What is soul? It's fundamental, it's deep-rooted. It's almost certainly good. It's human, or at least it speaks to our humanity. There is no algorithm for soul; it's found everywhere, but only by dint of nature.
Soul is amorphous and enormous, universally meaningful in a way that makes it the perfect corporate buzzword.
What propels a brand to the top? Soul, they say. What does it take for an upstart business to cut through the noise, win the hearts of shoppers, and catch the eyes of major players looking to get in on the next big thing? Soul, of course.
Last month, Business of Fashion ran an article quoting Tadashi Yanai, the CEO of Uniqlo owner Fast Retailing, saying that "without a soul, a company is nothing." The next day, an essay by designer Prabal Gurung appeared in Lenny Letter
explaining his mission to "create a luxury brand with a soul." This obsession with soul extends well beyond fashion. "Mark Fields Says Ford Is a Company ‘With a Soul,'" reads a Fortune headline about the car company. "Can Reddit find a way to become a business without losing its soul?" the magazine asks about the massive online forum.
Beauty professionals frequently drop the S-bomb regarding brands in their industry, too. The word's ubiquity may diminish its significance somewhat, but it does point to something real. Smoothing on face cream, applying makeup, and working various balms, sprays, and oils through our hair is a daily communion. We tap on concealer and dot on eyeliner to feel more like ourselves, or the person we want to be on a given day.
You could argue that in a culture that values consumption as a means to happiness, the purchase of any product, from gadgets to sneakers to mouthwash, informs our sense of self. But in beauty, a sphere so overtly tied to identity, it seems especially right that we'd gravitate toward brands that claim to have just as distinctive a spirit as we do.
If you want to locate a beauty line's soul, you'll find it in its founder. It's Pat McGrath, the prolific makeup artist with a penchant for high-drama looks who started releasing lush, glittering products of her own last year. It's Kat Von D, the tattoo artist who created a monumentally successful cosmetics line with a tough-girl aesthetic and long-lasting formulations.
It's Estée Lauder, the late marketing whiz who built a 20th-century beauty empire that endures to this day.