New York-based, French-born makeup artist Violette Serrat spent the last decade advising brands, from Dior to Sephora to Estée Lauder, on product development. Now, she’s using her experience to launch Violette_FR, an 11-piece collection across six categories, including makeup, skin care and hair care.
Introducing multiple products in multiple categories is a risky move in an era when most beauty startups are focusing on solving a single problem with one or two products, and typically in the skin care category, which exploded during the pandemic. In September 2020, almost 40 percent of consumers told research firm NPD that they were using more skin care products than they had been a year earlier. Makeup sales, on the other hand, were down 34 percent in 2020.
But the YouTube star, who launched her channel in 2017, wanted to introduce a collection that reflected her personal approach to beauty and grooming, which includes red lipstick.
“In France, we don’t care about being a better version of ourselves,” said Serrat, who raised $2.75 millon in a seed funding round led by Female Founders Fund (FFF), Felix Capital and Greycroft Ventures. FFF’s Anu Duggal and former COS Bar chief David Olsen have joined the company’s board. Instead, Violette products — including fragrance, the lipstick, moisturiser, eyeshadow and dry shampoo — aim to serve as heroes that enhance a beauty routine. “It’s about enjoying yourself versus improving yourself,” she added.
Available to purchase via Violettefr.com starting March 30, the gold-capped collection includes $58 “Boum-Boum Milk” spray, a three-in-one moisturiser, toner and serum, $25 “Petal Bouche” matte red lipstick and $52 “Avec Amour,” a vetiver-tinged roll-on oil perfume, as well as several shades of liquid eyeshadow — “Yeux Paint,” $28 — a $25 “Baume Shine” highlighter and the $34 “Frange Puff” dry shampoo brush. To further engage the customer, the site will be populated with product tutorials, classes and the ability to “try on” products virtually using YouCam technology.
The makeup artist’s unique viewpoint — a French person who can also cater to the American, and global, consumer — attracted investors, as did her combination of industry authority and social media relevance. Her YouTube channel has more nearly 300,000 subscribers, with many of her friendly makeup tutorials garnering well over 100,000 views. Most beauty influencers, especially on YouTube, either shill a highly augmented Instagram face or “effortless” look. Serrat lands somewhere in the middle, capitalising the popularity of “French girl style” in editorials and social media.
“She has been able to translate the idea of looking beautiful without having that made-up, contoured face,” said Duggal, a self-professed Francophile who has shopped for skin care at French pharmacies for years. “No one has created a modern French skin care and makeup brand.”
Serrat began developing the line, which she said is vegan and “cruelty-free,” with attention paid to using less wasteful packaging, when she was still global creative director at Estée Lauder. With the company’s knowledge, she said, she began building relationships with a range of suppliers across categories rather than homing in on one.
It’s a complicated approach that requires a deep knowledge base across multiple categories. And influencer brands are mixed in terms of success, with launches taking off and others crashing and burning in a matter of months. However, Olsen argued that Serrat’s merchandising strategy has its advantages.
“Brands have got to be more about the product as opposed to just spewing tons of SKUs out there,” he said. “You’ve got to have many heroes as you can out of the gate.”
He also added that Serrat’s instinct to develop multi-purpose products speaks to her understanding of where the market is headed: while skin care currently rules, beauty is cyclical and analysts expect that colour makeup in particular will see a comeback in 2022, with only a 2 percent decline in 2021 as lockdowns ease and consumers return to work.
To start, Serrat will sell the collection direct-to-consumer in the US, France, Canada and the UK, and also at one pharmacy in Paris’ Marais district, to be revealed in the coming weeks, with more retail partnerships in the works outside of the US. While partnering with a major beauty retailer like Sephora from launch would help to quickly scale the operations, Serrat said that being able to control her message, and further develop her relationship with her followers, was more important in these early stages.
“I’m interested in partnering with retailers where you go into the store and have an experience,” she said, adding that she has her sights set on opening her own store after she closes a Series A funding round.
Disclosure: Felix Capital is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholder’s documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.