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Why Valentino Is Finally Launching Makeup

The Italian fashion brand was one of the last major luxury labels without its own beauty line. The debut follows successful cosmetics launches for Gucci and Hermès.
Models walk the runway in Valentino's Spring/Summer 2021 collection. Valentino.
Models walk the runway in Valentino's Spring/Summer 2021 collection. Valentino.

For luxury fashion’s biggest brands, a beauty line is becoming the must-have accessory.

In the coming weeks, Valentino will launch its first line of colour cosmetics, including lipstick and foundation in dozens of shades, plus a tiny clutch just big enough to hold a satin face powder and miniature lipstick tube.

Valentino was one of fashion’s few remaining beauty holdouts. Gucci reportedly sold over a million tubes of its debut lipstick in the month after its 2019 launch and has since expanded into foundation, eyeliner, mascara and more. Hermès grabbed global headlines with its first lipstick last year. They join rivals like Dior, Saint Laurent and Chanel, which have relied on cosmetics to expand their global reach for decades.

Along with fragrance, cosmetics is often the go-to brand extension for high-end labels. Lipstick, foundation and bronzer are affordable to the masses and can be sold at department stores, airports and even drugstores without fear of tarnishing the appeal of handbags and shoes bearing the same logo. Behind the scenes, the hard work of developing these products is often licensed out to experienced cosmetics hands (L’Oréal in the case of Valentino).

The most successful beauty launches have come from labels that managed to infuse their new lines with the essence of their brands, whether or not they developed the products themselves. Hermès’ lipsticks are packaged in tubes that function almost as objets d’art, while Gucci’s lipstick (produced by licensee Coty) was sold via images of imperfect smiles, in keeping with creative director Alessandro Michele’s glamorous take on flawed beauty.

At Valentino, the goal was to create clear links between the fashion house and its beauty products, said Garance Delaye, global president of Valentino Beauty. Creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli adapted a bag that appeared on his Spring/Summer 2017 runway for the cosmetics clutch, complete with a detachable gold chain. In addition to the 14 core products, the brand is planning limited-edition “drops” tied to its runway shows, Delaye said.

“[Drops will be] more linked to fashion shows that we can produce in a shorter amount of time in order to make it more linked to the moment of the show,” Delaye told BoF. “It’s very fashionable.”

Valentino isn’t totally new to beauty. The brand has sold fragrance through licensing partnerships with Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Puig before signing with L’Oréal in 2018 to manufacture its beauty products. The first scents under the partnership were released in 2019. Voce Viva came out in 2020 with Lady Gaga as the face.

Delaye said Valentino’s lineup falls in between two types of makeup brands: iconic, heritage-driven designer labels and the newer lines that promote individuality and offer vast shade ranges (Valentino’s includes 50 shades of lipstick and 40 shades of foundation).

“Pierpaolo really wanted to have this balance between couture and the clash,” Delaye explained. “It’s very couture … but at the same time it’s for all individuals.”

The “couture” element is the gold logos, and the “clash” comes from the updated reds used for packaging and lipstick. Lip colour in “Rosso 22” is a “new red with a kind of punk, pink shade,” a younger derivative of the house’s signature red, according to Piccioli.

The same goes for the campaign, shot by Piccioli, which features 16 men and women, including his daughter. Piccioli’s depiction of “couture clash” is evident: models have blue hair, plenty of tattoos, and bolder editorial makeup than what’s typically seen in beauty advertising — and are all wearing couture Valentino. For the non-models, there was a street casting to find “real people.”

Contrary to what one might imagine, palettes aren’t covered in “rockstuds,” the pyramid-shaped rivets that have defined Valentino’s design aesthetic for over a decade. Since they first appeared on shoes in 2010, the tiny pyramids became a commercial identifier for the brand, punctuating handbags, espadrilles, iPhone cases and even nylon bomber jackets.

Instead, Piccioli looked to the brand’s history when developing makeup. In a homage to Valentino Garavani, who founded Valentino in 1960, the packaging is red (the house’s signature) and emblazoned with the classic “Vlogo.” Oversized, gold Vs are everywhere, from the caps of “Very Valentino” foundation to eyeshadow and blush compacts. There’s a single rockstud if you look closely, serving as a clasp to open and close compacts.

For those who can’t afford $1,000 shoes, cosmetics are an entrée into the world of Valentino, one of the most recognisable names in luxury fashion. Refills for full-size lipsticks and mini lipsticks cost $30. Foundation is priced at $64 and eyeliner and eyebrow pencils at $40. The priciest item in the line is the Go-Clutch, which at $235 is still one-tenth the price of some full-size Valentino clutches.

“I wanted everyone to have the possibility to play with our products, matching not only their skin but also their emotions,” Piccioli said during a virtual press preview last week.

Unlike Gucci, which tested the waters with lipstick before entering other categories, Valentino is going all-in from the beginning, betting on a post-pandemic colour rebound.

“It’s consistent with their brand image,” Alex Fitzgerald, principal in the consumer practice of Kearney, a global consultancy, said of Valentino taking a makeup-first approach to beauty. “It’s something that they’re weighing more than just entering into a growing category that isn’t as authentic to them, like skin care.”

It’s still a hard time to launch a makeup line. The category as a whole has been on the decline for years, and seemingly every celebrity, influencer and fashion label has a colour brand (or collaboration at the very least).

For Fitzgerald, Valentino’s success comes down to positioning.

“Can a consumer really differentiate a positioning of a Valentino versus a Gucci in a landscape that’s pretty crowded?” she said.

In some cases, yes. The packaging pops — in real life and online. Visually, someone is more likely to gravitate toward a sea of bright red packaging, especially when it shares a dedicated pop-up space with its luxury accessories in one of the most well-known retailers in the world.

A month-long pop-up will open at Selfridges on May 31 and pre-order on Valentino’s US e-commerce site starts on June 1. In August, the collection will enter select Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Neiman Marcus doors in the US and a pop-up in Nordstrom’s Manhattan store will open in mid-August. A European rollout starts online June 1 and in-stores in September and products launch in China through TMall in early August.

Related Links:

Hermés, Gucci and the Luxury Lipstick Wars

What Beauty Products Will Consumers Buy in 2021?

Valentino’s New Beginnings

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