The rise of the celebrity makeup brand

The rise of the celebrity makeup brand

Strong foundations

Text: Renée Batchelor

Image: Instagram: @badgalriri

It used to be that every celebrity worth her salt had a perfume. Now, with the latest launch of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, you're no one till you have your own makeup brand

Rihanna. Kim Kardashian. Victoria Beckham. What do these three, ambitious women have in common besides red hot careers and business minds? Well they have their own makeup brands (in the case of Beckham, she has a range with Estée Lauder). It used to be that anyone who was anyone in the celebrity realm had their own fragrance. The trend of celebrities lending their names and star power to cosmetics arguably started in a big way with the late Elizabeth Taylor. She launched her White Diamonds perfume in the early '90s and it's likely your mums, aunts or grandmothers bought a bottle.

By the noughties, everyone from JLo to Paris Hilton had their own perfumes that ranged from middling fruity-florals to downright stinkers. Make no mistake about it, the celebrity fragrance was often a cynical money grab — an exercise in milking every dollar from hapless fans, and hardly any of these fragrances would go down in history as game-changing. Even today, it is baffling that pop stars like Shawn Mendes hawk their own perfume. But then, Kylie Jenner parlayed her reality show 15 minutes into a cosmetics house in 2016, and it seems this has started a chain reaction in the relatively new field of celebrity face paint.

While it was not unheard of for celebrities to have their own makeup ranges with cosmetic brands, it was more common for famous makeup artists, models and fashion houses to start their own lines. After all building an entire makeup brand from scratch would take time, investment and active participation, a trifecta that not many celebrities could commit to. One of the first makeup brands started by a genuine celebrity was Kat Von D Beauty, which was created in 2008 when the tattoo artist and reality show star was approached by Sephora to start a makeup brand. It is now under Kendo — a division of LVMH that was originally created as a product development arm of Sephora. It may have begun with a slightly 'gimmicky' premise, but the brand is now a respected one in the industry known for its concealers, liquid lipsticks and palettes among other products. This year Kendo launched another celebrity makeup line with singer Rihanna — called Fenty Beauty by Rihanna.

The line had an explosive, simultaneous worldwide debut in 17 countries on 8 September, and Singapore was thankfully, not forgotten in the launch, with Fenty Beauty by Rihanna retailing both online and in Sephora stores. Rihanna and Kendo brought out the big guns, employing famed makeup artist James Kaliardos as the resident artist and insisting that all 40 shades of the Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation be stocked worldwide. In truth Rihanna's makeup line is not the first to peddle this concept. Supermodel Iman launched her Iman Cosmetics with the tagline 'Beauty for your skin tone' specifically to address the needs of darker-skinned women waaay back in 1994. But most millennials don't have particularly long memories nor an appreciation for history, so Rihanna is in luck.

Victoria Beckham X Estée Lauder Fall 2017 hero products

Another celebrity who has making inroads in the cosmetics world in designer Victoria Beckham — although it is arguable she is better known by her Posh Spice pop singer persona. Beckham launched a capsule collection with Estée Lauder dubbed Victoria Beckham x Estée Lauder in October 2016, and the makeup went beyond the usual renaming of colours or re-designing of packaging that many brands do in their routine collaborations. Beckham's makeup had a high-end, high fashion feel, thanks to weighty, luxurious packaging and included some interesting products like an illuminating cream called Morning Aura. The range has done well enough to warrant a second collection that will be released very soon, and cements Beckham's position as a tastemaker.


And of course, the roles of both Kylie Jenner and Kim Kardashian cannot be ignored when discussing celebrity makeup lines. Jenner started the ball rolling with her innovative Lip Kits that filled a gap in the market that few big cosmetics brands could foretell. Banking on the devotion of her nearly 100 million plus Instagram followers — many of whom were teenagers who worshipped the then teen's cosmetically-inflated pout — the Lip Kits were so successful they were snapped up in minutes, sold for hugely inflated prices on eBay, inspired knock-offs both from cheap and noted brands alike, and convinced Jenner to launch a full-blown Kylie Cosmetics in 2016.

Sister Kim Kardashian, who was already known for her flawless makeup and heavy contouring finally launched her own KKW (stands for Kim Kardashian West) Beauty in June 2017, starting with one key product, the Crème Contour & Highlight Kit on 21 June. The second product from her line is the (currently sold out) Powder Contour & Highlight Kit, and Kardashian is set to introduce more complexion products in her range including a concealer palette.

One way that these lines are succeeding and doing better than traditional cosmetics brands is in the way the products are marketed to millennials — often their target audience. With the exception of Beckham's line which is targetted at more discerning customers who buy makeup the old school way, most of the makeup from these celebrity lines are well-priced and sold exclusively online. KKW Beauty kits retail at a relatively affordable US$48 to US$52 while a single, matte liquid lipstick from Kylie Cosmetics rings in at US$17. When you add in shipping and the exchange rate, they do become quite expensive, but are still not prohibitively so. It's tempting to 'add to cart' without thinking too hard, and with non-exchange policies, even if these products do not suit your skin tone or perform well, there's no way to really return them. While this is a drawback for older consumers, millennials will not baulk at buying without trying. It doesn't hurt that the seemingly limited stock — probably due to production and distribution limitations more than anything else — make these babies all that more desirable.

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna Match Stix Skinsticks, $37 each

That is where Fenty Beauty by Rihanna has an even better chance at succeeding across all sectors. Using Sephora's distribution channels, the brand can make inroads into more markets. Starting from just $31 for a lip gloss and a very pocket-friendly $37 for a Match Stix Skinstick, these products are low-commitment as compared to a fashion item or accessory, and unlike online-only products can be swatched, felt and examined in person. Rihanna's line also interestingly eschewed traditional makeup items like lipsticks, eyeshadows and mascaras as its initial offerings and went for multi-tasking products that appealled to the cosmetics-loving millennials who knew their way around a contour and highlight. Cleverly, it has still enticed the older, less confident, but still curious consumer. The multi-use products also defy easy categorisation. The Match Stix can be used to highlight, contour or correct while the Killawatt Freestyle Highlighters can be used all over the face. The range also focusses on women of colour, a grossly under-served sector in the cosmetics industry. In fact, the entire brand has Rihanna's mandate of inclusivity as its key selling point.

And a word has to be mentioned about the packaging, which is almost as important as the product itself. Fenty Beauty by Rihanna comes in a dusty millennial pink hue and some of the products are magnetic, making them easy to store and carry around. Interestingly enough, KKW Beauty's packaging colour is also a similar, millennial pink palette, and her kits contain several applicators and products in one — another key trend with younger customers. Although its likely that both brands started development long before the world first caught a glimpse of the finished product, it's no coincidence they both appeal to a particular audience. Victoria Beckham's classy black and gold packaging meanwhile looks expensive and decidely aspirational, speaking to a more mature, well-heeled consumer.

Rihanna portrait

While figures are not immediately available for the opening sales of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna, the products are reportedly flying off the shelves, with many of the darker shades of foundation selling out in the US and on Rihanna's deal with Kendo was reportedly worth $10 million. Women of colour, whom Rihanna vowed to serve, are coming out in droves to buy the products after years of being snubbed by mainstream makeup brands. The social media footprint of Fenty Beauty by Rihanna is astonishing in itself, as vocal commentors are cutting a swathe on the accounts of its competitors, criticising them for not jumping on the inclusivity bandwagon earlier.

Kardashian reportedly made $14.4 million from the opening batch of 300,000 Crème Contour & Highlight kits that sold out on its site within hours. And while exact figures on how well Kylie Cosmetics is doing are also unavailable, Jenner was likely one of the richest, self-made teens in the world, before she turned 20 last month. The demand is clearly there, even if the products are not always up to scratch — many being produced in a much shorter timespan compared to the usual time allocated for development and testing, and not always receiving rave reviews from seasoned makeup lovers.

There's certainly a captive audience, at least until the next big trend comes along. But whether the brands continue to make strides depends on their product innovation, response to the market and their ability to predict trends or even to create new trends and categories altogether. Operating almost like start-ups, as many do not have the guidance and R&D facilities of big cosmetic conglomerates, these celebrity-driven makeup brands have to be nimble, innovative and interesting in order to continue to pique our fickle, fickle interests.