I think it is safe to say that the majority of the buzz surrounding Rihanna and her status comes less and less from her music and more from her businesses; Savage X Fenty (lingerie) and Fenty Beauty. Fenty Beauty alone is worth $2.8 billion, according to a 2021 Forbes estimate. Dozens of celebrities have tried to replicate her success, but very few have come close.
It would be impossible to list the amount of beauty brands under a celebrity name but why is it such an alluring industry? The US beauty industry in particular does posses high operating margins and the daily-use nature of many products. However, as rates surge, fears of a recession linger and consumer preferences have changed, celebrity beauty brands are struggling.
Post-pandemic shoppers are more interested in skincare than makeup. They’re also more discerning and increasingly considering a brand’s quality and authenticity — or the lack thereof — thanks to the flood of product reviews on platforms like TikTok and Reddit. A celebrity’s backing doesn’t matter to a majority of female shoppers, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence survey of 650 cosmetics and skincare users in January.
To paint the picture clearly, in the first month of this year alone, Kristen Bell shut down her CBD skincare line Happy Dance; Sephora stopped selling the brands of TikTok celebrities Addison Rae and Hyram Yarbro; and Ariana Grande paid $15 million to buy the physical assets of her company, r.e.m. beauty, from Forma Brands, whose big bet on celebrity influencers through Morphe Cosmetics soured and pushed it into distress.
The post pandemic shift in trends is noticeable. I even noticed its influence on my own makeup. I grew up with a Latina mother and grandmother who almost never left the house without red lipstick so in my late teens I would do the same. I have barely worn a red lip post pandemic and when I do, it feels somewhat dated.
Kim Kardashian, as usual, has also moved her businesses with the times. Shortly after Kim Kardashian filed for divorce from the rapper formerly known as Kanye West in 2021, she closed down her makeup company KKW Beauty, which thrived on the 2010s trend of a heavily contoured face. In June 2022, she introduced her skincare line SKKN. As for her little sister, Kylie Cosmetics and Kylie Skin are down about 80% in the US from the beginning of 2017, according to Bloomberg Second Measure data.
One non-celerbity beauty brand has even called out the decline of a perhaps dated celebrity approach; Deciem Inc., the incubator behind The Ordinary skincare brand, has leaned into the science behind beauty products, with simple packaging and stripped-down marketing. In an unflinching Instagram post, Deciem drew a sharp distinction between their company and those led by celebrities, calling into question whether actors, singers, athletes and influencers possess the technical skill to formulate effective products.
“Our scientists aren’t celebrities. And (most) celebrities aren’t scientists or beauty experts,” the company wrote on its Instagram profile. Shade.
That isn’t to say that all celebrity beauty brands are a failure – far from it. Names that stand out are Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty and Rosie Huntington Whiteley’s Rose Inc. But what makes a successful celebrity brand? “The more invested and more hands-on the celebrity is, the better the outcome,” says OS co-founder, Dustin Cash. “The thing that everybody is looking for these days is authenticity.”
“It just feels like [Selena Gomez] connects with the products and really promotes them and has this love for her brand where I’m like, ‘Okay, this feels really authentic,’” says Sadie Simonett, 26, while shopping at cosmetics brand Glossier’s new Manhattan store.
Additionally, what is so interesting is that the most successful celebrity brands tend to use less and less of the celebrity’s identity – or at least they are very strategic about it. If you Google “Rose Inc ”, Rosie Huntington Whitely’s face doesn’t come up until the third row, the first two rows are product pictures. These companies focus more on the products and their versatility on diverse faces rather than use the signature of celebrities to sell the product. Relying on a signature celebrity look is limiting. Take Kim K – Kardashian rarely strays from her signature meaning they’ll only be able to sell a few select products that fit within that niche. It also means only Kim K fans will purchase the products.
For the case of Rose Inc and Rare Beauty, both stocked in Space NK in the UK, the products may be purchased by a 20 year old Selena Gomez or Rosie Huntington Whitely fan but could equally be bought by a 50 year old’s monthly in store browse who couldn’t care less who Gomez and Whiteley are as celebrities but admire the versatility of the products.
Interestingly such an approach has found success in celebrity clothing lines. Kim Kardashian’s basics line Skims has been hugely successful with its most successful drops featuring actors from hit shows like White Lotus over just another picture of Kardashian in a nude coloured tube dress…