The World of Beauty Collaborations, Where Fame is Man-Given

Brands—ask not what the personalities can do for you, but consider how well they can represent you.
beauty collaborations

In checking my one-year-old mailbox, there were upwards of 100 hits when I searched for ambassador news. That’s almost one for every other workday. Why is that the case? For starters, it’s a no-brainer headline generator. It’s established that releases like these are newsworthy, especially when invested fans are constantly zeroing in on any bit of new information about a particular personality. The great beauty industrial complex has cracked the code, too: all of that anticipation (and attention) is ripe for exploitation, especially via beauty collaborations.

For the most part, it’s a net positive. Using star power lends the item or brand with an air of prestige, as well as the opportunity to tap into a person’s following. With many of these celebrities considered to be trendsetters in their own right, the arrangement has the potential to result in instant cash flow for the brand. 

As businesses need to place their best bets for their survival, that situation is just par for the course. Let’s look past that transparent exchange and instead take a peek into the art of it all, because when executed with immaculacy, it can have the potential to be some of the most fascinating pursuits in the game.

Class is in Session

Here’s your chance to recall some grade school science factoids. Of the three types of symbiosis, the best-case scenario is when both parties benefit from the relationship, but the one caveat is that it has to be done right. When the stars don’t align, though, the outcome can be catastrophic. 

Just take a look at Morphe’s downfall, which is still playing out to this day. After years of cashing in with their affiliates (influencers are modern celebrities, after all), the manufacturer has filed for bankruptcy following controversies surrounding their chosen influencers. Jeffree Star and James Charles were riddled with controversies, and it’s safe to say that it has damaged the perception of the brand. Not only did the shoppers not use the ubiquitous discount codes (therefore not making any purchases), but they also went as far as boycotting the label because they take the continuation of the alliance as an endorsement of Star’s and Charles’ behaviours. 

beauty collaborations, tarte cosmetics, swamp queen palette
grav3yard girl’s collaboration with Tarte Cosmetics, the Swamp Queen palette.

Failure can even be marked by a quiet fatality. The concept of bad press still being good press bears a 50/50 chance of success, but what happens when there’s no press? There are so many out-of-place partnerships across the industry, that many rendered themselves forgettable. When was the last time you thought of that Becca Cosmetics collaboration with Khloé Kardashian & Malika Haqq? Or the grav3yard girl and Tarte palette? These weren’t necessarily bad ideas per se. But in an environment where every beauty brand was tapping personalities left, right, and centre, the collaborations would have to be super competitive. Today, Becca Cosmetics has ceased operations, and Tarte has only just revitalised its image with the success of the Maracuja Juicy Lip line. 

Stick the Landing

But when it all goes according to plan, boy, can these brands hit a home run. One of the most talked-about campaigns to come out of the Super Bowl was Michael Cera’s campaign with CeraVe. While skincare may not line up with Cera’s identity, it has a level of intrigue that’s got people talking all over social media. The best part? Both CeraVe and Cera were totally committed to the bit. 

Charlotte Tilbury, known for naming lipsticks after her A-list celebrity friends like Amal Clooney and Kate Moss, is a prime example of acing the game. Not only is this her way of authentically honouring her friends, but one of the Hot Lips collections is also benefitting a movement close to Tilbury’s heart: the Women for Women International charity fund. In this case, she has created an instant hit—a mesmerising formula, big names to back it up, and a good cause, all rolled up in one. 

A strong genesis is also a top contender in capturing the audience’s attention. Just look at the story behind MAC Cosmetics’s Russian Red lip. Created specifically to survive the trials of a concert show, the lipstick was, in a way, commissioned by Madonna for her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour. From being a colour that only belonged to the Queen of Pop, it has found a permanent home in the collection and has since become a cult classic. Today, we’re seeing a similar story play out with Pat McGrath Lab’s MatteTrance Lipstick in Elson via Taylor Swift’s The Eras Tour

Walk that Tightrope 

By now, we’ve determined that working with a personality doesn’t invariably produce an effective outcome. Celebrities—they really are just like us. Human, that is. When their personality implodes, businesses can take a significant hit too. Yet some of the most amazing campaigns and long-standing products to come are the result of these efforts. The trick is, and has always been, to hit the mark.