NEW YORK, United States — Jeremy Scott’s front row was once almost exclusively composed of ‘downtown’ cool kids and indie magazine editors. Unsurprisingly, the crowd has diversified since the Karl Lagerfeld protégé was named creative director of Moschino in October 2013. But the Estée Lauder-owned beauty brand MAC warmed to Scott long before he made his mark at the Italian fashion house. “He has always been such an irreverent figure in fashion and pop culture,” notes MAC senior vice president and group creative director James Gager, whose team has been collaborating with Scott on his runway shows since 2010. “His designs are unapologetic, loud and over the top. He’s not afraid to take risks and, at MAC, we follow this same philosophy.”
This season, MAC did more than just the makeup for Scott’s show. The brand also sponsored the premiere of the documentary Jeremy Scott: The People’s Designer, held at the Paris Theatre, at which attendees were gifted a lipstick in MAC’s classic red, packaged in a Jeremy Scott-designed sleeve. The partnership is sure to be earmarked as one of MAC’s most important marketing moments during the Spring 2016 shows. But it is one of dozens. “We work with both well-established and up-and-coming designers at more than 850 fashion shows in 30 fashion weeks globally,” says Gager.
Much of the action takes place backstage. MAC, like many cosmetics and hair care brands, employs hundreds of artists each season to create beauty looks for fashion shows. But while beauty brands sometimes sponsor runway shows and fashion labels occasionally hire their favourite artists, “a lot of times, money isn’t passing hands when it comes to backstage,” explains Rachel Conlan, managing director at specialist communications firm Havas LuxHub. Where, then, is the value in these partnerships?
Beauty companies first became more visible at fashion weeks in the mid-1990s, driven by the rise of makeup artists who managed to build their own personal brands. (Bobbi Brown Essentials debuted in 1991, Kevyn Aucoin in 2001.) François Nars leveraged his relationships with designers to establish a presence at fashion week when he launched Nars in 1994, working with Bill Blass, Alaïa, Karl Lagerfeld, Anna Sui, Versace and Valentino. “Along with his editorial work and advertising campaigns, this is what catapulted him into being one of the top image-makers in the industry,” says Nars president Barbara Calcagni. “Fashion is woven into everything that we do. It’s a constant source of inspiration for François Nars and our artists. As a result, our participation in Fashion Week inspires everything from product development to artistry to education and training. It also further reinforces our authority in the colour space.”
To be sure, associating with — and creating looks for — established designers by partnering with well-known makeup artists like Peter Philips (creative and image director at Christian Dior Makeup) and Pat McGrath (creative design director at P&G Beauty) can help a beauty brand build its authority in a prestige beauty market worth $11.2 billion in 2014 in the US alone, up three percent from 2013, according to figures from NPD Group. “If you look at Peter Phillips’ Fendi [Spring 2016] show alone, there were five articles, in three leading publications, in just one day,” Conlan says. “They are mini-superstars in their own right.”
If you just have your brand there, the consumer gets wind of the fact that you are a fake. The consumer is looking for authenticity. It works when the artist [you are associated with] is really, truly a part of the backstage scene.
“Building this kind of credibility does pay off,” says Karen Grant, an industry analyst at NPD. Hair care company Redken uses its partnerships with Rodney Cutler and Guido Palau — the company’s global creative director and the mastermind behind the hair at some of the world’s most-watched shows, including Marc Jacobs, Céline and Prada — to guide the work of stylists in its branded salons. “Now, our products are part of the [fashion week] story,” says Darienne Howe, vice president of integrated marketing communications for Redken. “It’s really about completing that circle for the consumer. If they read about a [fashion week] trend and go to a Redken salon that uses these products, the stylists have been trained to understand what they’re looking for. There is a direct correlation between what we see on the runway and what our stylists can offer clients. We’re able to translate a look, interpret it and customise it for them.”
Fashion week activations are increasingly important, not just for artist-driven brands like Nars, MAC and Redken, but also for mass beauty brands like Maybelline, which sell packaged products that consumers can’t try before they buy, making trust more important. The brand has sponsored several fashion weeks, from this season’s IMG-organised shows in New York to the city’s MADE at Milk Studios showcase before IMG acquired the brand earlier this year. But Maybelline also has a strong backstage presence. Yadim Carranza, appointed ‘global makeup artist’ at the brand in 2014, created the face for Jason Wu’s Spring 2016 show. “If you just have your [brand] name there, the consumer gets wind of the fact that you’re a fake,” Grant says. “The consumer is looking for authenticity. It works when the artist [you are associated with] is really, truly a part of the backstage scene. It becomes more powerful.”
For beauty companies, much of the marketing that goes on backstage is still about trickle-down branding. But the rise of social media has made the impact more immediate. McGrath, for instance, has more than 479,000 followers on Instagram and a one of her recent fashion week posts, featuring a pearlised face from Givenchy’s show in New York, has attracted over 12,000 likes. “The traditional media model doesn’t really apply anymore,” says Havas LuxHub’s Conlan.
While it’s difficult to quantify the value of these fashion week partnerships, it’s clear they can also extend beyond backstage integration to full-fledged product lines. MAC has partnered with the likes of Proenza Schouler, Prabal Gurung, Giambattista Valli and, soon, Charlotte Olympia, on limited-edition collections. Nars has teamed with 3.1 Phillip Lim and Thakoon on nail polish and, this year, with Christopher Kane on a full-colour collection. “It’s a way to make the beauty looks from the runways accessible to consumers,” Calcagni says. For instance, “Christopher is known for neons and nudes. The shades and formulas in this collection were directly inspired by his philosophy that neons are neutrals and have the ability to refresh a look with new energy.” According to Calcagni, several shades sold out almost immediately.