The Fraught State of the Celebrity Beauty Brand

Celebrity beauty brands are a hot topic in 2022. Recent entries into the already-congested space from Scarlett Johansson, Kim Kardashian, and Hailey Bieber have sparked controversy and debate about how much is too much.

SKKN by Kim

We’ve reached peak saturation of the celebrity beauty brand; social media feeds are inundated with ads for lip glosses, face serums, and moisturizers backed by A-list stars and TikTok influencers, with new lines popping up at rapid fire. In the past few months alone, new brands by Winnie Harlow, Halsey, and Ariana Grande have burst onto the market, each purporting to provide a relatable regimen that stays true to its famous founder. Looking to glow like a glazed doughnut? Look no further than Hailey Bieber’s reasonably priced Rhode—an homage to the supermodel’s middle name. For a plump red lip, GXVE by Gwen Stefani has you covered. 

To a certain extent, each celebrity beauty brand banks on hype and name recognition to secure initial buzz. It also doesn’t hurt to align with a cause. Selena Gomez’s mission-driven Rare Beauty recently donated $1.2 million from its nonprofit Rare Impact Fund to a cohort of mental health services. Ditto for Haus Laboratories, the vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics venture that Lady Gaga launched in 2019 to empower wearers of all walks—an echo of the pop superstar’s career-long advocacy of LGBTQ+ rights and HIV/AIDS awareness.

But in the increasingly congested celebrity beauty space, product strength ultimately determines whether or not consumers make repeated purchases. Lady Gaga’s rabid fan base would almost certainly ensure the success of Haus Laboratories, but the brand never quite resonated with the Little Monsters. Amid lukewarm reviews and rumors that the venture flopped, Haus Laboratories refreshed its executive team this past year to focus on product innovation, packaging, and ingredients, and shifted its main retailer from Amazon to Sephora. (Unlike fashion, 90 percent of beauty purchases still happen in-store.) 

Haus Laboratories by Lady Gaga

“Clients want to be connected to what a celebrity stands for,” Alison Hahn, Sephora’s SVP of makeup and fragrance, tells Allure. “What are their values? What are the emotional connections, and is there something good and a mission behind the celebrity? The products [also] need to work. They still need to do everything any product we sell does.”

Most celebrity beauty brands were created by incubators that develop several brands at once and only seek out celebrities afterward, so the results don’t always add up. “The transition from, ‘I’ve made cash hawking brands for others’ to ‘Why don’t I try and create something myself?’ is not always the right reason to create something,” Richard Gersten, an investor and founder of True Beauty Ventures, told the New York Times. Know Beauty, which prescribes unique skincare regimens based on cheek swab DNA tests, has fallen somewhat silent despite the combined 78 million Instagram followers of its unlikely founders Vanessa Hudgens and Madison Beer. The YouTube beauty influencer Tati Westbrook shut down her namesake line in November, and gamer Rachell Hofstetter’s beauty line Rflct imploded after two weeks.

That said, social media cachet does help. In 2015, Kylie Jenner famously launched Kylie Lip Kits with little marketing besides a post to her hundreds of millions of Instagram followers. The initial drop sold out within seconds, and her enterprising momager, Kris, leveraged similar strategies to launch Kylie-branded swimwear, baby apparel, and an expanded cosmetics line, amassing a nearly billion-dollar fortune. The reality star essentially paved the way for celebrity beauty brands to thrive in the age of social media. Launched shortly after the earth-shattering success of Kylie Cosmetics was Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty, which rode on the success of the pop star’s extended collaboration with MAC in 2013. It has since blossomed into a billion-dollar empire that helped change the face of the beauty industry with an unprecedented 50-shade foundation range catering primarily to women of color, though Iman may have done it first.

The Outset by Scarlett Johansson

From there, the celebrity beauty floodgates burst open. In the rush to hit the market, some brands have made graceless errors. Kim Kardashian’s newly launched SKKN by Kim line was hit with a trademark lawsuit filed by Beauty Concepts, a four-year-old skincare company operating under the brand SKKN+, as far back as July 2021. The Black-owned skincare boutique, which offers facials and body treatments out of its storefront in Brooklyn, alleges that Kardashian’s brand will confuse consumers and diminish SKKN+’s online presence. Bieber was hit with a similar lawsuit by Purna Khatau and Phoebe Vickers, who co-founded the independent fashion label Rhode in 2014, and refused to sell the brand to the supermodel four years ago. 

All press might be good press in the eyes of brand marketers, but is the hype enough to stave off celebrity beauty brand fatigue? Scarlett Johansson’s skincare line, The Outset, sparked heated debate about the onslaught of celebrity skincare lines when it was announced earlier this year. Some fans took issue with its promise to achieve the same polished skin as the star even though many speculate she’s likely undergone expensive cosmetic procedures, while others drew comparisons to the bizarre profusion of celebrity-branded alcohols. Detractors also recalled the risk of bringing yet another cosmetics line into the world, adding to the pile of single-use plastics choking our waterways and landfills. The current state of the celebrity beauty brand may be fraught, but it shows little signs of abating. We can’t help but think the market for celebrity beauty brands is a bubble that will burst—or a glass of stale bubbly that “tastes like a bottle of sweat that’s had an AA battery dropped in it.”

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