This week, I look at the various ways beauty brands are trying to capitalize on film, television and pop culture.
If you were one of the swarms of people that saw the latest James Bond film, “No Time To Die,” in the past few weeks, you might have been surprised to see such a prominent beauty moment so early in the film. No, I’m not talking about actress Léa Seydoux’s intoxicating face. Rather, I’m referencing an early scene where Seydoux’s character, Dr. Madeleine Swann, is applying an Ilia Beauty lipstick, as Daniel Craig’s Bond returns from an action-packed fight scene with Spectre assassins.
While Bond films are usually tricked out with luxury (oftentimes paid) product placement — think Aston Martin or Omega — it was a coup for 10-year-old clean beauty company Ilia to make an appearance in “No Time To Die.” According to Lynda Berkowitz, CEO of Ilia Beauty, the company had no prior warning that its lipstick was going to be featured in the film. It also did not pay for placement. Talk about the most fortuitous advertisement; since late September, the film has grossed nearly $448 million worldwide.
“Over the past several years, Ilia has been organically seeding VIPs and the makeup artist community. We know that our clean, skin-care-powered formulas are known for easy, everyday use, but that they also perform in a professional film setting. It’s always a nice surprise to see the love for our products appear in major pop-culture moments like this. We are excited to see Ilia’s products featured prominently in the James Bond franchise,” said Berkowitz.
Beauty brands continue to take advantage of bigger awareness opportunities via film, television and pop culture, but many partnerships have been one-and-done collaborations. And very few have resulted in the screen-to -purchase crazes of “Sex and The City” or, more recently, “Fleabag,” “Emily in Paris” or “The White Lotus.”
“It’s funny that bold fashion has been much more socially acceptable and encouraged than bold makeup. Clothing is not optional. No matter what, people leave the house wearing clothing and having hair. Makeup is extra,” said Donnie Davy, makeup designer for “Euphoria.” She added, “There has been an apprehension with makeup because it involves a certain knowledge of how and where to apply it, and what to apply it with. There is also the notion that makeup involves a bit of knowledge about your own skin chemistry and skin tone. This can definitely be intimidating. It’s more information to digest than putting on pants with a cool print.”
And yet, beauty brands can’t help but try to align themselves with bigger entertainment moments.
In September, Urban Decay released its Marvel Studios’ “Eternals” collection, featuring an eyeshadow palette, eye pencils, a powder highlighter and lipsticks tied to the newest superhero flick. The film opens November 5 and, much like “No Time To Die,” it’s expected to have a mega opening weekend. Malena Higuera, U.S. manager at Urban Decay, said that tapping into the zeitgeist is not a new strategy for the beauty company.
“This is definitely part of our brand DNA,” she said. “‘Scream’ nail polish was our very first film collab back in 1996. Followed by Dude nail polish for the now cult-classic film ‘The Big Lebowski.’ Our first Disney-based collab was with the film ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ which never even made it out to the sales floor before it sold out. Then we went on to do ‘Oz The Great and Powerful’ and, of course, the sequel to ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ We also partnered with Miramax for the ‘Pulp Fiction’ collection to celebrate its 25th anniversary and with HBO for ‘Game of Thrones’ just ahead of the last season.”
The “Eternals” collection is available on the Urban Decay, Ulta and Sephora websites, and its products ranges in price from $22-$295. When asked about the everyday use of products like this, Higuera emphasized their escapism and also collectibility.
“We love working with these collabs because they work at the speed of culture, helping us bring out new ways to empower our consumers to express themselves,” she said of both Urban Decay shoppers and Marvel fans. “Marvel has recently focused on new and inspiring characters. With ‘Eternals,’ there’s so much inspiration to take from the characters, like Angelina Jolie as Thena or Gemma Chan as Sersi. Our collection in partnership with Marvel Studios is designed to help create any and every comic-inspired look, so it really makes it exciting to take it from film to makeup.”
However, other beauty brands like NYX are focused on a more direct tie-in to a film’s or television’s characters. In August, NYX released its second Netflix beauty collaboration with the television show “Sex Education.” And in 2020, it partnered with the streaming service’s “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina.” NYX Professional Makeup global president Yann Joffredo said the community of “Sex Education” fans was the draw, as was the existing makeup presence on the show.
“Just look at the way the characters of ‘Sex Education’ express their individuality through their makeup. Eric proudly wears colorful eye shadow, Maeve plays bad girl-chic with smoldering eyes and strong brows, and Lily surprises us with otherworldly liner looks. Our teams were very passionate about creating products inspired by characters and dreaming up looks they would wear in the halls of Moordale High,” he said. Joffredo added that NYX “took iconic products that our fans love and gave them a ‘Sex Education’ touch,” inspired by the aforementioned characters.
Davy agreed that “Sex Education” has had a major impact on beauty. “The makeup, hair and costumes on Season 3 of ‘Sex Education’ are incredible,” she said. “They should have been nominated for an Emmy this year … They showcase an extremely realistic and eclectic variety of looks that say so much about the characters, as well as drive the storylines forward. The makeup is subtle enough so that it feels lived-in, real and totally evokes both humor and empathy — like an imitation of real life. Even the bolder moments seem to fit in perfectly, without distraction.”
But perhaps the most obvious, natural and recent entertainment-to-beauty play has been Davy’s own larger-than-life creations for HBO’s “Euphoria” and the looks she has inspired for Gen Z.
“Actors’ primary and most effective tool for acting is through their voices and faces, so it’s quite literally a bold move to have confidence that the acting and the storytelling will thrive alongside a compelling and expressive makeup look,” she said.
Her secret? “The technical application of the makeup. Fine line work, like winged liner, needs to be precise, unless the character calls for something intentionally messy,” she said. “I make sure that foundation or concealer perfectly matches the actor’s skin tone and has a skin-like finish. Part of what made the looks on ‘Euphoria’ feel real is that it didn’t look like the characters were wearing tons of makeup. Over-powdering or applying too much makeup to the skin instantly destroys realism. If I can see and feel the actor’s real skin, then the audience will believe that the makeup belongs on that person’s face and is intentionally contributing to the story.”
Thanks to the success of the show, “Euphoria’s” production house, A24, is moving into the beauty space with its own brand, Rules Beauty. But the beauty audience already existed for the show versus the reverse, which Davy expects to contribute to its success.
“The hardest part for brands is finding the right moment and opportunity to create something that is truly authentic and impactful. And for this to happen, the drive or desire for mainstream culture to devour the look needs to already be happening in a meaningful and organic way,” said Davy. “Otherwise, the concept of ‘selling looks’ seen on TV will inherently be manufactured, and consumers can detect this. Having said that, there will always be super fans who will be interested in any product related to their favorite TV show or film, but it’s not the super fans who will shift the beauty industry.”
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