Before celebrity makeup artist Kristofer Buckle was painting the faces of Mariah Carey and Blake Lively, he was a bouncer, of sorts. "I worked at the doors of several nightclubs and VIP velvet ropes in New York," he explains of his stints at iconic New York City hotspots of yore Limelight and The Makeup Room. "It was my job to keep people out and only let certain people in, and I just never felt comfortable with that," he says. "I just wanted everyone to come to my party."
That experience has taught him to turn down many a beauty contract over his decades in the industry — something that obviously surprised brands (and, perhaps more so, his agents). "I wanted to wait until I had my own line, and even then, I wanted to still use other products to hold on to my credibility."
So, when the bewilderingly elusive Ben Bennett, the CEO of "brand incubator" Hatch Beauty, called Buckle about creating his very own line for a mass-market brand, he was finally interested. The hook? It was to sell at Costco, home of value packs, deluxe-sized cereal, and discount everything.
Bennett, who was unavailable for comment for this piece, had only recently launched a project with the retailer called Beauty's Most Wanted. The concept was artist-based, artist-created products — no celebrity faces or faux endorsements. Just talented professionals making quality beauty buys — for the Costco consumer.
Beauty's Most Wanted launched with three industry heavyweights: Orlando Pita, who is easily one of the most in-demand (and notoriously perfectionist) hairstylists in the fashion world; Pati Dubroff, a celebrated makeup artist who's on speed-dial for celebrities from Charlize Theron to Taylor Swift; and Jenna Hipp, who can only be described as the celebrity manicurist (Miley, Lea Michele) who changed the game via Instagram. Buckle and Jessica Wu, MD, a renowned dermatologist in Los Angeles, joined the roster shortly afterward.
Each professional was tasked with creating products that would resonate with a large audience and that could sell in Costco's typical "deluxe" packaging. Pita's go-to styling tool, Revive Instant Boost Dry Shampoo, sells in packs of two, instead of one. His conditioners, only available in large sizes, come with bottles of argan hair oil. Dubroff''s eye palettes come with 12 shadows and a liner, Buckle's lip tints come in sets of four, and Hipp's polishes were initially available in sets of 16, and are now sold in sets of eight. The emphasis is on the money you save by buying in bulk, not on the initial pricetag. (For example, $35 could seem like a lot for lip crayons, but not when you're getting a pack of five.)
"Costco has a huge base of members [who] trust what's on their shelves," Pita explains. "They don't have 50 shampoos and conditioners, or styling products...they have five to 10 that they deem the best. This editing process is an asset for me to present my brand there." While a carefully selected mix benefits the artist by making sure they don't get lost on overcrowded shelves, it's also a benefit to consumers. Many beauty retailers tout the variety of brands they offer, which in theory sounds great, but often, an overwhelming array and lack of guidance can leave the average shopper lost.
From a wholesale perspective, buying in bulk, like Costco does, allows for a lower price point at retail, but also more spending on the product development side. "By producing a large volume of product that can be distributed nationwide through their stores, I'm able to lower the price that it costs for me to produce," Dr. Wu points out. This especially comes in handy with her serum, a 15% vitamin C formula that's packaged in four airtight containers, each with a 10-day supply of product to ensure maximum ingredient efficacy. "Those airtight pumps are not cheap, so being able to buy them in bulk makes a big difference, especially if you want to source high-quality ingredients and have efficient packaging," she says.
It also allowed Hipp, a woman known for preaching about the potentially dangerous ingredients in most nail polishes, to create a formula that actually met her standards. (It also afforded her the pleasure of naming every single nail color. "I would send pictures to Miley and ask her for ideas," she quips.) For Dubroff and Buckle, it was all about taking their most essential, go-to colors for the eyes and lips, and packaging them smartly in palettes or kits.
Unlike the very few big corporations you see at the drugstores, Beauty's Most Wanted is represented by individuals — that's a huge point of difference, especially for a customer base that's looking for personal connections and engagement (the success of YouTube gurus is good evidence for this). "There are all these brands at mass, but who the hell are they?" Hipp asks. "Can you go on Instagram and talk to them? No. But, you can talk to me! You can ask me a question on social media. I am 100% integrated into my brand, because I am my brand."
The funny thing is, most of the players here (except for Buckle) come from the world of luxury. Dubroff has been looking into a (very) high-end cosmetics line, Hipp had a collection with the $18-per-polish brand RGB, Pita collaborated with high-end hair tools manufacturer T3, and Dr. Wu had a line at Nordstrom. The decision to go mass-market, then, wasn't exactly a minor one. "Sure, I have a prestige line in my head and in my heart," Dubroff says. "But, my thought has been that the ability to reach a lot of people will help me make that dream a reality."
Dr. Wu says for her, it's an opportunity to engage a different type of consumer. "I was thinking about how I could reach people or patients who wouldn't be able to sit in my chair," she says. "I saw a study that showed only a small fraction of women nationwide go to a derm or a professional for their skin needs. I saw this and thought this project would be a way to reach a much larger group of women."
For Hipp, however, (amicably) parting ways with RGB and launching her eponymous brand at mass meant something entirely different. She is the owner and founder of Nailing Hollywood, an agency that promotes and books manicurists who are just starting out. "The most amazing part of what I'm doing with the Hipp brand is reinvesting it back into Nailing Hollywood," she explains. "I just feel like I'm responsible for the careers of eight young women. So, I have something to prove. How can they trust me if I haven't lived the career they want?"
Considering the product offerings from Beauty's Most Wanted just keep coming down the pipeline, it seems like Hipp's dream might just become a reality. "There are huge things happening," she says. "Seriously, I mean it. Hold on to your hats!" We can't wait.
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