“The last thing the world needs is another beauty brand. But that’s too bad,” Lady Gaga snarks in the promo clip introducing her latest venture: Haus Laboratories. She’s right. It’s hard to keep up with the countless brands on the market, with each pushing the next “big thing,” whether it’s an innovative formula or a buzzy trend (the industry is valued at .5 billion in the U.S. alone). It’s even harder to find one that’s not tethered to a star—because, as every marketing exec knows, there’s no greater influencer than an A-list celebrity.
It’s been that way for centuries—as early as the Elizabethan era (1558-1603) during which Queen Elizabeth I was not only admired for her taste in fashion, but also set the standard for beauty ideals. But it wasn’t until the 1920s when UK brand Lux Soaps, determined to garner international recognition, harnessed the star power and glamorous appeal of Hollywood celebrities as a marketing tactic, tapping Marilyn Monroe, Natalie Wood, Mae West, and so many more to star in its advertisements. “Nine out of 10 lovely screen stars use it for smooth skin,” read the tagline from a Lux print ad in 1929.
From then, it became de rigueur for brands to capitalize on a celebrity’s influence. And as the worlds of fashion and celebrity began to collide, supermodels, too, reached mainstream fame, inking million-dollar contracts with beauty conglomerates like Lauren Hutton with Revlon in 1969 (the first model business agreements of its kind), Margaux Hemingway with Fabergé as the face of its Babe perfume in 1975, Christie Brinkley with CoverGirl for 25 years, Paulina Porizkova with Estée Lauder in 1988, and Christy Turlington with Maybelline in 1991 (which earned her 0,000 for just 12 days of work).
So it was only a matter of time before a celebrity went from endorsing a brand by starring in its campaigns to collaborating on limited edition collections to launching a company of her own. The earliest instance of celebrity entrepreneurship was Sophia Loren who introduced her fragrance, Sofia, in 1981. Next came Cher and Elizabeth Taylor who both debuted their signature scents in 1987. But none were a hit. It was Taylor’s second—White Diamonds in 1991—that found tremendous success. It’s the perfume that’s credited to changing the landscape of celebrity fragrances, having generated .5 billion and continues to be a best-seller to this day. At one point, four bottles were sold every minute, with a bottle sold every 15 seconds worldwide.
“People wanted to smell like Elizabeth Taylor,” Tim Mendelson, Elizabeth Taylor’s chief of staff, once said. “Elizabeth was so known for beauty and style and glamour, and when women put it on, they want to feel like they have a little bit of Elizabeth.”
And then came Jennifer Lopez’s incredibly popular Glow by JLo fruity floral scent in 2002, which sparked a new wave of celebrity fragrances after raking in 0 million in two years (along with merch from her Lopez’s fashion line) and breaking countless records. It inspired fragrances from nearly every single celebrity under the sun: Britney Spears, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Taylor Swift, and so on.
But other than Taylor, Iman, and Lopez, no celebrity brand or product really resonated with the public at the time. Not one endured. The deluge of celebrity fragrances for the rest of the ‘90s and all throughout the aughts might have been the reason, contributing to an increasingly oversaturated market. There are a couple nostalgic standouts like the now-defunct Jessica Simpson Dessert line (2004) of edible lip glosses and body shimmers that smelled and tasted like cupcakes, and Cindy Crawford’s anti-aging Meaningful Beauty brand that she launched in 2005 and promoted in infomercials.
But Crawford wasn’t alone. It’s noteworthy to call out the influx of celebrities promoting either their own brand or the products of other brands in infomercials. Kim, Kourtney, and Khloe Kardashian all starred in Perfect Skin infomercials, a multi-step skin care system that was said to have been formulated for them. Pamela Anderson endorsed Alex Vogel makeup, Cher promoted Lori Davis Hair, and Alyssa Milano swore by Wen hair care.
It’s this combination of celebrity-fronted infomercials along with the mounting number of celebrity-founded brands that made the landscape feel somewhat stale, uninspired, inauthentic, and uncool. Of course that didn’t stop stars from starting their own corporations: Miranda Kerr founded her organic beauty line Kora in 2009, Drew Barrymore launched Flower in 2013, and Jessica Alba’s Honest company unveiled a beauty line in 2015.
But then Kylie Jenner changed the whole game. In 2015, after facing widespread speculation and scrutiny about whether she had lip fillers, the youngest Jenner went on the record about her thin-lip insecurities and launched her Lip Kits as a result—a lip pencil and matte liquid lipstick that promised the look of fuller lips. Her Lip Kits sold out in 30 seconds the day they went on sale. Now, Kylie Cosmetics is valued at over 0 million by Forbes, making her the youngest self-made billionaire at 21 years old.
In contrast, when Estée Lauder attempted to partner with Kendall Jenner in 2016 to launch an 82-piece collection, it was to very little fanfare and, as a result, disappointing sales, which led to the dissolution of the partnership in 2017. Or Khroma Beauty, Kim, Khloe, and Kourtney’s failed makeup line that was not only slapped with lawsuits since day one, but also saw little involvement from the sisters. It points to the consumer shift from legacy brands to direct-to-consumer start-ups that feel more transparent, authentic, and meaningful (in 2016, sales of traditional companies declined by 1.3 percent while independent brands like Glossier and Milk Makeup increased by 42.7 percent).
In 2017, Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty line also proved to be a game-changer when she launched with an unprecedented 40 (and now 50) shades of foundation—the most inclusive range to date—and campaign imagery that was unapologetically diverse, sparking the “Fenty Effect,” which forced other brands to reevaluate their shade offerings. It’s for this reason that Fenty Beauty was named as one of the Best Inventions of 2017.
Kylie and Rihanna have compelled others to leave their beauty mark. Kim Kardashian doubled-down on her KKW Beauty line with fragrances and body makeup. After working with Estée Lauder, Victoria Beckham is gearing up to launch her own namesake beauty company in the fall. Ariana Grande, Hailey Bieber, Gwen Stefani, and Cardi B are all said to have beauty companies in the works. But will they be successful? As Gaga said in her Haus Laboratories clip, “We want you to love yourself.” In the end, she knows—as they all do—it’s up to the consumer.END
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