Remember life before Sephora? When twenty-seven dollars seemed a good price to pay for jeans, but not, like, a blusher packaged in a little brown paper box? Remember when eyeshadows were actually sold with their very own applicators and "cosmeceuticals" was not a term? Remember when ten bucks seemed like a lot to pay for foundation? Suffice it to say, we at Jezebel consider Sephora a scam on par with Scientology, and we have long desired to find a spy inside the company to tell us how it works. Well, we found one! Her name is "Jasmine", and like a Scientologist, she speaks in code. (Did you know that when a Sephora employee insults another Sephora employee's outfit, the insult is known as a "gift"? Jasmine would like to be the gift that keeps on giving.) After the jump, Jezebel operative and beauty expert LoMorale breaks down the method behind the makeup retailer's madness and interviews Jasmine about her life and work. Questions? Concerns? "Pushback"? Email us!
The first thing that happens upon walking into a Sephora store is a feeling of profound disorientation. While you're busy steeling your self-esteem against the incredibly bright lighting and omnipresent mirrors, display after display of beauty products are working their subliminal coercion on the rest of you, saying, "we can fix you. It'll be fun!" Before you even have a chance to pull out your fuck finger at such a blatant attempt at consumer manipulation, you realize that Sephora is probably right. With over 250 different brands of beauty products under one roof, if you can't find something fun to fix you at Sephora, it might be time to consider quiet resignation as your last remaining option.
It is difficult to overstate how sickeningly profitable that quiet resignation is for Sephora and the multibillion dollar multinational conglomerate that has owned it since 1997, Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey. For one thing, makeup is a pretty profitable racket to begin with. Then there's the fact that the average lipstick at Sephora costs $25, and that most of Sephora's brands were virtual unknowns before Sephora picked them up, so with 766 stores in 21 countries, they have Wal-Mart-esque buying power. Then you've gotta remember how small everything is. It's hard to find a store where a $100 item takes up less shelf space that doesn't involve a "Genius Bar"; the average store is estimated to generate $1,200 in sales per square foot every year.
But what really helps Sephora stay profitable is its workforce. Unlike the overeager artistes that lord over department store makeup counters, with their business cards and bags of drag queen-lite makeup tricks, the black lab coat-clad ladies of Sephora are mostly invisible until you ask them to appear. They make $10 an hour. Perhaps to compensate for their meager wages they are taught to speak in a mysterious code language, abide by strange rules and fill their brains with limitless quantities of beauty trivia all in the hopes of attaining eligibility for "Science Of Sephora," the chain's own month-long beauty school. And this is where "Jasmine" comes in. Below, the anonymous insider talks to me about life on "stage" at Sephora... and why she puts up with managers like Cunty Claus. Got questions for her? Email her directly at SephoraSpy@gmail.com.
What made you do it?
I really, really want to do their training. It's called S.O.S, or Science of Sephora. You go for a month, just beauty training every day like it's your job. The reps from all the different companies show up and give you demos of all their products and give you stuff. You learn fragrance notes, skincare ingredients, makeup techniques... just everything. And the gratis is out of control. They give you everything, DDS Mesojections, Prevage, crazy samples of everything, all this makeup that's like specifically picked out for you, a whole skincare regimen, just really great gratis. The gratis is amazing even without having been to S.O.S. yet, just what you get to keep from working at the store. There's always a brand rep coming by with more shit for you to take home. But I was thinking that I'd get to S.O.S., grab my mother lode, and quit after that if I can't stand it anymore. They can probably smell my S.O.S ambition all over me at this point, too. I am no joke. I'm always talking about skin care, sticking my fingers in everything, trying things out when I'm on stage, which is a no-no... we're not supposed to be trying anything during our shift.
Wait... "on stage"?
The "stage" is the sales floor. Then "backstage" is anywhere that isn't the sales floor. I'm not an employee, I'm a "cast member." It's never called a uniform, it's called a "costume." And I mean... that's just like, wearing black. Your bosses are "leadership." The best part is that you wear those little headphones so people are having entire conversations using this lingo over the headsets and it's all I can do not to crack up when I hear things like, "Hi, this is Cast Member X, I'm on stage right now, I'd like to pop backstage, I have coverage in my zone." And it's astonishing to me that people will have full conversations using these words and no one is flinching. Whole conversations of... "pushback." "Pushback" is like, comments or a reply to the "gift" I gave you or whatever else I just told you.
Which brings me to another term, "the gift." If they're going to give you extra work or say something horrible to you about yourself, it's called a "gift." Like, "Your makeup looks like shit today, I just wanted to let you know, if you want to go in the back and re-do the whole thing..." That is a "gift" employees are often on the receiving end of at Sephora. Or, "I need to you to go in the back with all this stuff, and put it away. Here. This is my gift for you."
Are you supposed to say "thank you" when you get a gift?
I always do. Here's the thing: I think a lot of the company lingo is meant to hide the fact that it's work. Because I think any adult actually doing this for the income or like, for their actual career would probably kill themselves. We don't work on commission. I make eleven bucks an hour, and I think that I'm actually one of the higher-paid cast members at my store. The average is probably nine or ten dollars an hour. But, a lot of people are... two of my co-workers are what, eighteen, nineteen? And their first jobs before Sephora were in fast food. So this job is paying them a lot more. It's also a job with a certain kind of clout, a certain kind of clientele, and they're learning something. One of them is like, exceptionally good-looking with the best skin ever, so I wouldn't be surprised if they just have her there to like, walk around and make the store look good. Plus, we get all the training we need from the company. The only other retail job I've ever worked was when I was sixteen, at a GAP out in the suburbs. When Sephora came to town—I mean, at one point, I know I said I'd never work a retail job again. Horrifying. I just wanted to get out and never go back. However, when Sephora came to town, it kind of re-wrote the script for me and I was willing to work on their "stage." The information I think I can get if I can make myself stay long enough is basically a free education. I like going to work in high-glamour mode every day, thinking about these things. Left to my own devices, I don't want to say I don't care about beauty, but I'm less inclined to... you know, obsess and I've definitely never paid this level of attention before. So it's interesting to me on that level.
Which products are you into right now?
Well, today I'm wearing the BeneFit line. There are a bunch of things on my face. I really think they do a good job with little trick products, iridescence products, color correction, highlighting stuff. There's a BeneFit product for every different part of your face, and if you use them together, they really do make your skin look flawless. I also just bought a bottle of Christian Dior J'Adore. It's this Old Hollywood kind of floral scent, and the bottle is really glamorous. I liked the idea of finishing off my Old Hollywood look with this aura of perfume mystique. But I don't know if this is really the fragrance for me. I'm still somewhat dissatisfied with it. I'm really into face serums, too. kojic acid is big for me. It brightens your skin, and it's a gentler alternative to hydroquinone, which basically gives you cancer. People use it all the time anyway, but I prefer the kojic acid products. It's funny, because everyone who works at Sephora always wants to work in Color World, which is where all the makeup is... and we all have to take our turns in every World, just to keep everything kind of fluid... but I like Beauty World. I think skin care is my thing. I also really like working with the clients. Not customers, customers are one-time-only visitors. Clients are people who keep coming back, and they're what we want to make every customer. But it always makes me feel really good when people come in with these skin problems that are completely valid and just making them feel horrible about themselves... like a twenty-four year old girl with really bad acne who walks in never having really used anything except like ProActiv... and I can hook her up. And be really reassuring at the same time because it's horrible to have to walk into a store and be like, "help my face, please!" But if I'm working Beauty World that day, I know that girl will leave feeling good. Another thing that I like is that people can return anything they want, even if it's half-empty, and we give out samples of everything. The Sephora people call that "confidence." Sephora is huge on "confidence."
What's the worst part about working there?
Routinely being spoken to like I'm an autistic third grader. There's this whole chain of command in retail where people feel really entitled to speak down to you. If a client isn't doing it, "leadership" is doing it, and it's always worse when it's someone you have to see every day, like one of my managers, who I like to call Cunty Claus. It's a good thing we don't work on commission, because it would be like "Pretty Woman" in there. There are days when I'm like, 'this is ridiculous,' but I try not to let that out so much. I just keep thinking Science of Sephora... Science of Sephora... Science of Sephora.