In November 2015, Kylie Jenner launched three lip kits. The kits, consisting of a lip pencil and liquid lipstick available in a pinky nude, a beige neutral and a deep brown, sold out almost immediately.
Jenner’s wasn’t the first celebrity beauty brand to launch. In 2009, Australian model Miranda Kerr founded Kora Organics, while actor Drew Barrymore launched Flower Cosmetics in 2013. But Jenner’s was the first to leverage the reach, engagement and influence of its founder in the social media era. Nearly six years later, the lip kits have evolved into a full makeup and skincare brand and in 2019, she sold 51 per cent of her business (at a valuation of $1.2bn) to Coty for $600m.
The rise of celebrity beauty brands
Today, the legacy of Kylie Cosmetics — as well as Rihanna’s industry-changing Fenty Beauty, which launched in 2017 — is everywhere, as celebrities jump on the beauty bandwagon. There’s Lady Gaga’s Haus Laboratories; Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty; Kim Kardashian West’s KKW Beauty; Pharrell Williams’ Humanrace; Millie Bobby Brown’s Florence by Mills; Jennifer Lopez’s JLo Beauty; Halsey’s About-Face; Victoria Beckham; Paris Hilton’s Pro DNA, and many more.
Cardi B has teased a forthcoming makeup range, as has YouTuber James Charles, while Hailey Bieber, Gwen Stefani and Ariana Grande all reportedly filed trademarks for beauty products. Welcome to the age of the celebrity beauty brand.
It used to be that celebrities were the faces of beauty brands, starring in campaigns, endorsing the products in interviews and wearing the makeup on red carpets. But being the face is no longer enough—celebrities want ownership, becoming major players in the industry in their own right. And with the growth of the global beauty market over the last few years—the industry was valued at $532bn in 2019 — it’s not surprising.
“Celebrities are increasingly aware of the quick financial gains to be made, with the opportunity to monetise a loyal online fanbase and use their social media page as a marketing platform,” says Gabriella Beckwith, beauty consultant at market research firm Euromonitor.
But for everyone chasing a Fenty success story, fame and following alone won’t ensure sales. As the market becomes increasingly crowded, brands will have to rely on that notoriously slippery concept of authenticity to gain the trust and business of their target audience.
The power of authenticity
Today, beauty consumers have never been more educated about what they are putting on their face or more demanding about the quality. It’s why it matters that Pharrell Williams collaborated with his longtime dermatologist, Dr Elena Jones, for his skincare brand Humanrace. It’s why Halsey prefaced the announcement of her makeup brand About-Face in January by establishing her credibility. “Many of you know I’ve done my own makeup for a long time,” she wrote on Twitter. It’s also why actress Millie Bobby Brown drew criticism after posting a skincare tutorial, in which she seemingly didn’t actually apply any of the products to her face. Brown issued an apology a few days later, writing, “I’m still learning the best way to share my routines as I get to know this space better—I’m not an expert.”
Eyebrows were also raised when Jennifer Lopez recently said that her age-defying skin was the mainly the result of years of olive oil use—despite selling a new line of skincare products (her multitasking serum costs $118). Followers were sceptical of these claims, with some even suggesting the singer had had Botox, to which Lopez responded: “For the 500 millionth time. I have never done Botox or any injectables or surgery!”
At the other end of the spectrum, Victoria Beckham established her credentials as a serious player, partnering with industry favourite Dr Augustinus Bader for her first skincare launch. “We tend to think of celebrity brands as inauthentic partnerships—traditionally, that is often what they were,” says Sarah Creal, co-founder and CEO of Victoria Beckham Beauty. “Celebrities can no longer slap their name on something and not have their communities realise that’s what’s happening. Those who are in it for the short term or inauthentically won’t last—consumers are savvy.”
A long-time beauty executive, Creal met Beckham at Estée Lauder, with whom the designer launched a capsule cosmetics collection and was drawn to her passion and vision. While she says there is “no doubt” the former Spice Girl is a celebrity, they don’t consider Victoria Beckham Beauty a celebrity brand, but rather a bona fide indie startup. “Having Victoria as a partner obviously shines a light on the brand that we wouldn’t have otherwise, but we still have to stand up to the scrutiny and credibility that any new beauty brand would need to.”
The importance of quality over influence
Celebrities undeniably wield great influence over their following, but if they want to convince consumers to buy their products, this credibility and, most importantly, gold-standard quality, is non-negotiable. “People aren’t just buying into the face—they equally expect the product to work as hard as any other brand they’d engage with,” says Victoria Buchanan, senior futures analyst at strategic foresight consultancy The Future Laboratory.
The audience agrees. “[I think some] products by celebrities are bad quality because it is believed that people will buy them regardless,” says Marion, a 17-year-old gen-Z consumer from Toronto. “But the product itself should be more important than the celebrity or advertising.” It’s quality that she cites as the reason for the few products from celebrity brands that she’s purchased—a Rare Beauty highlighter with good reviews, a Fenty concealer because of its range of shades.
While a celebrity might make consumers aware of a brand (they’ll pay close attention if it’s someone they’re a fan of), it’s rare that they would buy a beauty product because of the name alone. On the whole, they remain wary of products, particularly when it comes to skincare, do their own research and always listen to expert advice.
Like all trends, the celebrity beauty bubble will eventually burst. The sharp decline of celebrity fragrances following its 2011 peak shows what can happen when consumers move on from a category. Nothing lasts forever and we’ve already seen a gradual shift towards hair brands, such as Tracee Ellis Ross’s Pattern, Priyanka Chopra Jonas’s Anomaly, and sexual wellness products via Cara Delevingne and Dakota Johnson.
When that moment comes, those brands left standing will be the ones that have established their authenticity and credibility, played to the strengths of their creators’ personal ethos and identity, and, above all, proved their quality. As noisy and loud as your social media presence might be, in the end, nothing talks like results.