Nostalgia can be a powerful force for consumer goods, a way to transport people back to a time when the world around them was simpler than it is today. Whimsy — with its playful, fanciful aesthetic — can create a similarly soothing effect. 

Consumers have been gravitating to both nostalgia and whimsy lately. According to the Toy Association, whose manufacturing members account for 93% of toy and game sales in the U.S., in early 2021, 58% of parents said they’d bought toys and games for themselves, not just their kids. To capitalize on this trend, brands including LEGO, Razor and Lite-Brite maker Basic Fun have produced versions of their products targeted at an older audience. More recently, as “Barbie” took the crown for the biggest movie opening of 2023 and Warner Bros.’ highest-grossing movie ever, among other accolades, Barbie toys and accessories for kids and adults had driven up brand revenue on Amazon 60% year over year.

The allure of nostalgia has extended its reach into the beauty market. A multitude of brands are now aligning themselves with this phenomenon, launching products that channel the magic of nostalgia, reigniting those fond emotions to capture the attention of consumers. Along with this, whimsy has made a spirited return to the beauty landscape. Amid a host of products promising clean beauty, anti-aging and clinical actives, whimsical products are bringing fun to the beauty aisle.

Licensing outside the box 

For evidence of whimsy and nostalgia in beauty, look no further than the spate of licensing deals beauty brands have been signing with non-personal-care brands.

Recent collaborations include Rude Beauty’s Mentos-themed cosmetics and beauty tools, which feature the candy’s color palettes and branding. Mad Beauty, meanwhile, has created an assortment of Disney-branded cosmetics, skincare, and bath and body products. This year the brand launched three new lines, including assorted skincare products in honor of the Disney100 celebrations, and collections for the Disney princesses and “The Little Mermaid.” 

The Barbie movie has also inspired a number of collaborations, including NYX Cosmetics’ Barbie the Movie makeup collection, complete with Barbie-themed packaging.

Playful packaging

Brands have been empowered to get more creative and playful with their product branding and packaging, resulting in colorful collaborations and cosmetic lines with makeup in fun and irreverent colors.

The Morphe x Lisa Frank collection features eyeshadow palettes with three collectible Lisa Frank designs on the covers along with animal print brushes in a printed case. The bright colors, prints and designs are unmistakable for ’90s fans of the brand.

Kara Beauty has horoscope-themed and other themed packs for its lashes and a line of brightly packaged dessert-themed blushes — “flavors” include Berry Souffle, Cherry on Top, Strawberry Sundae and Cara Cara Mousse.

Old is new again 

Nostalgia need not be purely whimsical, however. Reboots have been a common theme in TV for years and increasingly in movies as well. Such media reboots are successful because the audience comes not just for the show/movie itself but for the joy of reliving an old favorite. Beauty brands have also found the renewal of old favorites to be a way to pay homage to prior success.

Each year, as part of its semiannual sale, Bath & Body works revives some of its “retired” scents in the hopes that a bottle of, say, Cucumber Melon or Warm Vanilla Sugar body gel can both transport the user to simpler times and perhaps earn some new fans.

Clinique’s decades-old Black Honey lip product had a TikTok revival back in 2021 and now Clinique x Kate Spade New York Pop Plush Creamy Lip Gloss collection is back with Kate Spade designs and Black Honey as one of its four featured shades.

Tarte has also done a relaunch of an old fan favorite, a limited edition of Tarte’s Cheek Stains. Relaunching its first product, which is still iconic, was the brand’s response to consumers looking for comfort in nostalgic beauty products that they remember fondly. 

Steps to success 

When considering nostalgia and whimsy for beauty and personal care products, there are several key factors that brands should bear in mind: 

  • Partner thoughtfully – Brand collaborations, whether through partnerships or licensing (or both), can deliver new customers, but it is still important that collaborations with non-beauty and personal care brands are relevant to a beauty brand’s consumers. When considering these partnerships, have a clear goal in mind. Is the goal to elevate the brand? Create a fun and whimsical moment for consumers? Something else? Choose a partner accordingly.

  • Keep moving forward while also looking back – While consumers value nostalgia, they don’t want products that are stagnant. Innovation has been key to many beauty trends in recent years, among them inclusivity in color cosmetics and skincare products, clean and eco-friendly beauty, and a focus on efficacy. When looking backward for ideas, be sure to refine products for today’s landscape to ensure their continued relevancy to old and new consumers alike.

To learn more about how to leverage whimsy and nostalgia in beauty and personal care, please contact

L.E.K. Consulting is a registered trademark of L.E.K. Consulting LLC. All other products and brands mentioned in this document are properties of their respective owners. © 2023 L.E.K. Consulting LLC 

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