The Bravo smash "Vanderpump Rules," which spun off from "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" in 2012, is a reality television series unlike any other. In the years since the show's debut, fans have watched its cast evolve from overworked bartenders and servers in Los Angeles to full-blown reality stars. Now that many of them are financially stable and beginning to settle down, they're also exploring pursuits outside of filming full-time, like acting, opening steampunk-themed West Hollywood bars, becoming podcast personalities and, interestingly enough, collaborating with cosmetics companies. Is it conceivable that a "Vanderpump Rules" cast member could turn out to be the next celebrity beauty mogul? Let's just say it's not outside the realm of possibility. Lala Kent, Ariana Madix and Katie Maloney-Schwartz are all contenders, though at this stage of the game, one of them stands out as having the most promise.
Reality television stars often embody a unique brand of fame: Many achieve success simply by being themselves on a TV show, which in turn leads to more name recognition, and from there, more TV. The chicken-and-egg cycle then continues ad infinitum. Once interest wanes in the series du jour, its stars are often faced with a choice: They can relinquish their fame, or default to a fallback plan. Grace Murray, the vice president at Fohr Card, a New York agency that works with brands and influencers, says that as a result, "Reality stars often become enticed by the idea of 'monetizing their influence,' so they jump off their show and into the [influencer] fast lane." While she believes that such a move is great "for a quick buck," it's by no means a long-term plan. Instead, those who have longevity don't take shortcuts to fame — not at the beginning, and not ever. Those whose audiences "trust their product advice" already should eventually "start to see what they can learn and emulate" to "move from audience to influencer [themselves]."
In Murray's experience, reality stars assume that they can simply accrue a personal audience through TV, develop a product and just watch it fly off the shelves. "Reality stars see Kylie Jenner's success and see it as a clear model," she explains. However, she warns, success is far less formulaic — and much more nuanced — than that. "There's a difference between having an audience and having influence," Murray asserts. Kyle Hjelmeseth, the founder and president of relationship management agency God + Beauty, agrees. "Success is very subjective; everyone has their own desired outcomes," he says. As a result, Hjelmeseth believes that the first step towards success for influencers moving into a creative space would be valuing social connection over straightforward sales.
On the surface, Ariana Madix seems least likely of the "Vanderpump Rules" crew to make the transition into beauty mogul full-time. The show has taken great pains to document the bartender's dedication to her day job — as well as her relationship to TomTom co-owner Tom Sandoval — and her only real move into beauty thus far has been a collaboration with under-the-radar brand Frankie Rose Cosmetics (shown above) in November 2017.
If anything, Madix's lipstick collection was a low-stakes, low-pressure way to try something new; it wasn't necessarily meant to take off the way Kylie's Lip Kits did. (Madix wasn't available to comment for this story, as the cast is "on a media lockdown" while they film the upcoming season of the show.) Still, according to Hjelmeseth — whose agency specializes in digital influencers — an ongoing partnership between influencer and brand is typically more desirable for both sides. In his experience, continuing relationships, as opposed to one-off promotions, are most effective, especially for turning fans of an individual into enthusiastic consumers of a product.
Costar Katie Maloney-Schwartz's forays into the industry have followed a similar path to Madix's, though even before "Vanderpump Rules," the erstwhile waitress founded a beauty and lifestyle blog called Pucker & Pout. For a time, Maloney-Schwartz ran the blog mostly herself, offering a hybrid of beauty tips, tutorials, lifestyle advice and general musings. In the years since, she undoubtedly put in the work required to establish herself as a budding beauty mogul; she still stars in her website's beauty tutorials and contributes articles on occasion, and branched out into branded products with industry veteran Julie Hewett in April 2018. (Maloney-Schwartz's representative did not respond to requests for an interview.) Like Madix, she partnered with an established brand to create three pocket-sized lipsticks. However, she took the line a step further by helping design three matching lip pencils to enhance the look — something the Frankie Rose collection lacked. But with these flash-in-the-pan collaborations, how would they measure success? Was one inherently "better" than the other?
According to Murray, the goalposts are constantly shifting. "There are myriad ways to measure success in a collaboration" between a brand and an influencer, she explains. Tellingly, "very few" of these metrics would be "directly financial." In other words, how well a product sells is no longer relevant, since it's different numbers that matter in the age of Instagram. Murray would recommend that, at least in the beginning, influencers should prioritize either "click-through rate, true reach, story views, saves, or quality and quantity of content produced," to recognize how and when they have a hit on their hands.
Overall, working with influencers like the "Vanderpump Rules" stars is generally the most effective if and when a brand "[views] the collaboration as a core piece of their marketing mix," as opposed to the "entire [marketing] strategy," summarizes Murray. This would suggest that, ultimately, limited-time collaborations are often optimally beneficial for both brand and influencer. It allows both sides to promote their team-up for just as long as it works for them. Again, whether a collaboration "works" comes with an entirely new set of definitions in the modern age. But they can't do it all alone. That's also something that Hjelmeseth stresses to his agency's clients: Building lasting relationships should be treated with equal weight as likes, saves or sales.
As for which of the "Vanderpump Rules" ladies could be on her way to becoming the next celebrity beauty mogul, building a business (slightly) akin to Kylie Cosmetics or Fenty Beauty? Signs thus far point to Kent. Sure, she doesn't have a BAFTA-award winning artist like Hewett in her corner, and isn't working underneath an existing company like Frankie Rose; there aren't any obvious partners, collaborators, educators, or brand ambassadors involved with her brand, either. But "[any] audience she's built over time that comes for advice on what to wear for fall or how to do the perfect cat eye is different than an audience who is coming for someone's sense of humor or dating life," notes Murray. "It's not to say the two are mutually exclusive, but the latter can't be converted to the former overnight. The reality is creating, building and growing a brand is a tough gig that requires talent and perseverance, and/or an amazing behind-the-scenes team."
What will surely prove trickiest for Kent: Getting fans to really buy into her — not just purchase the product, use the #GiveThemLala hashtag, or continue flocking to her Instagram. Is her fearless, fourth-wave feminism enough to convince new fans to buy a lipstick and come back for more — or vice versa? That, plus time, will determine how quickly she launches her personal "empire". Given her tenacity and considerable personal following, that may happen sooner than anyone expected. After all, Hjelmeseth's number one piece of advice to clients is "plan for an extended relationship" to one's base, rather than "trying to force a one-off" collaboration with "goals that are probably not obtainable". Kent's plans to build an empire are lofty, but her blueprints look solid.