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The Delta Variant and Fashion’s Postponed Post-Pandemic Future

This week, everyone will be talking about the pandemic’s uncertain trajectory and KKW Beauty’s mysterious relaunch.
A shopper wearing a mask. Shutterstock
A shopper wearing a mask. Shutterstock

It’s Not Over

  • Officials are reintroducing mask mandates in some places as the Delta variant drives Covid-19 infections higher
  • The new wave of cases, plus uneven progress toward vaccination, create uncertainty around consumer confidence and potentially the ability to hold live events this fall
  • Corporate earnings this week, and US employment data on Friday, will offer guidance about the Delta variant’s impact to date

Retailers are starting to have flashbacks to 2020, even as luxury brands report their sales are soaring past pre-pandemic levels, and more consumers return to in-store shopping. The worrying spread of the highly contagious Delta variant means that mask mandates are back, from the Olympic podium to the Apple store. In the US, economists warn that spiking caseloads are likely to sap consumer confidence and could delay the economic recovery, though few are predicting an outright relapse. Organisers of fashion weeks are surely sweating right now, though no major events have been cancelled due to the pandemic’s resurgence so far. The fashion industry is placing its hopes on the vaccine, though few brands, aside from Brunello Cucinelli, have gone so far as to require employees to get the shot.

The Bottom Line: Earlier this summer, the industry was split between brands that bet it all on a full recovery and those that were cautious in planning buys for summer and fall, anticipating a possible third or fourth wave. How consumers respond to the Delta variant in the coming weeks is likely to show which course was the right one.

The Kardashian-Jenner Beauty Empire Is Too Big to Fail

  • Kim Kardashian West’s beauty brand has said it will shut down its website on Aug. 1 ahead of a relaunch
  • Kylie Cosmetics relaunched earlier this month with a new focus on skin care and “clean” formulations
  • Both brands are being sued by Seed Beauty, a manufacturer, over allegedly divulging trade secrets to Coty, their licensing partner

Celebrity beauty brands aren’t generally built to last. By definition, these labels sell products based on the name on the package, rather than the quality of what’s inside, and consumers are quick to abandon their idol’s eyeshadow palette or lip kit when the next big thing’s version hits Instagram. The Kardashian-Jenner clan have proven adept at bucking that trend, securing long-term partnerships with major retailers and beauty conglomerates. It’s not just Kris Jenner who has a stake in Kim and Kylie’s success; Ulta Beauty and Coty do too.

There is speculation that the nearly simultaneous rebranding of both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics is some sort of end run around a trade secrets lawsuit brought by the manufacturer Seed Beauty. But the direction both are taking is straight out of the beauty industry playbook, albeit with Kardashian-style dramatics layered on top. KKW and Kylie Cosmetics were both associated with product categories — contouring and lip kits — that saw their best sales well before the pandemic. Like plenty of established beauty brands before them, Kardashian and Jenner are using their rebrands to shift focus to the latest trends, namely skin care and cleaner, more-sustainable seeming formulas and packaging. KKW is also taking the opportunity to consolidate its fragrance and beauty lines under one roof, further boosting its bid to become a one-stop shop for makeup and skin care addicts.

The Bottom Line: In the past, these influencers would probably have launched new moisturiser brands and let their lip kits and contouring lines slowly fade away. Coty’s bet is that KKW and Kylie Cosmetics have their own cachet, even if they are not quite ready to stand independent from their famous founders.

The Week Ahead wants to hear from you! Send tips, suggestions, complaints and compliments to brian.baskin@businessoffashion.com.

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