Friday, August 20, 2010

The Semantics Of Anti-Ageing Creams: A Monograph

Regular readers will no doubt remember my pioneering discovery of Garnier's Law of Mascara Names, which dictates that the product names given to fancy eyelash gunk will double in hyperbolicity every two years, irrespective of any corresponding technical development in the product itself.

I had long suspected that this same law must also apply to other areas of the beauty industry, but lacked the time and wherewithal to investigate further. But a fortuitous combination of circumstances yesterday led to a major discovery which I feel I must document here for the benefit of future generations.

Those circumstances were a) the good fortune of my being on maternity leave, and therefore having more time at my disposal to explore evolving semantics in the cosmetics industry, and b) the chance arrival of an email from Homes and Gardens magazine, inviting me to enter a competition to win a supply of L'Occitane anti-ageing products.

Now the anti-ageing business is not something I profess to know a lot about, being of the opinion that it's all a scam to sell expensive goo to ladies rendered suitably insecure by half a lifetime's exposure to idiot-rags like Grazia and Closer.

However, having time on my hands I duly clicked the link in the email, only to discover - to the delight of my scientific and enquiring mind - that unlike, say, Moore's Law, Garnier's Law of Anti-Ageing Cream Names appears already to have reached the limits of its potential.

Naturally, as Ben Goldacre will tell you, you can't make an assertion like this without first conducting an exhaustive survey across the whole field of enquiry. Before publishing my astonishing findings to the world, I first had to investigate the names given to anti-ageing creams from other companies. Not knowing any off the top of my head, I turned to Twitter for advice. Sadly this elicited little of use, unless you count 'jizz', suggested by @Lfbarfe, or 'Tesco Value French Mustard', suggested by @Nibus.

So, like all serious scientists, I turned instead to Google.

Here I discovered that, by comparison with mascara names, prevailing naming conventions for anti-ageing creams are actually quite modest. L'Oréal, for example, offers us 'Revitalift' and 'Renoviste', hardly the stuff of fervid dreams of long-lost youth. Garnier, meanwhile, prefers 'Vital Restore', which sounds more like a business continuity procedure in a midsize accountancy firm's data centre than a face cream. Elizabeth Arden has come up with the mysterious 'Prevage', which makes me think of André Previn, who makes me think of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, which we can't exactly chalk up as a metaphoric triumph.

This surprising reticence could be indicative of a number of things. Perhaps in a rare moment of marketing sobriety and self-awareness, these companies acknowledged that none of their products *actually* has the capacity to halt the ageing process, and are therefore a bit circumspect about making hyperbolic claims for them. Or perhaps, unlike their impetuous colleagues on the mascara watch, their branding executives are aware of how much time lies ahead, and how they must not gratuitously squander the precious finite resources of the English, French and Franglais lexicons.

But among all the reticence and linguistic frugality, one company stands alone, on a lavender-scented hilltop, throwing circumspection, restraint and Garnier's Law to the marin and the tramontane. Ladies and gentlemen, that company is L'Occitane, who have seen fit to name their anti-ageing range 'Immortelle'.

Immortelle. You don't have to have GCSE French to figure out what they're getting at there. "Buy this face cream," whisper L'Occitane seductively, "and you will become immortal."

It's a bold claim, and not one that I fancy would stand up under the brutal spotlight of scientific scrutiny. It's also not one that I find particularly comforting. Linguistically, 'immortal' is synonymous with 'undead', which conjures up images of hordes of desiccated liches stalking the earth, draped in grand clothing yet showing all too well the weight of years; decay and corruption their constant companion.

On balance I think I'll take my chances with soap, water and death.


Inwardly Confused said...

I love the fripperies of womanhood, the tinctures and lotions but hate the pseudoscience bullshittery that accompanies it all. I am not a nobber but put it in a pink gift set and I'll probably buy it, spending money on 'science stuff' explanations and hyperbole laden names is wasted on me.

Dave said...

Isn't Immortelle also known as Everlasting? It's a plant, like Helichrysum, I believe.

This cream - do you eat it on strawberries, or is it more a savory dish, to be taken perhaps on a bowl of gazpacho?

Sue Black said...

I'm off to L'Occitane....see ya later x

GreatSheElephant said...

I suspect sadly that Dave's right - it's the Immortelle flower. L'Occitane has been making a bit of a thing over the past few years about single flower harvests in their products - jasmine, lavender and the like.

Immortelle smells pretty horrible too (although it pops up in perfumery pretty regularly) - like a mixture of stale pepper and maple syrup. However the facial muscular exertion needed to hold one's nostrils pinched while applying could have a wonderfully toning effect on the complexion.

patroclus said...

I was very disappointed to learn that Immortelle is a real flower - almost disappointed enough not to write the blog post, but not quite!

Christopher said...

Most of these products derive ultimately from stage make-up, particularly those produced and graded by Leichner. You see the connection, of course: Lich, lych-gate, leichnam, Leichner. If you'd consulted morticians' catalogues you might have found exactly the same products under different, ultra-Garnier names, revealing an even more footling set of nominative standards.

chatterbox said...

Hmmm, fleas that won't die, immortality creams... there's a connection here if only I could find it.

patroclus said...

Chatterbox: Add to this the fact that my Granny's 100th birthday is looming, and you practically have a leitmotif.

Dave said...

I do hope your granny doesn't have fleas though.

Vicus Scurra said...

I didn't read this.

Tim Footman said...

Of course, if they really enforced conventional notions of reality upon such products, they’d all have to be called things like “Doesn’t look too bad, all things considered”. Or “Tightsmile”.

Anonymous said...

Immortality available in a jar - where can I get it???

Sylvia said...

this flea business is good practice for the real horror to come - headlice!! My years of experience with headlice served me well when I spotted flea on dog - with seconds it had been intercepted, crushed and flushed down sink.

As for the creams - pah! my budget stretches to whatever's on special offer in the shops for under £5

Sylvia said...

where was the blow by blow blog on your delivery today??? He looks lovely - well done.