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Are Influencers Threatening Designer Beauty Lines? Not So Fast.

Beauty’s symbiotic relationship with fashion, often sealed in lucrative licensing deals, is under pressure from popular indie brands and influencer-affiliated beauty lines, but the model is far from dead.
Image created by Jan-Nico Meyer for BoF
  • Kati Chitrakorn

LONDON, United Kingdom — Fashion and beauty have long had a symbiotic relationship, often sealed in lucrative licensing deals that allow beauty companies to absorb some of the fashion industry's cool factor, while boosting the bottom line for fashion brands with little overhead cost. 

But the internet is transforming the business of beauty. Indie brands like Anastasia Beverly Hills and digital influencer-affiliated beauty lines by the likes of Huda Kattan (Huda Beauty) and Kim Kardashian West (KKW) are driving huge consumer excitement. 

“The most obvious examples of this are Fenty Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, with Fenty being searched online almost 400,000 times a week on average and Kylie almost 200,000 times a week,” said Cecile Lee of Trendalytics, a retail intelligence firm, referring to lines linked to Rihanna and Kylie Jenner.

Competition is also coming from the rise of masstige beauty brands like NYX, Morphe, ColourPop, Makeup Geek, E.l.f. and Wet 'n' Wild. According to a 2017 report by Tribe Dynamics, eight of the top ten beauty brands, measured by the earned media value, were masstige players.

And yet designer beauty is far from dead.

Tom Ford, Giorgio Armani, Yves Saint Laurent and Christian Dior still drive huge volumes of beauty sales. "[They] are in the top 10 of fastest-growing premium colour cosmetics brands globally, accounting for almost 20 percent of sales of the market," said Clotilde Drape, a research analyst at Euromonitor International. What's more, according to the firm, 50 percent of the top players in the global premium fragrance market were fashion brands.

The Estée Lauder Companies, which reported net sales of $3.37 billion for the results for the quarter ended March 31, 2018, up 18 percent from $2.86 billion during the same period last year, was boosted by sales of licensed fragrance products, in particular double-digit gains from luxury brands like Tom Ford. According to Patrice Béliard, senior vice president and global general manager of Aramis and designer fragrances at The Estée Lauder Companies, Michael Kors’ Wonderlust and DKNY Be Delicious also continue to be strong performers.
At Coty, fragrances like Gucci Bloom or Marc Jacobs Daisy have been particularly successful, according to Edgar Huber, president of the company’s luxury division. Coty reported third-quarter results — net sales of $2.22 billion, up 9.4 percent — that beat estimates. Sales in its luxury beauty segment climbed 19 percent to $725.5 million, boosted by demand for designer fragrances.

The customer is buying into the brand first and foremost, then the product.

“Beauty, especially fragrances and colour cosmetics, are organic extensions of fashion, because it’s all about a lifestyle, feeling good and a certain creative expression in order to assert your individualism,” said Coty's Huber.
“Beauty will always be relevant [to fashion] because fashion brands are about selling a lifestyle,” added Estée Lauder’s Béliard. “It’s no longer just about a fashion look. It’s about the consumer aspiring to live in that brand’s specific world and buying into that lifestyle definitely includes beauty.”
Success is often helped by hands-on involvement from creative directors like Gucci’s Alessandro Michele or Marc Jacobs, who ensure brand consistency, explained Huber. “It’s all about consistency. Our business model is based on sustainable and mutually respectful relationships with fashion houses. A longer-term relationship provides more authenticity and therefore has more consistency as a total brand experience.”
“Ultimately, there needs to be one message,” agreed Béliard. “Everything needs to stay true to the brand DNA. The customer is buying into the brand first and foremost, then the product.”

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