For a long time, the Advent calendar landscape has been dominated by chocolate. But no longer: luxe Advent calendars have become increasingly common over the last five years, but 2018 is truly the year of the beauty calendar boom.
Google Trends show a 20% increase in online searches for “beauty Advent calendar”, which peaked at the beginning of December last year and looks set to spike again this year. Meanwhile, Boots says it has seen a huge increase in demand for beauty Advent calendars: this year’s No7 Advent calendar had a waiting list of 130,000 and sold out within 72 hours. Debenhams experienced more than 8,000 website searches for their Ultimate Beauty Advent calendars and Sara Stern, the company’s health and beauty trading director, says that “after it sold out, we saw it on online auction sites for as much as double the original price”.
Historically, Advent was the period during which new Christians prepared for baptism (the calendars themselves replaced candles as a way to countdown until Christmas). But we’ve come a long way from the Advent calendars of yore. In 1953, their popularity soared after President Eisenhower’s grandchildren were pictured with one. Since then, windows that open to reveal pictures, Bible verses, toys or sweet treats have been the norm – until now.
This year, brands including Nars (£175), Glossybox (£99), Mac (£125) and Net-a-Porter (£150) are launching their first ever Advent calendars filled with products: from mini lipliners and pocket-sized perfumes, to beauty blenders, travel-sized body lotions and more. Meanwhile, for the clean-beauty clan, there’s Green People’s “green regime” calendar (£75) – although, like brands including Iconic London (£84), La Mer (£300) and Charlotte Tilbury (£150), they offer just 12 doors, rather than 24-25 (for much the same price, too). It might not be a full Christmas countdown, but it’s probably enough to get you hooked.
The prices are here for transparency – and because they’re not cheap by any stretch. Of course, you could just stick these items on your Christmas list, or shop for them in the January sales, but the collective cost of the products included tends to be significantly higher than the price of the calendar; usually savings are around 65%. Even so, many of the products included would once have been considered stocking fillers for adults – but calendars are very much “as well as” not “instead of” anything Santa might deign to deliver. And, ultimately, brands will be hoping that once your trial-sized treats are all used up, you’ll be tempted to invest in the full-size products.
Estée Lauder’s calendar will aim to convert beauty consumers to products across Clinique, Origins, Mac, Bobbi Brown, Aveda, Bumble and Bumble, Smashbox, Glamglow and more – charging them £150 for the pleasure. While the savings might be significant, brand loyalty is, of course, priceless. “They are a great piece of marketing of course – beauty is a multi-billion dollar industry,” says Anita Bhagwandas, beauty director at Stylist, “but they’re a lovely gift because they do in some ways promote self-care.”
There’s also the question of “the wait”. By nature, Advent calendars are an exercise in delayed gratification; for children, they are like an annual marshmallow test. But for adults, the beauty industry has replaced marshmallows with mascaras, under the guise of Christmas, and few of us have the self-restraint.
Advent calendars have also become wrapped up in the social media phenomenon of unboxing, whereby items are unpacked and unwrapped on camera. Simone Partner has been unboxing Advent calendars since 2016, starting with the Tanya Burr advent calendar. This year she started in August and says she’s still “nowhere near done”. Her YouTube channel, Eltoria, now has 155,867 subscribers and her latest video, unboxing the Debenhams advent calendar (£59.50), received more than 20,000 views in 24 hours.
“People are buying beauty Advent calendars and opening them all at once just to get the discounted products,” says Partner. “Others buy several Advent calendars, and then open them all one day at a time.”
Last year, the vlogger Zoe Sugg, aka Zoella, was heavily criticised for her own 12-day Advent calendar, costing £50, which contained items widely derided as “tat”. They included a pen, two candles, an envelope of confetti – if anything, it felt as if consumers were paying more for their products, not less. Boots eventually cut the price to £25.
“Although the press around Zoella’s Advent calendar was negative, I think it actually had a positive effect on the market,” says Partner. “It was like the cause of the big blow-up.” They’re still expensive but, after unboxing a number of this year’s offerings, Partner insists the quality has vastly improved.
Of course, not all beauty Advent calendars are created equal. Long gone are the days of flimsy cardboard sheets; beauty advent calendars are a sizeable home accessory and as such, aesthetics matter. Mixing William Morris’s Golden Lily and Strawberry Thief prints in its design, The Morris Co calendar (£40) is surely one of 2018’s most stylish offerings. There’s visual competition from Dior’s light-up calendar, designed by the artist and illustrator Konstantin Kakanias, as well as Liberty’s Beauty advent calendar, which features the new AW18 Liberty print, Juno Feather – but at £280 and £195 respectively, neither feel justifiable during what is perhaps the most expensive month of the year. Especially when tiny, cheap, chocolate calendars cost less than a fiver – and tend to feel just as joyous.