By: Carolyn Kirshe
Photos by: Kate Clark
Beautiful people have been the biggest promoters of makeup since the beginning of the industry. Celebrities in particular come with the advantages of their own image and following, and can have a radical impact on our perception of brands. One prime example of this is Kendall Jenner’s collaboration with Estée Lauder as one of their “Estée Models”. Not only was this one of the most successful cosmetics campaigns of last year in terms of impressions, but it dynamically revamped the Estée Lauder image, which had begun to appear outdated to millennial shoppers. MAC’s Viva Glam line is another example of the impact celebrity collaborations can make, raising well over a billion dollars for AIDS relief by donating the full dollar amount of the product to charity.
For a while, such collaborations made a lot of sense. Companies like Estée Lauder have relied on celebrities to generate buzz, access new audiences, or take their brand in a new direction. Celebrities in turn relied on companies to take care of all of the nitty gritty work that went into creating the products they represented; they lacked the business acumen, industry relationships, or (frankly) the desire to create their own products from scratch.
That is, until Kylie Jenner. Though some may question the justification for the Kardashian’s fame and fortune, no one can dispute the impact of her company on the cosmetics industry. While she got off to a rocky start with some product issues, Kylie Cosmetics has made a name for itself one lip kit at a time. Literally. Kylie’s business model—relying on limited edition, limited quantity products designed to sell out in minutes—demonstrates her greatest commodity: exclusivity. While traditional brands try to make themselves available on every store counter and magazine cover, Kylie capitalized on her fame by making her products hard to get.
However, if anyone could compete with Kylie for fame, it’s Rihanna. In September, the multi-platinum artist showed us what she’s been work work working on—her very own makeup line. Her brand Fenty Beauty has already made a huge splash both online and within the cosmetics industry, and there are no signs of it going anywhere anytime soon. The near instantaneous success of Fenty Beauty speaks volumes about the ways it contrasts both “old” and “new” makeup, both Estee Lauder and Kylie Cosmetics. Rather than release one product or collection at a time, Rihanna launched an entire brand; over a hundred unique, individual products were all released at once without market testing or feedback. If Kylie dipped her toe in the market one lip kit at a time, Rihanna just did a cannonball.
Where Kylie monetized exclusivity, Rihanna is monetizing accessibility. While customers are lucky to snag a single product of Kylie’s before they sell out, Fenty launched in thousands of Sephora stores nationwide. Though she released dazzling highlighters and shimmer sticks, her most buzz-worthy product far and away has been… her foundation. Available in a jaw-dropping 40 shades and designed for people at every point in the skin tone spectrum, Rihanna is also a champion of access in terms of inclusivity. Conversely, big cosmetic companies have repeatedly failed to offer a shade range fitting for people of color.
Is Fenty Beauty just the hottest new fad, destined to fizzle? Or is it the newest bona-fide beauty brand on the block? Like the artist herself, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty resists categorization. What is clear, however, is that Rihanna’s customer research team should get a raise; her beauty line capitalizes on the faults of both big box and buzzy brands. Where companies like Estée Lauder failed to keep with the times and represent the needs of a changing market, Fenty provides cutting-edge innovation and a shade for every color. Where Kylie Cosmetics relies on hype and scarcity to justify value, Rihanna skips the stress and provides all of her products, in all places, always. Social media is abuzz with appreciative customers, but her long term success will rely on her fans’ willingness to put their money where their mouth is. If so, it seems Fenty Beauty is here to stay.