Over the years, beauty collaborations have become quite the bore. Now, every time I receive one, I sigh rather unattractively; I try perilously hard to ignore them. That is, until recently, when I started to pay attention – just little halfhearted glances every now and again. And much to my irritation – my wrath, even – the latest wave is rather impressive, which meant I had to road test them in order to convince you of their marvellousness. Never let it be said that the job of a beauty editor is easy…
Beauty industry pair-ups are powerful chiefly because stamping a celeb’s name (and thus seal of approval) on a product is a sure-fire way to make a fast buck. Yet we’ve begun to wise up. “Consumers are so savvy nowadays, they can smell inauthenticity a mile off,” Alexia Inge, co-founder of Cult Beauty, tells me. She’s right. Recent findings suggest that of the 70% of people who access online beauty content, fewer than one in 10 are interested in celebrity-associated beauty products. “Beauty categories have started to take a more innovative approach to their limited-edition lines, with inspiration moving away from mainstream celebs to celebrating more unlikely beauty icons” explains Charlotte Libby, Senior Beauty Analyst at Mintel, who carried out the research.
One brand adopting this "more innovative approach" is Nars, whose founder François Nars has partnered with esteemed creatives such as fashion photographers Steven Klein and, most recently, Sarah Moon. The latter has a relatively small cult following but for François Nars, that was a risk worth taking. "I select people whom I love and admire," he said in a statement. "These people influenced me to become a makeup artist and a photographer, I was obsessed with their work, trying to figure out how they did the makeup and how lighting was used – it had an enormous impact on my life. That’s why it’s so exciting to do these collaborations.” Nars’ overwhelming respect for Moon meant that the collaborative process was a team effort from start to finish: “Sarah sent thousands of incredible images and we came up with a concept together.” The finished edit, which was inspired by the 1927 film Metropolis, was photographed by Moon, and the collection’s palettes – which are exquisite – went on to be the brand’s bestsellers over the entire year.
Fragrance brands are also realising the power of two. Jo Malone has teamed up with British fine artist Michael Angove, who specialises in highly detailed chinoiserie wallpaper, to create bespoke designs for a limited-edition set of soaps. Rather than deploying a celebrity name that can shift products, they keep their eyes peeled for the right fit. “For us, a collaboration has to signify artisanal spirit that lies at the heart of the brand,” explains Chris Wyatt, Global Education Director at Jo Malone London. “The process is organic and we’re always on alert. Sometimes we spot an interesting designer, photographer or artist and feel that there might be a natural synergy – it goes from there.” Similarly, French fragrance connoisseurs Diptyque have partnered with the founders of Antoinette Poisson interiors for their latest and rather dreamy Rosa Mundi collection. I ask Miriam Badault, Diptyque's Product Creation Director, to explain the thinking behind the partnership: “This collaboration sheds light on a very specific design know-how. It brings an experience to consumers because they can discover 18th century design knowledge and pair it with a fragrant journey," she says.
While it may seem that these collaborations are simply cool conversation-starters for the brand, there’s more to it than that. Increasingly, beauty is serving as an affordable gateway to the ‘designer’ world. Whether it’s a candle wrapped in wallpaper that you wouldn't otherwise be able to afford or a palette displaying a Sarah Moon image, owning it makes you part of the in-crowd – and you’re not having to fork out for an original artwork. Moreover, in the age of Instagram, where just about everyone is creating elaborate images at an alarming rate, it makes sense, perhaps, to smudge the line between makeup artistry and fine art.
It’s not just artists or designers that we can access via collaborations but credibility, too. Cult Beauty teamed up with renowned facialist Caroline Hirons to put together a ‘Box of Dreams’, which sold out in 48 hours. “Cult Beauty is all about access to the best insider products; what do the experts use? This is why we partnered with makeup maestro Huda Kattan and others – they are straight-talking professionals and their followers trust their opinions”, reveals Alexia. Even beauty giant MAC Cosmetics has bitten the bullet and enlisted 10 of the biggest social media influencers from across the world to design a range of lipsticks. Commenting on this new direction for the brand, Catherine Bomboy Dougherty, MAC Senior Vice President Global Communications, tells me: “We’ve partnered with icons from fashion, pop culture and music to bring to life their point of view on beauty. We’re now bringing authenticity to a new type of influencer, who are models, photographers, experts, editors, and artists all-in-one.”
Elsewhere, Brit beauty brand Ciaté has pooled resources with YouTuber Chloe Morello in a bid to stand out. While founder Charlotte Knight admits the collaboration allowed them to tap into a ready-made fanbase, she credits the success of the resulting product – a limited-edition 'Beauty Haul' including an eye palette designed by Chloe herself – with the YouTuber's input. “It speaks volumes when it comes to the finished product,” she reveals. Consumers agreed: one set was sold every 30 seconds, selling out four times over. “Due to huge customer requests, we’ve actually decided to retail the palette on its own, which we’ll be bringing to market soon”, says Charlotte.
As ‘expert’ collabs go from strength to strength, the recent Victoria Beckham x Estée Lauder collection was a sharp reminder that the celebrity collaboration isn’t quite at death’s door. An item from the coveted range was sold every minute in Selfridges, with stocks of the Morning Aura illuminator, £68, falling low within days of the launch. Equally, MAC’s partnership with Mariah Carey has been their most successful, ever.
As for who’s actually left to join forces, Ciaté is already on the case, teaming up with blogger TrendMooD to create an eye palette designed with input from the Instagram star's 639k followers. “This is the industry’s first collaboration directly developed for the beauty community, allowing brand fans and beauty obsessives alike to essentially build their own dream beauty product through a voting system”, says Charlotte. Only time will tell whether this new breed of collaboration will win over beauty junkies. But if beauty collaborations continue to evolve into something more than just a pretty face, well, long may they reign.