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Are Fashion Brands Pivoting to Focus on Cosmetics Over Fragrance?

Social media, among other factors, is driving a transformation in how designer labels approach the beauty category.
A selection of products from Chanel's beauty range. Photo: @welovecoco/Instagram

A selection of products from Chanel's beauty range. Photo: @welovecoco/Instagram

Breaking into the beauty category isn't what it once was for designer labels. With the rise of social media, consumers are finding, purchasing and promoting makeup lines in an entirely new way. Brand loyalty has, in many regards, disappeared from the beauty space, despite the fact that brand awareness and logomania are reaching new heights. It's a strange paradox, and it's one that creates a unique opportunity for designer fashion labels to potentially sell lots of product — if they approach things in the right way, that is.

The color cosmetics market is booming right now: It's projected to grow to more than $80 billion by 2022, according to a recent study by Fact.MR, and a lot of that growth is poised to take place online. The researchers involved in the aforementioned report currently describe e-commerce as "a comparative minnow in the color cosmetics market," noting that it accounted for a mere 11.6 percent of revenue share in the year 2017, but is poised to absolutely explode in the coming years. All of this means that designer labels have a legitimate shot at massive success with putting out their own makeup lines, and it's prompting many of them to do so in lieu of entering the fragrance market, which had historically been the default brand extension route.

Like most major shifts in the beauty and fashion industries, this one was driven by social media. Alyson Roy, co-founder of boutique fashion PR agency AMP3 PR, points out that "it's all about creating 'Instagrammable' moments right now," adding that color cosmetics are much more visual than other beauty categories like fragrances. After all, you can't smell a scent via your phone or computer.

That said, just because a well-known brand launches a pretty makeup line, doesn't automatically mean it's going to be successful. "Just because something has a huge industry name doesn't make it a must-buy," says marketing expert and brand developer behind Style on the Spot, Cachita Hynes. She warns designer labels to "be ready to be rated," because consumers are more informed and vocal than ever before. They're looking to trusted influencers' beauty recommendations for trends and safe products that work

Before social media disrupted the way the beauty industry operates, launching a fragrance seemed to be the first step for most designer fashion labels looking to expand into the realm. Otherwise, they'd begin to dabble in cosmetics via a less-risky collaboration route, teaming up with makeup brands like Lancôme and MAC.

Lancôme, for example, has worked with designers such as Alber Elbaz, Alexandre Vauthier, Jason Wu, Anthony Vaccarello, Sonia Rykiel and Olympia Le-Tan for its fashion-oriented cosmetics ranges. MAC has a storied history of working with designers: MAC for McQueen, for example, was the result of designer Alexander McQueen and makeup artist Charlotte Tilbury putting their heads together for the designer's Fall 2007 show, yielding a 16-piece product range. Proenza Schouler made its first foray into cosmetics with MAC in 2014, collaborating on a surf-inspired line of ombré blushes and colorful nail lacquers. Moschino's Jeremy Scott also collaborated with MAC

It's perhaps a logical evolution for the creative minds behind designer fashion to want to get into makeup — but in today's market, those who do so most successfully are the ones who have used technology to their advantage and figured out how to reach consumers where they discover beauty.

Labels like Dior, for example, have found success in their concerted efforts to make sure their cosmetics range appeals to millennial shoppers. While Dior has maintained its fragrance business by putting out new products and campaigns aimed at younger shoppers, it has particularly ramped up these efforts in the makeup category of late. Take, for example, its Instagirl spokesperson Bella Hadid and the massive social media effort surrounding the launch of its most recent "Backstage" collection.

"It's about democratization," said makeup artist Peter Philips, the brand's creative and image director, in a recent interview with Fashionista of the range. "Makeup, for a lot of women, used to be like a stress factor or a fear factor. I remember when I started doing makeup and I started creating products, 80 percent of the questions were linked with problems — how to do this, how do that, how to avoid this, easy tips. Now people ask, 'Where can I get a product; are there more exciting things coming out?' Women are not afraid of makeup anymore, because they know they can find the answers on social media."

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A selection of products from Dior's color cosmetics lineup. Photo: @diormakeup/Instagram

A selection of products from Dior's color cosmetics lineup. Photo: @diormakeup/Instagram

Meanwhile, Chanel is also making strides with color cosmetics and going to great, social-media-specific lengths to ensure consumers are aware of all of its latest makeup offerings. Following the launch of a dedicated official account, the French label also established the @welovecoco handle, which features user-generated content with the aim of creating "a community of beauty enthusiasts and insiders who love Chanel." 

Bringing that ethos to life, the brand also hosted a pop-up beauty house in Los Angeles in March billed as the "most Instagrammable pop-up ever." For Chanel, that translated to a fully transformed house on Sunset Blvd, which it opened to influencers, press and even the public for four days. Content opportunities abounded: Guests could even take photos on the actual pink swing from Lily-Rose Depp's latest Chanel beauty ad and have their images turned into hyper-shareable GIFs.

Most recently, Armani Beauty has followed suit by hopping aboard the social media train to push its color cosmetics. Its lead makeup artist Linda Cantello may not even have her own Instagram account, but the brand recently rented out a house in Montauk, New York to host editors, makeup artists and influencers for master classes. The sprawling mansion — complete with an infinity pool and vanities piled high with Armani's makeup range — offered up plenty of Instagrammable moments, and paid activations with the likes of Aimee Song, Chriselle Lim, Marianna Hewitt, Kalana Barfield Brown and Nyma Tang emphasized the brand's focus on promoting its cosmetics offerings to the social-media-savvy crowd.

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Roy breaks down what she considers to be the new steps to breaking into beauty, which include building a fully integrated e-commerce website that feeds in content from Instagram to the homepage; creating social media channels that establish a clear tone, voice and aesthetic; developing a launch campaign that leverages the use of hashtags, boosted posts, re-marketing and social listening tools (on top of other, non-social media-related marketing avenues); connecting with influencers to promote products; and, only after establishing genuine relationships with influencers, considering collaborations with them. After proving a demand for products online, she says designers should then expand their distribution to other online and brick-and-mortar retailers.

She warns designer labels that, while you can just send products to a host of influencers, you really should establish relationships with them before bringing them on for campaign launches.

"You can seed product to a slew of micro-influencers to spread the product far and wide, but for your campaign, you should target a longer-term relationship with key influencers (not just a one-and-done posting strategy)," she advises. "Once you've determined which influencers genuinely love your product and have an audience that is reacting to it, consider a collaboration product… which they will be incentivized to share and promote. Ultimately, this creates visibility and brand awareness." After all, partnering with the wrong influencer can be a risk for brands as well.

"With numerous social media outlets providing instantaneous real-life views into new trends and instant access to buy whatever you are seeing from your phone, it's a whole new world — and consumers are smarter about their beauty products and more conscious of what they are buying and putting on and in their bodies," Hynes explains, echoing Roy's advice that consumers can smell inauthenticity from a mile away. "What I love about this is that it has started to make brands step up and provide better-quality products."

With that said, Hynes believes the most important step a label can take is to be sure they've put out a legit product or followers will, indeed, unfollow. Of course, that can hurt a label in its entirety.

It's therefore imperative that designer labels hoping to be part of that growth learn the ins and outs of the ever-digitalizing world and come out with color cosmetics that both align and innovate.

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