Fame Monsters

Are Celebrity Beauty Brands Just Another Gimmick?

Celebrity beauty lines are nearly a pastiche, but perhaps their star power can be used as a force for good.

Are Celebrity Beauty Brands Just Another Gimmick?

When you think of celebrity beauty lines, what’s the latest one that comes to mind? Lady Gaga’s new Haus makeup line may be set to be the next Fenty or Kylie. Or perhaps Hailey Bieber might have a better shot at going viral—that is, if she manages to get her Bieber Beauty line trademarked at all, since the name belongs to her husband’s own forgotten beauty range from the aughts.

The latest and most egregious ‘celeb makeup line’ could be the Frida Kahlo series by beauty chain Ulta. It’s hard to believe that Kahlo, who was a staunch anti-capitalist and joined the Mexican Communist Party when she was 20, would want her likeness emblazoned alongside a smattering of Insta-worthy flowers on a $15 brow palette (of which there are four shades of brown, and none of Kahlo’s own brow colour, black). 

Ulta’s new Frida Kahlo Brow Master kit ironically doesn’t have Kahlo’s iconic brow colour (Photo: Ulta Beauty)

We’re not even halfway through 2019 and already we’re inundated with celebrity makeup collaborations. And the beauty industry is worse for that. 

Celebrities are using their fame to muscle in on the beauty industry, their clout trumping more important qualities in products, like health and safety (Kylie Jenner recommends using her walnut scrub a startling ‘two to three times a week’), ethical sourcing, or good sense, ala yoni eggs.

Celebrity beauty lines often carry more credence or prestige than a mass-market product. Naturally, that’s because the star’s own image rubs off on the products that they’re hawking. There’s an underlying assumption that this foundation is what the star is using on that gorgeous cover photo, or that a particular red-carpet lip colour was birthed from that palette.

In that sense, celebrity beauty lines don’t stray far from their equally dubious companion, the celebrity endorsement, in that the star in question often has very little to do with the actual product.

Rihanna’s popular Fenty line is produced by LVMH, which also produces Marc Jacobs Beauty, Benefit Cosmetics, and Kat Von D Beauty (Photo: Fenty Beauty)

Take Rihanna’s lauded Fenty beauty line, for example. The praise that’s been heaped on Fenty’s foundation range alone could power the average Instagram influencer for a year.  In actuality, the star’s eponymous line is produced by conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey; It is not known how much creative input the singer actually has in the products.

Both Kim Kardashian West and her sister Kylie’s beauty lines are produced by a little-known parent company called Seed Beauty, which also creates ColourPop Cosmetics, better known for their cult lipsticks, many of which retail for $10 or less.

For reference, Kylie’s infamous lip kits can cost anywhere between S$50 and S$70.

It’s a stark reminder of how nothing but star power can inflate a product’s price so drastically; While Jenner has claimed that her products don’t share the same formula as ColourPop’s, many still have their doubts.

There’s no denying the work that some celebrities may put into their projects. But to believe that their products are unique or somehow better than what one might find elsewhere—simply because of their patronage—is disingenuous. 

More importantly, being a celebrity doesn’t necessarily equate to being the authority on good health and safety practices. Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop line of wellness and beauty products—which borderline parody these days—have long attracted negative press for its pseudoscientific claims, though something should be said against placing foreign objects in places where they should not be, rose quartz or no. 

A screengrab of the rose quartz egg from the Goop site, which is thankfully unavailable for sale following the 2018 lawsuit (Photo: Goop Shop)

In recent times, they’ve attracted a hefty legal case from the authorities, too: In September 2018, Goop was made to pay a penalty of $145,000 by the California Food, Drug, and Medical Device Task Force for their false health claims.

But perhaps it’s not the quality of the products that matters when a celebrity launches a makeup line. 

When Rihanna launched Fenty with its broad range of foundation shades in 2017, people were ecstatic. Here was something that mainstream beauty lines didn’t get: Racial and colour inclusivity was something the beauty industry was starved for, and Rihanna not only brought that to everyone’s attention, she helped Fenty become the benchmark on how to create an inclusive beauty line. And having a beauty line that walked the talk helped to push her point.

For Lady Gaga’s upcoming Haus line, she launched a series of promotional images, notably sans-retouching. Yes, you could see the texture of her skin beneath her foundation, the lines and creases and bumps, but that was the pointmakeup, in Gaga’s own words, made her feel powerful, but it wasn’t a nepenthe for her deep-seated insecurities. Gaga was selling her brand of honesty and approach to beauty, and the internet loved her for it. 

But while launching her own beauty brand does underline the cause that she stands for, it doesn’t change the fact that there’s nothing about Haus—divorced from Gaga’s star power—that says anything exceptional. The same can be said for so many other forgettable celebrity beauty lines inundating store shelves.

Unless a celebrity makeup line can definitively make a statement or prove its worth without someone’s force of personality—like so few do—then it’s nothing more than a blatant cash grab. Can one say definitively how Kylie’s S$70 lip kits are better, or even different, than Colourpop’s $10 drugstore lipsticks?

If a starlet really wanted to make profound statements about our relationship with beauty and the industry, or even just to release a product that won’t be forgotten by the next year, then they should do so in a way that extends beyond the consumerist. Or at least to stop pretending that their celebrity makes their lipsticks worth more than its sticker price.

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