palace Museum-inspired designs around the same time, which cost 199 yuan each.

A limited-edition gift box featuring two lipsticks and two boxes of face masks (five pieces each) is priced at 669 yuan.

The lipsticks are much like what people have done with Palace Museum tape decorations on their own, and the actual makeup is manufactured by cosmetics brand Biohyalux of the Bloomage Hyinc Technology Co Ltd.

The Biohyalux x Palace Museum collection is now receiving pre-orders on Biohyalux Tmall store and the Palace Museum’s WeChat store.

Online reviews stifle makeup launch
Ti Gong

Designs taken from items in the Palace Museum were a feature.

Chinese cosmetics brands have been seeking new paths to survive in a competitive market filled with numerous foreign brands, and a strategy taken by many is to bring a cultural or sentimental touch to the products.

Skincare brand Pechoin has taken an approach similar to the Palace Museum and launched a makeup set with Chinese imperial culture inspired designs. The set includes a delicate lipstick case and three replaceable lip colors, an eyebrow pencil and a cushion foundation. Its current price at is 788 yuan.

Online reviews stifle makeup launch
Ti Gong

Pechoin's makeup set with Chinese imperial culture inspired designs.

In September 2018, renowned candy brand White Rabbit teamed up with skincare brand Maxam to launch a White Rabbit milk candy flavored lip balm. Both time-honored brands have decades of history in China and the collaboration gained wide attention since its announcement.

But the actual product didn’t live up to the hype. The lip balm, priced at 40 yuan, was released in limited quantities and those who purchased the product commented that the scent and flavor was way too sweet and artificial.

Skincare brand Chando partnered with Want Want, a snack brand many Chinese people grew up with, to release a cushion foundation that has a packaging design resembling Want Want’s famous rice crackers.

Beverage company Wahaha’s Nutri Express product line also tested the water with two limited-edition eyeshadow palettes.

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