FGI “Pioneering Beauty” Luncheon

Yesterday I attended Fashion Group International’s annual spring beauty event at the New York Hilton. This year it was a luncheon (cold chicken breast with spring vegetables and endive, and cheesecake for dessert) rather than a breakfast (good move FGI!) entitled Pioneering Beauty. As I contemplated donning a Laura Ingalls Wilder style bonnet and tried to imagine where in midtown I could hitch my wagon (ha), I realized that the title referred to the smaller, independent, upstart cosmetic companies and how they are making inroads, often overtaking bigger, more established brands.

Co Chairs: Caroline Fabrigas, Karen Young, (Panelist) Linda Levy, (Moderator) Emily Dougherty,
(Panelists) Verane de Marffy, Dianna Ruth, Robert De Baker

Both types of cosmetics companies were represented here on the panel which included Verane De Marffy, VP of Marketing, CRM and Social Media at YSL Beaute; Linda Levy, Group VP/Divisional Merchandise Manager for Cosmetics (Estee Lauder, Lancome, Clinique, Origins and others); DIanna Ruth of Milk Makeup and Robert Debaker, President and CEO of Becca Cosmetics (which is in the throes of being welcomed to the Estee Lauder group). The panel was moderated by the always entertaining Emily Dougherty, Elle’s Beauty and Fitness Director who served the same role at last year’s event.

Margaret Hayes, Robert De Baker and Annie Bystryn (Becca

Ms. Dougherty mentioned three successful companies that were not so much innovative in product itself but in ways of getting product into consumer’s hands. The result of Dollar Shave Club, Warby Parker and Kindle meant not having to go to the drugstore, Lenscrafters or the book store respectively. Is the consumer looking for newness in product, she asked, referring to a 2012 study in which people assumed that a new launch of a product meant it would be improved and better than before. By 2017, though “new no longer means improved.” Also, popular doesn’t necessarily equal good however design “shelfies” (products that “make the consumer feel like they’re living this elevated lifestyle” does equal good) until it doesn’t seem “authentic.” For example, when Drew Barrymore Instagrammed a photo of her medicine cabinet with various products in total disarray, people loved it. Dougherty explained the concept of a product being buzz worthy vs. efficacious.

Panel discussion

Take the triple “A’s for instance: Authenticity, Accountability and Accessibility. Authenticity – a product stops feeling covetable if it is too perfect ie. inauthentic. Accountability holds those responsible or partially responsible for endorsements such as Kendall Jenner for Pepsi and Bella Hadid for the Fyre Festival debacle. Accessibility deals with the sometimes fake demand for products that sell out such as Pat McGrath’s Skin Fetish 003 which “broke the internet” when it was introduced. All of these things will anger the consumer, something that is clearly not desirable, according to Dougherty.

Verane de Marffy, Linda Levy

Next, onto the panel members. Since her arrival in 2014 Verane De Marffy has seen YSL Beaute grow over 60% in the US. She has helped the brand re-establish itself as a key women’s fragrance player with the launches of Mon Paris and Black Opium. In addition, the brand is up 34% in just two years and is the #1 couture designer brand on social media. De Marffy mentioned that as part of the L’Oreal group, YSL is not trying to keep up with the indie brands in terms of development. “We are doing what we do best. We have the #1 lipcolor driving our growth.” Apparently another thing they do best is digital testing and collecting consumer profiles. It sounded more than a little creepy when she spoke of “knowing all about” their customer. “Sephora gives us information as well.”

De Marffy said that the YSL name is “our biggest asset that we have. We use it to tell our story. Yves Saint Laurent was the first to have a woman of color on the runway so we remind people of that. The focus is also on keeping the brand luxury and on doing “a couple of things great — we’re not trying to be good at everything. It’s really a transformational time for big brands.” She also gave us an industry secret: Anthony Vaccarello will be launching an exclusive line of fragrances for the line in the fall.

Linda Levy spoke of how Macy’s is marketed as a brand — “People love it because of the flower show, the 4th of July fireworks and the Thanksgiving Day parade. We have to remind everyone that our focus throughout the year is fashion first.” As far as the overwhelming element of the cosmetics floor, Levy said that they have categorized fragrance by mood or ingredients to give the consumer the ability to pick and choose. “They want to hear the story and hear about the craft.” Here too, Macy’s has data on over 35 million people which they share with their partners. “We know their age, ethnicity, where they live. We tweak our marketing from the bottom up, not vice versa,” she explained. Interestingly, she said that an equal number of men’s and women’s fragrances are sold and many are considered unisex.

Dianna Ruth was asked how Milk Makeup came to evolve from Milk Studios in New York and L.A.  About four years ago MAC products were used exclusively until creative director Georgie Greville said that “MAC wasn’t for the Milk girl or boy, it wasn’t speaking to them.” The phrase “Milk girls do their makeup quick” was born and the line of products was pitched to Sephora. Milk has many categories — lots of SKU’s — we look at it like a lifestyle in which natural deodorant plays a part — not just color.” Although Milk is sold at both Sephora and Urban Outfitters, they are two different customers and they sell different product. Unlike the established marketers, the creative team at Milk is “just going with our gut, no data. There are young people in our office living their lives. We are checking in with our community saying ‘here’s a product – do you like it?’ We don’t want trend resources in our brain. We do not research or collect data.”

Lastly, Robert Debaker spoke of Becca, and the little highlighter that could, which is the product that they are most famous for and has the most buzz on social media. Becca’s entire marketing campaign actually began on social media “out of necessity — we had no budget for anything else,” he said. “Three years ago, before they were even called influencers, we got the idea to give the product to these online ‘beauty editors’. We followed the consumer who was engaged on social media wherever they went whether it was out for martinis or for coffee or tea in the afternoon.” As for selling to Estee Lauder: “the Estee Lauder connection gets the word out faster than we could alone. Like Milk Makeup, Becca also doesn’t use research data. “Our team is really adept in picking up on a trend. How do we surprise and delight with our products? I heard what you said but I’m going to make it a little bit fresh or different.”

I was certainly surprised and delighted with the goody bag which included a full-size YSL Rouge Pur Couture lipstick, a Milk Makeup Matcha toner stick, and two products from Becca; their First Light Priming Filter and the holy grail — Shimmering Skin Perfector Pressed Highlighter.

– Laurel Marcus

Laurel Marcus

OG journo major who thought Strunk & White's "The Elements of Style" was a fashion guide. Desktop comedienne -- the world of fashion gives me no shortage of material.

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.