Long has the thick, full-eyebrowed look reigned supreme in the beauty world – but could that all be about to change?
Rihanna’s September Vogue cover shows the superstar with her eyebrows seemingly removed and ultra-fine, pronounced arches pencilled in their place.
It flies in the face (literally) of the bushy Cara Delevingne-inspired brows that have for so long been the beauty norm of the £20m brow industry.
But would women really ditch their carefully grown-out eyebrows for such a dramatic look?
“It feels really fresh and is such a big statement,” says Rosie Green, beauty director at Woman & Home.
“It’s such an amazing beauty trend that people can tap into with very little money – unlike many of the bags and clothes that are featured in Vogue.
“I think after this there will be a change – the real drawn-on brow will certainly start to go away,” she adds.
Former beauty director of Glamour magazine, Alessandra Steinherr, on the other hand, is quite definite that we’re not going to see the look adopted across the board.
“No, it’s not going to filter down to the wider public,” she says. “Beauty bloggers will be doing it in tutorials and I think perhaps we’ll move towards a thinner more natural brow – but brows are such a strong feature, I can’t see them going away soon.”
But Green says that full eyebrows are now a tired trope: “Cara was so fresh and youthful when she burst onto the scene because they were her own brows but actually with a lot of girls they’ve become like drawn-on slugs: cartoonish and often crass. It was only a matter of time before it swung back.”
Historically, it was ever thus.
The heavily-tweezed look of the 1920s and 30s, made famous by the likes of movie stars Clara Bow and Jean Harlow, were followed by the heavier brows of the late 1940s and 50s a la Lauren Bacall.
In the 1960s, came the arched thick-set brows of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, and the early 70s saw women – inspired by the hippie movement – sporting their eyebrows as nature intended.
But later that decade – and perhaps in response – followed a thin-curved brow, worn by Donna Summer, Twiggy and the celebrities who frequented Studio 54.
In the 80s – as with everything – more was definitely more and Brooke Shields’s eyebrows personified perfectly the decade’s maxim.
But, inevitably, a thinner eyebrow was just around the corner and the 90s grunge movement – with the help of Kate Moss and Drew Barrymore – ushered in a sleeker, more refined brow.
Brows took on a more natural happy-medium for the following decade until Delevingne burst onto the scene in 2011, persuading a generation of beauty bloggers and Instagrammers to step away from the tweezers entirely and opt instead for brown mascara.
So Rihanna’s look, and the move towards thinner eyebrows, is perhaps unsurprising.
“I’m so happy about this, I can’t tell you,” says YouTube beauty presenter and veteran journalist Nadine Bagott.
“I think this will be the end of the thick Instagram eyebrow, which I am fed up of seeing. I’m tired of seeing blocked out eyebrows and contour make-up. For a whole generation thinner brows is just going to look really shocking, but for my generation the current trend is crazy.
“Vogue has obviously gone to the extreme – it’s a real nod to the 1920s look, but also a throw to (1970s make-up artist) Way Bandy, but where the magazine leads others follow.
For many women, this is a really new look, but it was a really normal look for people of an older generation. It’ll take Kim Kardashian or someone of that ilk to wear them in real life, for it to become widely adopted.”
Steinherr doubts whether women would actually go and ask for something like this: “It looks great on Rihanna on a Vogue cover, but you wouldn’t want to wear it to your morning meeting.”
And Shavata Singh, founder of brow chain Shavata Brow Studios, says she would actively discourage clients from going for such an extreme look.
“I think Vogue is in the habit of shocking people to get attention,” she says. “That’s what covers are meant to do and it’s done its job fabulously – it’s got everyone talking and just proves how powerful eyebrows are.
“I think Rihanna carries those eyebrows beautifully, but would I do them on my clients? No way!” she says firmly.
“They’re a commitment and such hard work. Eyebrows should silently frame the face,” she continues. “If a girl came in and asked for that, I would send her away and tell her to think about it. Especially if she had full brows – I think their faces would look too empty.
“It would be great for business, because they are such high maintenance,” adds Singh. “But getting your eyebrows back after removing them might take six months. I’ve had ladies come in with Rihanna’s eyebrows and it’s taken three years for them to grow back.
“And sometimes they just don’t grow back at all if you’ve killed the hair follicle,” she warns.
Steinherr says emulating the look of Rihanna is beside the point of the Vogue cover.
“That wasn’t the point of it at all,” she says. “It’s just the creative look of the cover – it is a really arresting image. The whole thing is an homage to Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich. I doubt Rihanna’s going to run around with that look.”
In fact, more interesting for Steinherr is the timing of the Vogue cover, as chosen by editor Edward Enniful and his team.
“September is traditionally the fashion issue and I find it interesting that it’s such a beauty moment. Under his editorship the beauty content has increased which I think reaches out to a younger audience.”
Rosie Green says the cover has all the hallmarks of Enninful: “I think he was acting as the creative director on the shoot. The idea for the eyebrows would have come from him and possibly Vogue’s make-up director. The look reminds me of the 90s – which is when Edward Enninful came of age.
“Make-up artists and photographers love it because it’s so striking and beautiful – it really shows off the bone structure.”
@badgalriri styled by moi and shot by @nick_knight for the @britishvogue September cover story wears an @alexandermcqueen tuxedo jacket with lace gloves by @cornelia_james and tights by @jonathanastonlondon. Hair by @yusefhairnyc, make-up by @isamayaffrench using @fentybeaut…
Singh says there has already been a move away from the super-thick eyebrow: “Clients are looking for slightly more refined looks already.
“In the last three to four months we are definitely getting away from that very heavily painted-on look. Clients are coming in asking for a more manicured / arched look.”
Baggot says she hopes the Vogue cover will reintroduce a sense of adventure into women’s make-up: “Don’t forget that women of a certain age all had really thin eyebrows at one time.
“We need to lighten up slightly about what we should do with our brows. People have been brow-washed – they can’t get away from the squared-up brow.
“Rihanna looks stonkingly good on that cover and I think we need to go back to having a bit of fun with make-up.
“After all, eyebrows will grow back,” she says. “Well, nine times out of 10 anyway…”