Fashion Designers Driving Innovation in Makeup

July 17th, 2013

At the Paris haute couture collections earlier this month, the makeup artist Peter Philips showed a flushed baby-doll look at Chanel that was capped with bushy brows. Over at Dior, Pat McGrath drew metallic pouts on models and flicked on reflective eyeliner. Armani’s Linda Cantello focused on flawless skin. And the designer Alber Elbaz of Lanvin gave one of the best-attended parties of the week, at Le Trianon concert hall, to celebrate his limited-edition cosmetics collaboration with Lancôme.

The competition to stamp the imprint of couture on mass-market cosmetics has gotten as thick as Pan-Cake.

“Everyone wants a piece of the pie,” said Karen Grant, a global industry analyst for the NPD Group, a market research company. She added: “You still have a lot of play coming from the historical, legacy brands, like your Estée Lauders and Elizabeth Ardens, but the designers are definitely driving some of the innovation and statements.”

And not only in packaging. They have “really pushed the fundamentals further,” Ms. Grant said, meaning ingredients and formulations. She pointed to Yves Saint Laurent Beauté, led by Lloyd Simmonds, a makeup artist whose “hybrid lip products,” like a glossy stain, have transformed the market, she said. She also attributed the current rage for amped-up lashes to Dior and the nail-polish craze to Chanel, which, early on, was hip to unusual finishes and limited-edition colors.

Jostling for position in the category as well are Tom Ford Beauty, Dolce & Gabbana, Givenchy’s Le Makeup (which introduced its first cosmetics ad campaign this spring) and a line planned by Michael Kors. But perhaps the most curiosity has been about Marc Jacobs’s new line, which arrives at Sephora stores on Aug. 9.

In May, Mr. Jacobs gave a press preview in an Upper East Side town house for his new line, named simply Marc Jacobs Beauty. There, among canapés served solicitously on trays by chiseled Adonises and vases plump with pink peonies, editors swabbed the demi-orbs of eye shadows in a pattern inspired by grosgrain ribbon, squirted tubes and cooed over black lacquered compacts. The compacts were inspired by the shellacked finish of Mr. Jacobs’s coffee table, he later explained to the group.

“I find shiny surfaces appealing,” the designer said.

That Mr. Jacobs, arguably fashion’s leader at the crossroads of commerce and cool, has waited this long to introduce a full beauty line was on the minds of many. But he was vague about why, both at the event and in a phone conversation a few weeks later, when he said: “I’m a big believer when the stars align things are meant to happen.”

It is surely no accident that the 120-piece collection, priced from $ 18 to $ 78, was manufactured in partnership with and will be sold exclusively by Sephora, which is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton; Mr. Jacobs designs for Vuitton. At the cosmetics chain, Mr. Jacobs has been a proven winner with perfumes including Lola, Dot and Daisy that “have been one of our most successful” scent lines, said Michael McGeever, senior vice president of Sephora Originals, the company’s brand creation arm.

It was Mr. Jacobs’s longtime business partner, Robert Duffy, who pushed the expansion to makeup, Mr. Jacobs said.

“I’ve always trusted Robert to present or initiate a kind of conversation,” said the designer, admitting he had to think through what his idea of beauty could mean.

“Maybe apprehension wasn’t the right word,” he said. “But I’m used to working with François Nars on the shows and I wanted to continue that. Also, to what degree or how willing were they open to my ideas?”

Apparently very: the line includes a few unisex items, including under-eye concealer and bronzer.

But mostly it’s for “this woman who doesn’t want old women’s makeup,” Mr. Jacobs said, noting that he liked Sephora’s youthful and frenetic retail experience (as opposed to department store counters) because it feels like “a theme park.”

“There’s a wordiness I go through, so I can paint a picture,” he said. “Even the word ‘gel’ has a soothing aspect to it.”

But while Mr. Jacobs seems genuinely interested in his new project (“black is black, but it’s what you do with black that makes it interesting,” he said of eyeliner), he will have to distinguish himself, said Ms. Grant of the NPD Group.

“The devil is in the details,” she said. “He has to really think what part of his line he wants to be known for. You can’t be all things to all people.”

Indeed, cosmetics lines by even successful designers like Diane von Furstenberg and Oscar de la Renta have failed to get traction. Not that this is stopping many others from trying. Women’s Wear Daily reported that Gucci is going into makeup. In June, Matthew Williamson collaborated on a beauty kit with Benefit. Sally Hansen works with Tracy Reese, Prabal Gurung and Rodarte on nail polishes each runway season. And Marchesa has signed on to a three-part deal with Revlon, including a 3-D nail wrap inspired by a runway ball gown; it will be available in October.

In Mr. Williamson’s opinion, a designer needs a following before coming out with a beauty line.

“It requires a certain longevity in the industry so your communication is clear,” he said, noting that his clothing line is 16 years old. Mr. Williamson said he hoped his kit with Benefit will lead to bigger things, perhaps a full line.

“I can see the line already,” he said. “But I’m an independent fashion house. I don’t have the structure or the funds. A lot of it is advertising.”

This is something Lancôme, which is owned by the giant L’Oréal and has also worked with Jason Wu and Olympia Le-Tan, can amply afford. And though the company is hardly abandoning promotion of its core products, Mr. Elbaz, whose line includes false eyelashes and a “doll palette,” is bringing a soupçon of whimsy to an industry giant.

“The real luxury of today is not what has always been done,” said Xavier Vey, president of Lancôme U.S., sounding less like a cosmetics executive than a fashion visionary. “It’s newness.”

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