From Makeup Artist to Thriving Makeup Brand? Not As Likely As You May Think


Cara Delevingne for Vogue UK March 2013, Photographed by Mario Testino & Makeup by Charlotte Tilbury
Cara Delevingne/Vogue UK March ’13, Photographer: Mario Testino, Makeup: Charlotte Tilbury

No one, and we mean no one, should be surprised by the rising popularity of makeup artists. Celebrities and models look better than ever — all of the time — because of the expertise they provide. Stop by any department store, Sephora, or Ulta and there’s plenty of knowledge to be dispensed and hands available.

Many of these makeup artists have studied the trade in school, are trained one on one by the brands they sell and represent, and want to teach you. They know their stuff, take it seriously, and it’s a career. Everyone wants you in their chair and everyone in the game, to some extent, is a bonafide artist.

With that expertise in the trade comes the increasing popularity of artist-created makeup lines, and there’s no such thing as too many choices. The big three department store lines (as they’re called) — Clinique, Lancome, & Estée Lauder — face considerable competition from emerging brands. And these days, the same artists that make faces for celebrities and models, that create stunning Vogue & Bazaar covers, and act as global artists and ambassadors for cosmetic companies, are the new kids on the block. The real competition in the makeup world is the artists themselves.


Kevyn Aucoin made a successful transition from artist to brand before his untimely death and left quite a legacy.

We think an important question that must be asked is, how likely is it for a makeup artist to find success as a beauty brand? In every industry there are the innovators and the cosmetic industry is no different. The sweet young lady in Sephora selling you Dior Forever Foundation (plus a few add-ons) may be harnessing an entrepreneurial spirit. Maybe she wants to develop a beauty brand of her own — maybe she’s picked out a name.

With the success of the recently launched Charlotte Tilbury line and the lasting success of Kevyn Aucoin, Bobbi Brown, and Laura Mercier (just to name a few), it’s easy to feel inspired. Yes, it can be done. But what’s the likelihood of an artist taking a more traditional approach achieving eventual success? Especially that type of success?


Charlotte Tilbury debuts her makeup line & it's a hit.
Charlotte Tilbury: 20 years in the business


There’s No Such Thing as An Overnight Success

Well, the truth is, it’s not as likely as you may think. We spoke with Ginger King, a cosmetic consultant with over 17 years of progressive experience in developing award-winning cosmetic products from head to toe for all channels of distribution (from mass to prestige to salon to direct-sell). She holds numerous beauty patents and has successfully launched beauty hits such as the Joico Ice Spiker and the Avon Advance Technique Color Series (among many others) and comes in contact with quite a few artists with big dreams of branding. Our big question for King was, when you take into account all of the knowledge necessary to create a beauty brand, are makeup artists typically qualified?

In short, the answer is no.

“Makeup artists can provide artistic skills or share their desire to create certain products but they must work with a cosmetic chemist who is skilled in formulation and regulations in order to create a line for efficacy and safety reasons. It helps with sales if the person is a celebrity makeup artist as he/she will have the PR power to push through for credibility. For everyday makeup artists, the chance to succeed is a lot less.”

Charlotte Tilbury, for example, has a storied 20 year career in the industry. She studied the trade at Glauca Rossi School of Makeup in London and has created campaign looks for Tom Ford and Stella McCartney, has numerous fashion magazine covers under her belt, and that’s just the beginning. She has worked, and continues to work, as show makeup director for brands like Hakaan, Vionnet, Mugler and Donna Karen. Those credentials, that resume, and only in late 2014 did she debut her own line.

You Won’t Get Far Without Chemical Expertise

The big elephant in the room, beyond all training and creativity, is chemical expertise. “The makeup artists that approach me all have one issue,” said King. “They only want to do one product and do not know how to start or what it takes. After I tell them the manufacturing requirements etc., they are often scared away. I usually tell them, sure, I can create any product for you but if you are not able to sell through, it’s a waste. I am not interested in selling you just a piece of meat without turning it into a sizzling steak.”


Francois Nars makes it into almost every makeup bag, runway or real way by putting artistry first
Runway to real way, Nars is a hit

As damning as it may sound, Ginger King is only looking out for her potential client’s best interest. We don’t mean to burst your bubble, but the planning, research, and cost associated with developing a cosmetic line, even a single product, is expensive. Even more so if the product isn’t an immediate slam dunk.

“Proceed with caution” is a message reiterated by Genn Shaughnessy, founder of MUAH MakeUp & Hair Studio, and a skilled celebrity makeup artist who has worked with the likes of Carrie Underwoodand has national credits from Fox and People magazine. After years of using other beauty products on her high-profile clients, she decided to develop her own.

“Creating your own line is easy,” Shaughnessy said. “It’s producing it, distributing it, and making a profit in a reasonable amount of time that’s the challenge. Sure you can go to a brush house, get a plate printed for $25, then order your first batch minimum of 24 pieces. That’s one brush to sell, that will cost you at least $75…how long will it take you to sell that one brush?”

The Cost of Launching a Beauty Brand

And it’s not just the cost of the makeup or tools that can take a toll, it’s the additional business expenses, including promotion, that so many entrepreneurs overlook. “Unless you have a marketing and design background, you have to pay someone to create your logo at $300,” Shaughnessy said. “Your website and portfolio at $3,500, your monthly PR firm ranges anywhere from $1500-3000 a month. You could do your own PR, travel to news stations, present your products, if they take guests and if you’re properly media trained, but those trips are exhausting. 20 hours of work to prep for a 7 minute segment.”

Gamechanging artist to brand, Laura Mercier.
She added that at the end of the day, it takes more than an amazing product to get noticed. It’s about timing, place, and connections. “It definitely takes a lot of work, money, backing, presence. It takes a following of some sort. It also takes clientele, knowing how to service people, not selling and knowing your clients needs.”

Game-changing artists Laura Mercier (above, left) & Bobbi Brown (below, right) made the leap to cosmetic brands and have since built beauty empires. Photo Credits Laura Mercier/Bobbi Brown
So you’ve got all of that, do you? Well, as King said, there may not even be room for your brand on the market. “Unless it’s really unique and for unmet needs (ethnic lines are still lacking), I don’t think consumers are eager to see more unless they have credibility. Sure you can sell on the internet but, again, so much competition out there…unless you have some sort of fame or connection to fame, it is hard to break in.”

Insta-fame Doesn’t Guarantee Insta-success

Even in the age of internet insta-fame, there are no real guarantees. Your cosmetic line — your brand — has to be more than just a great package, a catchy name, or an awesome, never-before-seen technique. There’s a reason for everything you don’t see. There’s a reason for every product that doesn’t exist on the market. It’s ultimately about science.
Gamechanging artist to brand, Bobbi Brown.
“Makeup artists think they are creative…there is a reason why you don’t see many of the funky colors in main stream lines,” said King. “That’s because of safety issues. Some colorants are prohibited to be used in the lip and/or eye area due to potential allergens. As I always like to say, dermatologists know skin, makeup artists know color, but cosmetic chemists know products. For a product line, cosmetic chemists know best.”

And unfortunately — for girls with big, big dreams of one day creating a cosmetic line — we’re slightly heartbroken. It’s going to take considerably more time, planning, and expense than we projected. We’ve put that dream in our pocket for another day because, when it comes to the sage advice from both Shaughnessy and King, they’ve given us quite a bit to think about — and it’s hard not to agree.

Still intrigued, on go, & not giving up? Learn more about the industry and the process of developing a beauty brand from Makeup Geek.

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