The past 12 months have proven that celebrities are the ultimate influencers.

The pre-influencer world is now nearly impossible to recollect, but remember when celebrities were the faces of your favorite beauty brands? Or even before that, when supermodels held that esteemed position and a lucrative cosmetics contract was the holy grail of gigs? Times are changing: In the realm of beauty, 2017 was an all-out explosion of influencer co-brands and independent celebrity-helmed beauty brand launches that have replaced the simple ambassadorships we've come to know.

What was it about this particular cultural moment that positioned these famed faces to become such a fixation in the beauty space? Heather Picquot, Fashion Snoops Culture Director, says that beauty products have always been the most accessible way for celebrities — particularly female ones — to associate themselves with (and connect their fans to) a luxury brand. After all, you may not be able to purchase a Dior bag at the moment, but a lipstick is much more wallet-friendly. 

"The packaging of Chanel lipstick is a gateway into the high standard of the brand; owning it makes you feel good," she explains. Today, celebrities like Gigi Hadid, Kim Kardashian and Rihanna are brands themselves, and have such massive fan bases that they can carry an entire makeup line. With millions of young people watching (and often attempting to emulate) their every move, they can carry more than a one-off lipstick collaboration, Picquot says. 

But as is the case with any influencer, the key is authenticity. "The same way Chanel has harmonized cosmetics to carry the same brand ethos the fashion house does, celebrity beauty lines need to speak to their respective lifestyle so that these products make a personal connection with customers," she adds. For example, Picquot points to Rihanna's massively successful Fenty Beauty line, which is inclusive to women of all skin tones — something that she was passionate about during the development of her collection. Each of the individual products was developed with Rihanna's careful oversight, ensuring that they're all items she herself would actually use. Similarly, Hadid's Jet Setter Palettes, created by the model and her makeup artist Erin Parsons in partnership with Maybelline, are "a snapshot into her glamorous model lifestyle, the perfect palette to throw in your bag and be ready for any occasion, just like Gigi," Picquot explains.

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As social media wields increasing influence on shopping habits, celebrities with hyper-passionate, plugged-in followings can really move the needle in terms of sales, making them the ultimate influencers. "With the power of social media, celebrities and consumers are able to engage in a two-way conversation, and there is no longer the need for the traditional focus group. Fans are able to feel like they are engaging directly with Madonna when she's releasing new products," says Shannon Goldberg, the Marketing Vice President of MDNA Skin, which the music superstar launched this year. "Madonna recently posted a video on her own channels to support a travel-size set that was created specifically for her followers."

Kim Kardashian for KKW Beauty. Photo: Courtesy of KKW Beauty

Kim Kardashian for KKW Beauty. Photo: Courtesy of KKW Beauty

James Nord, the founder of Fohr Card, a company that tracks and supports the influencer marketing industry, says that these celebrity co-brands and collaborations are so popular right now for one simple reason: they're working. "Certain celebrities have very devoted followings who will stand in lines and shell out money to support and be connected to that person in some way," he explains. Another important note is that many of these brands are creating limited-edition items and collections — a smart business model that has paid off handsomely in other industries, namely streetwear. "Beauty brands are looking to brands like Supreme to guide their strategies, making things in limited quantities, and doing 'drops' that create an atmosphere of exclusivity around products that are, in reality, fairly common."

But the celebrity beauty influencer isn't a universally successful construct, notes Nord, who believes that "these individuals are the exception and not the rule." He continues: "The Kim Kardashians and Rihannas of the world are so good because they have enormous reach, but also still manage to be connected to their audiences, which is very difficult to pull off." That's precisely why the burgeoning celebrity influencer beauty phenomenon is likely to continue — and established, mainstream beauty brands would be wise to take it into consideration for new strategies, particularly when it comes to gathering data from their followers and crowdsourcing among customers. (Kardashian, for one, has mentioned that she views social media as a "free marketing tool," using Twitter early on to help influence her beauty launches.) Here, as we reflect on 2017, aka The Year Celebrities Ruled The Beauty Industry, we're examining the significance of six of the most-buzzed-about celeb beauty brand launches of the past 12 months.

Fenty Beauty by Rihanna

Though this brand was initially announced a few years ago, Fenty Beauty officially launched in Sept. 2017 and is already selling out and garnering an insane amount of buzz, largely through social media. In fact, WWD reports that it recorded more than $72 million in earned media value after one month of existence, with $45.2 million coming from Instagram and $10.6 million from YouTube. No stranger to the realm of beauty, Rihanna has appeared as a face for CoverGirl campaigns and also worked with MAC Cosmetics on a collection featuring sold-out lipstick shade "Riri Woo" a few years ago. 

One major point of differentiation Fenty Beauty has from its competitors is that it's complexion-focused; offering a range of 40 foundation shades intended to encompass every skin tone, Fenty Beauty's variety in color is rivaled by few other lines. The innovative brand's focus on diversity extends to its marketing campaigns as well, featuring an inclusive, diverse crew of models in addition to Rihanna herself. What's more, Fenty Beauty seems to have inspired other beauty companies to step up their own shade ranges (most recently, fellow celebrity-owned brand Kylie Cosmetics). 

Fenty Beauty has proven that catering to a wider range of shoppers is not only politically correct, but it's also a very sound business move, as it draws in consumers rather than alienating them. In sum, it's set a new standard for what makeup lines can strive to be, and will likely change the future of the cosmetics industry forever. 

Madonna's MDNA Skin

Madonna's skin-care range has flown off shelves in Asia since its 2014 inception, and it officially launched in North America this fall. The products were created with input from dermatologist Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, who's worked with Madonna for the past few years. "When we launched MDNA SKIN, we chose to partner with someone who was globally recognizable with a passion for skin care," says Goldberg. 

In a similar way to Fenty Beauty, Madonna herself is heavily involved in the product development process, lending credibility and authenticity (rather than just her name) to the brand. "The parent company, MTG, created one product to present to Madonna and showcase the high-level ingredients and product innovation to convince her that we were serious about working together," says Goldberg. "Madonna loved the product, but said she would only move forward if she was involved in all of the decisions from formulations to packaging, and that is how MDNA SKIN was formed."

Kim Kardashian's KKW Beauty

True Kardashian historians will recall that the Kardashian-Jenner sisters have served as the faces of many cosmetics brand campaigns — Estée Lauder, Sinful Colors nail polish, Fusion Beauty and Rodial's Nip + Fab, to name just a few. Kim also lent her name to seven fragrances between 2009 and 2014; the sisters had a short-lived cosmetics line called Khroma (and then Kroma, after being stripped of the original name when a competing line claimed infringement); and Kardashian Beauty hair tools also enjoyed a brief run a few years ago, before disappearing quietly from shelves. Then the sisters tried something different: Rather than going for licensing deals or figurehead-type collaborations, they turned to autonomous, direct-to-consumer beauty businesses. Kylie was the first to take the leap in 2015 with Kylie Cosmetics (more on what 2017 had in store for that brand in a moment), and then came Kim's proprietary makeup line, KKW Beauty, which launched in June. 

With its muted blush packaging (a dominant 2017 trend, as both Hadid's Maybelline line and Fenty Beauty have a similar aesthetic and hue), contouring kits are integral to this line. The first drop sold out less than three hours after its initial debut, bringing in an estimated $14.4 million in sales, according to WWD. Kardashian added fragrance to the KKW Beauty lineup in November, putting out three gardenia scents housed in Instagram-friendly crystal bottles. The launch of KKW Fragrance was equally successful, and within the first 24 hours, it raked in a whopping $10 million in sales — all without the traditional marketing push (or ad dollars) used by most established fragrance companies. Kardashian had an epic year in the beauty space, indeed.

Gigi Hadid's Gigi x Maybelline collaboration

Mega model Gigi Hadid partnered with Maybelline New York on a limited-edition collection, which she teased and promoted heavily via her social channels. The range consists of two signature looks: East Coast Glam and West Coast Glow, each of which come inside the aforementioned Jetsetter Palette. Each represents the spokesmodel's favorite makeup style coast-to-coast, designed by Hadid herself.

The line was a new move for Maybelline, which had spent years tapping the most in-demand supermodels for its campaigns, but hadn't allowed said faces to be so involved in the development, naming and creative direction for the products. Hadid's first drop sold out in the UK within 90 minutes, and several popped up on resale sites listed for three times the retail price.

Kylie Jenner's Kylie Cosmetics x Topshop

Kylie Cosmetics has been thriving since its launch back in November of 2015, and it's now considered one of the most significant industry disruptors in existence. But 2017 was an especially banner year for the youngest member of the Kardashian-Jenner clan's eponymous company. In August, it was reported that Kylie Cosmetics had brought in $420 million in sales in just 18 months and was on track to become a $1 billion company in the near future. 

Jenner also expanded the business's retail approach, teaming up with Topshop to make the products available in a brick-and-mortar setting via holiday pop-ups. This marked the first time the line could be purchased offline at a retail partner's location, outside of one of the Kylie Cosmetics-operated pop-ups, which were mobbed with superfans when they opened last winter in California and New York

Drew Barrymore's Dear Drew

Following Barrymore's success with Walmart-owned Flower Beauty, the actress chose to launch Dear Drew, which features a collection of luxe heat tools in addition to fashion and accessory offerings, via Amazon. Barrymore's hair trends have influenced fans for more than two decades, so the follicular foray is a natural progression. Meanwhile, Amazon was an interesting partner for this launch — not simply because it's arguably Walmart's most threatening competitor, but also because the e-tail giant is itself in a period of flux in the beauty space. According to a report from Glossy, Amazon's beauty sales in 2017 were up 43 percent year-over-year across five core markets, including the U.S. and the UK.

Homepage/main photo: Courtesy of Fenty Beauty

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