The early 2000s had flip phones, low-rise jeans, and celebrity perfume lines. Fast forward two decades and flip phones are back (now with touchscreens, thanks to Samsung) and celebs like Bella Hadid and Dua Lipa are bringing back low-rise jeans. Celebrity perfume lines, however, have been replaced by something bigger: celebrity beauty brands.
In the aughts, you’d pick up a print magazine and find a sample of Paris Hilton’s Fairy Dust, Britney Spears’s Fantasy, or Hilary Duff’s With Love. Today, you’re more likely to scroll through your Instagram and TikTok feeds and see your favorite celebrity (slash influencer) promoting their namesake brand, whether it’s makeup, skin care, or both. Fashion’s cyclical nature is well-explored, but what about beauty? To understand this new trend in beauty entrepreneurship, Teen Vogue reached out to beauty historian and consultant Rachel Weingarten.
Obsession over celebrities’ beauty ways is nothing new. Weingarten dates society’s fascination with celeb beauty all the way back to Ancient Egypt. “Historically, the It girls of history inspired beauty trends,” Weingarten says. “Think of Cleopatra’s exaggerated eye look or Elizabeth I’s pale face and red hair. Fast forward to more modern times, when the first celebrity-inspired beauty looks became popular in the midcentury. Back then, Lux soap was one of the first brands to create mega cobranding opportunities when they featured celebrities like Elizabeth Taylor or Lana Turner. As we move forward, makeup lines became more sophisticated and so did the fandom of both product lines, makeup brands, and individual celebrities.”
We’ve been collectively obsessed with celebrity beauty for centuries and with the advent of social media, the fascination with celebrity aesthetics has only increased. Past the tried-and-trusted perfume world, which some celebs still explore with success, Kylie Jenner was one of the first to make celebrity beauty brands viral when her makeup line launched in 2014. The success of Kylie Cosmetics wasn’t coincidental. It was the consumer’s familiarity with Kylie’s personal brand that made the appeal of her lip kits skyrocket — so much so that the company value placed her on Forbes’ billionaires list (though not without controversy). “Kylie Jenner Lip Kits are reliant on two things: her fame and the association with her pout,” Weingarten says about Kylie’s success. She has since expanded from makeup to skin care.
Several other high-profile celebrities have also added “beauty mogul” to their titles. Rihanna debuted Fenty Beauty in 2017. Three years later and now with a skin care sister brand, Rihanna’s is still hailed as one of the most accessible and inclusive beauty companies in the world. Fenty Beauty launched with an until-then unheard of range of 40 skin shades. It was so impressive that other major beauty brands were inspired to follow suit and diversify their own offerings in what’s since been referred to as the “Fenty Effect.”
But not every celebrity line is bound for success. First Lady Melania Trump attempted a now-defunct skin-care line publicized as “caviar complex.” The line reportedly included actual caviar imported from the South of France and promised to “repair, hydrate, and renew the skin.” But, per The Cut, lawsuits, drama, and chaos ensued. And who could forget Jessica Simpson’s attempt at an edible beauty line with Dessert Beauty? These sometimes hilarious failures demonstrate that just because one can launch a makeup or skin-care company, doesn’t mean that it will be successful.
Fame alone won’t ensure sales, Weingarten warns. “There’s a potential downside if the celebrity’s brand doesn’t translate to sales for various reasons. I worked on creating a cosmetics line for Christina Aguilera way at the beginning of her career. The working title was What a Girl Wants. It never went to market because our approach was the fresh-faced version of her. When she finally launched her line, Fetish, it never quite caught on either because her young consumer base was somewhat turned off by that version of her. When we look at celebrity brands now, they’re usually very well established. So, for instance, when Lady Gaga launched Haus Labs it was almost a no-brainer. The adulation was there and at least some of the spending followed.”