Heralding someone as the “the number one most powerful person in fashion” is quite a bold statement to make, and even more so when the label is given to a makeup artist. The one in question is Pat McGrath, who also made history last June by becoming the first of her trade to be honoured by the CFDA. When a ceremony that is often called the “Oscars of fashion” makes it a point to recognize a key player of the beauty industry, our attention should inevitably be turned towards it.
If the above is any indication, the beauty industry, which has long been seen as the little sister to its more seasoned fashion counterpart, has officially come into its own. In fact, the beauty industry — all USD 423 billion of it — is doing better than it should in an age when the world is headed towards something of an economic apocalypse. While luxury fashion brands puzzle over strategies to recreate the “miracle work” of Gucci’s Alessandro Michele and Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, many are cleverly focusing on their beauty lines as a lifeline.
Reflecting the power shift between the fashion and beauty industries, the rules of the beauty game have been changing too. A major catalyst for this is social media platforms and the ubiquitous Instagram in particular. The photo-sharing app has opened up a whole new world for beauty products to be consumed: one that is easily accessible (the app is available for free across mobile platforms and has a web version), engaging (refer to the “#makeup”, “#mua” and “#onfleek” hashtags) and boundless (as of last April, the app has 700 million monthly active users).
For beauty brands, choosing a new ambassador is a decision that bears as much significance as a fashion house appointing a new creative director. Traditionally, the privilege wasn’t granted to just anybody. Models, for one, would need years of experience and campaigns under their belts. In the case of 90s supermodel Christy Turlington, it took almost a decade after her model debut before she was offered a contract to be the new face of Maybelline in 1992.
Similarly, actresses like Nicole Kidman and Charlize Theron had to prove their worth through Oscar wins and critical acclaim before even being considered. When Kidman starred in Chanel’s No. 5 the Film in 2004, the Australian actress had already bagged several Golden Globes awards, a BAFTA Award and an Academy Award for Best Actress.
In an age of increasing connectivity, however, beauty brands are now being drawn to a new crop of fresh faces: influencers whose social media reach is much stronger and substantive than their portfolio. Instagram, of course, is increasingly becoming a key part of this equation.
To make their move count, some beauty brands are turning to the number of followers one may boast. Enter Bella Hadid, one of the most sought-after models of the moment. Electing the American model as the face of its Goldea The Roman Night fragrance was a no-brainer for Bulgari, especially with her 14.4 million Instagram followers considered. What really set her apart from other models — say, her sister Gigi Hadid who is the 39th most followed user on Instagram with 35 million followers — was the younger demographic of her followers, which the Italian luxury label hopes to attract. With the younger Hadid sister on board, Bulgari can expect its new fragrance to make 30 million euros in its first year.
For YSL Beauté, naming singer and actor Zoë Kravitz as its global makeup ambassador was a move that highlighted the brand’s understanding of Instagram’s power. The 28-year-old may only have 3 million followers, but her appeal really lies in her engaging content. Capturing everything from high-profile red carpet events to intimate moments with friends and family, Kravtiz’s Instagram account makes her seem more relatable. With her first YSL Beauté campaign, “Tatouage Couture”, set to launch in September, Kravitz will definitely be keeping her fans posted through behind-the-scenes shots and the like, thereby bridging the gap between them and the luxury beauty label.
Like models and influencers, actresses are also being chosen by their popularity. This is the case for Emilia Clarke, who was recently appointed as the face of Dolce & Gabbana’s The One fragrance. The timing is no coincidence: HBO’s wildly popular TV series Game of Thrones is currently airing its 7th season, with Clarke’s character in the centre of it. The star’s campaign for the fragrance will only be unveiled this September, but fans are definitely keeping as close an eye on it as they are on Daenerys Targaryen and her loveable brood of fire-breathing dragons.
From a less commercial angle, some beauty brand ambassadors are chosen based purely on how well they embody the spirit of the brand. Case in point: Victoria Beckham’s new Estée Lauder makeup collection. “Like our founder, Estée, Victoria has a real understanding of what women want and has applied this to beauty in a very passionate and personal way,” says the brand’s Global Brand President, Stephane de La Faverie. Appointing Beckham to both design and be the face of the collaboration makes it a lot more meaningful and appealing to customers.
Another example of this is Kristen Stewart’s appointment as the face of Chanel’s upcoming women’s perfume, Gabrielle Chanel. The actress will star in the film campaign and print ad for fragrance, but it’s hardly her first stint with the French couture house. Stewart was named a Chanel ambassador back in 2013 and was also made the brand’s face of makeup last February. She has since appeared in campaigns for Chanel’s Eyes 2016 and 2017 campaigns, as well as its Fall 2016 Le Rouge Collection Number 1 ad.