Celebrity lines are not an uncommon phenomenon, nor have they been for the last two or three decades. Clothing, home furnishings, fragrances, shoes, underwear, plain white t-shirts, grills — name an object for sale and the odds are 100 percent that a celebrity-endorsed, created or sponsored version exists somewhere on planet Earth.
So, the fact that Fenty launched with the backing and blessing of popstar and style icon Rihanna is in itself not much of a news event. Lots of famous people lend their names — and their star power — to products as an endorsement. Rihanna perhaps brings a bit more to the table in terms of signal boosting in that she has a particularly dedicated and sharp-eyed legion of fans — the Navy — but she’s not unique in her nearly cult-like fan base: Beyonce has the Beyhive; Justin Beiber has Beliebers.
Fenty, however, is somewhat set apart in the amount of enthusiasm beyond launch hype it’s managed to to generate; and how much focus is not just directed to its product line, but its cause.
“I wanted things that I love,” Rihanna told Refinery29 shortly after the line launched. “Then, I also wanted things that girls of all skin tones could fall in love with. In every product, I was like, ‘There needs to be something for a dark-skinned girl; there needs to be something for a really pale girl; there needs to be something in-between.’ There’s red undertones, green undertones, blue undertones, pink undertones, yellow undertones — you never know, so you want people to appreciate the product and not feel like: ‘Oh that’s cute, but it only looks good on her.’”
Creating makeup for everyone has the distinct disadvantage of being something that everyone needs to love, and so, 40 differing foundation shades hit the shelves at Sephora a few weeks ago.
Within days, the “out of stock” signs started appearing online and in stores as the makeup shades flew off the shelves. The product apparently lived up to its inclusiveness-oriented branding.
Said succinctly: Women with dark skin couldn’t find makeup that looked good, often based solely on the argument that dark-toned makeup doesn’t sell.
But, in one of those cases of self-fulfilling retail prophecy, dark shades — on the perception that it doesn’t sell — also doesn’t get fully developed. That means customers like Worokya Duncan — the director of inclusion for a private school in Manhattan — are less likely to want to buy the product, thus amplifying the belief that there is no consumer demand.
“No line really had what I considered my shade of foundation,” she said. “There was always like an orange line somewhere. I would have to have my hair down so you couldn’t see where the foundation color and my actual skin color separated. Why is it so hard?”
Fenty launched with the radical notion that perhaps the problem wasn’t that no market for darker-toned makeup exists so much as there is no market for poorly done darker-toned makeup. Thus, the company decided to tap into a long-expressed consumer grievance and offer a better alternative.
“I think the thing that people are connecting to most, and why this is doing so well, is because you can really feel the passion and the purpose behind this line,” Cat Quinn, the beauty director for Refinery29, surmised. “It’s not another celebrity makeup line that sometimes people feel a little disconnected with. For her, she saw a gap in the market. She saw women not being represented.”
Of course, not every celebrity markets their product as “just another celebrity makeup line,” and very few don’t mention some kind of passion or purpose in their founding.
But launching with such an extensive product line for all skin tones is unusual for a launch of this type — smaller-batch niche offerings are more common in celebrity cosmetics — and the two-year development period also sets the process apart. The makeup, which is also promised as ethically produced and cruelty-free, also has recieved high general marks for its quality as well as its performance.
“You know, you can match everyone with a foundation, but if the foundation sucks, then it doesn’t really serve its purpose,” Quinn said. “It’s actually a really amazing foundation. It’s super long-wearing. It’s lightweight, but it has really good coverage.”
It is also, apparently, sweat-proof.
Will it be fad-proof as well? Hard to say, as is often the case with celebrity launches.
But, as the buzz turns into an entire social movement on Instagram — and along with the various victory narratives that Fenty is generating — it seems increasingly likely that the retail brand, and a host of more diversity-minded imitators, will be the future of the cosmetics market.