It’s only been a month since its debut, but Rihanna’s new cosmetic line, Fenty Beauty, is proving to be a game changer. I know, that’s a pretty bold statement for a company that hasn’t even passed its first financial quarter (which I’m sure will be joy and thanksgiving for its investors), but to be fair, Fenty Beauty is already a pretty bold shift in makeup culture. The line’s most discussed product, the Pro Filt’r Soft Matte Longwear Foundation, is resonating with Black women on a level that’s more than skin-deep. The line has had an outsized influence on popular culture — in particular, beauty — and yet, it is still an (unnecessary) struggle for black and deeper-skin-toned women to find makeup that matches and compliments their skin tones. The possibility of being represented within the same breadth normally reserved for paler skin tones isn’t just exciting — it’s a statement that women of color deserve complex options. It’s this simple proposition that has everyone in the beauty industry (rightfully) shook.
“To have the full range from super pale to all the beautiful darker shades… is fantastic,” said James Kaliardos over email. “This speaks to girls who have felt not considered before but are a huge audience for beauty.” Kaliardos is Fenty Beauty’s Resident Artist and co-founder of influential magazine, Visionaire. Kaliardos, a 20-year-plus veteran of the industry, has been around long enough to have seen it all and has been creating backstage looks since the era of the Original Supermodels of the early 90s, working with Balenciaga, Chanel, and Yves Saint Laurent, and some of the best photographers of the 20th century, including Mario Testino, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. He most recently created the looks for the S/S Rihanna x Puma runway looks.
“I first tested the foundations on Rihanna from a lab sample case, so I wasn’t distracted by the beautiful packing, just the true working quality of Pro Filt’r itself,” Kaliardos wrote graciously at 5:30 AM, an ungodly but normal hour when prepping for a shoot. He was immediately impressed and remarked in a New Yorker article earlier this month that the quality of Fenty Beauty was so top-notch, that in creating the looks for Rihanna’s Puma S/S 2018 show he didn’t have to sneak other brand’s products, “unlike at some other shows.”
Beauty brands are feeling the heat. A few weeks ago, Make Up For Ever not so subtly reminded everyone on Instagram that 40 shades was “nothing new” for the line — a dig at the celebrations surrounding the Fenty line, whose marketing strengths have led with its 40 shades of foundation.
Of course, Rihanna being Rihanna, let them know how she felt.
Without taking sides or casting shade, I didn’t even realize that 40 shades was a thing. (At the time of this writing, I haven’t tried either lines.) Maybe I didn’t realize that 40 shades was a standard because I’ve never seen a line carry that many shades. But I get it now. As someone who covers the politics around beauty and fashion quite regularly, there’s still so much for me to learn as well; an unexpected side effect of listening to the conversations around Fenty Beauty has been a re-education of sorts, beginning with the beauty review of the woman with albinism. It’s myopic of me, but until the tweets and the above article, I’ve never thought about how hard it is for people with the condition to find makeup that truly includes them too.
And that’s just it — what make-up line has that much power to create a conversation that’s not mired in out-of-touch marketing jargon and tone-deaf apologies?
Fenty Beauty’s marketing campaign and execution have been praised by outlets and beauty bloggers alike — the latter a notoriously tough crowd — despite the challenges of staying stocked in stores. The first week of Fenty Beauty’s rollout, my timeline was almost exclusively streaming images of Sephora stores across the country with empty Fenty Beauty foundation pockets — always the darker shades. For women who are often told that the reason that their colors aren’t available is that they don’t sell, it was a triumph to see, even if some complained that they had to make multiple trips to Sephora before they could purchase their shade. sometimes the same day that they arrived in the store.
YouTube’s top beauty vloggers too have been working overtime to keep up with the demand. Ellarie, one of the platform’s most successful faces, did a Fenty Beauty review recently. So far the views are over 88k. “As you can tell from the title, this is the Fenty Beauty Review,” she begins, “which has been one of the most requested reviews I’ve ever gotten!”
“Brands were showing off their ‘diverse’ 15-shade ranges of foundation…following the launch,” says Danielle Gray of The Style and Beauty Doctor. “We’ve been complaining about the lack of diversity…for years, and here comes the Bajan princess swooping in with Fenty Beauty and became an instant game changer — love it.”
As a Black woman with lighter skin, I’m always aware that while none of us are properly represented, darker-skinned Black women have it even worse. In “water is wet” news, Gray confirms this, and in emailing her, I’m realizing how bad the game really is and why Fenty Beauty matters so much. “I’d go to events for major beauty brands and there would be rows and rows of the brand’s beige and tan foundations, and nothing anywhere near my shade — not even something I could highlight with,” says Gray.
This reminds me of the stories that my mom would recall from her modeling days, having to pack her suitcases with makeup from Paris because sophisticated colors for black women were almost non-existent in America in the 1980s. “I’m surprised we didn’t crash the Concorde,” she’d half-jokingly laugh, when referring to her and other models’ bags of stash.
Because black women can’t find a lot of great options for make-up that aren’t hazardous in 2017, it leaves a lucrative opportunity for companies bold and smart enough to make inclusivity as a part of their business plan. This is partly what makes Fenty Beauty an outlier. It isn’t just because the line offers a plethora of options for an underserved and ignored demographic. It’s also because it’s a celebrity line, and frankly, the bar is more about generating buzz and dollars than shifting the goal line of an industry. Celebrity lines are often seen as vanity and brand projects, not serious contenders within an industry, and overnight, Fenty Beauty seems to be making the $80 billion-a-year American beauty and personal care industry take notice.
“I have seen a swift change in industry heads as they scramble to match the diverse message Fenty Beauty has launched, “ says Kaliardos.
“It’s as if the roof has been blown off…I’ve never seen this kind of global excitement for a brand launch,” says Kaliardos when asked about the effect so far of Fenty Beauty.
“To have the full range from super pale to all the beautiful darker shades…is fantastic,” said Kaliardos. “This speaks to girls who have felt not considered before but are a huge audience for beauty.”
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