Lady Gaga’s promotional video for her makeup line Haus Laboratories has everything: club kids, bondage gear, glitter tears, and the most intimidating marketing hashtag of all time, #BATTLEFORYOURLIFE. In her typical subversive fashion, the Oscar winner begins the clip by snarling, “The last thing the world needs is another beauty brand. But that’s too bad.”
The first sentence in Gaga’s cheeky voiceover has a point. In the last few years, Rihanna, Madonna, Victoria Beckham, Drew Barrymore, Kim Kardashian, and Miranda Kerr have all launched makeup lines of their own.
Just last month, the model Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin) filed a trademark for Bieber Beauty. The US Patent & Trademark Office ultimately denied her request when it was discovered that her now-husband Justin beat her to the punch, putting in for one as a 9-year-old back in 2003. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens?)
Celebrities and makeup have gone together since at least the 16th century, when Elizabeth I’s feverishly white complexion, receding hairline, and blood red lips became popular simply because she was. The hygiene line Lux Soaps truly got the endorsement party started in 1929 when it was one of the first beauty brands to enlist stars to hawk its goods; Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, and Natalie Wood all graced its advertisements over the years.
Elizabeth Taylor’s name became synonymous with perfume when she launched her White Diamonds scent in 1991. While Cher and Sophia Lauren had dabbled in the fragrance world during the ‘80s, Taylor’s floral iteration crushed expectations. With its $20 million marketing campaign and truly fabulous film noir-themed commercials, White Diamonds became a smash hit.
“People started to feel like they could buy White Diamonds and add some celebrity glamour to their day,” Rachel Weingarten, a beauty writer and marketing strategy consultant, told The Daily Beast. “You had those commercials where she looked into the camera, smoldering with those violet eyes. Maybe it wasn’t Butterfield 8, the height of her glamour, but people still felt that certain cachet associated with the celebrity.”
So they bought the perfume—a lot. According to the brand, to this day four bottles are sold every minute.
In 1994, the Somali fashion model Iman launched her eponymous makeup line after spending years backstage at runway shows mixing foundations to match her dark skin tone.
Decades before the internet collectively lauded Rihanna for her inclusive 40 shades of cover-up, (white, male) execs reportedly told Iman that the line would fail because they assumed black women did not buy foundation. Today, her makeup line is still sold at drugstores; it’s worth more than $25 million.
Even with Iman’s success, celebrities were slow to embrace the beauty boom. In the early 2000s, Weingarten attempted to develop a line of lip glosses with Christina Aguilera. She pitched the collection under the title “What a Girl Wants,” after the pop star’s early hit single.
Xtina, deep in her midriff-bearing, chaps-wearing “Dirrty” phase, did not think the line was “daring” enough for her brand. The project never came to fruition, and Aguilera went on to partner with Sears as a spokesperson for “Fetish Cosmetics.”
“A lot of these celebrities don’t realize that their audience isn’t who they’re trying to project to,” Weingarten said. “Aguilera’s audience back then was more young girls—not after the edgy, dirty look. I stand by my reasoning that ‘What a Girl Wants’ lip gloss would have sold like crazy.”
In 2002, Jennifer Lopez released “Glow,” a soapy smell housed inside an hourglass-shape bottle. According to Paper, the fragrance’s launch party was held at Trump Tower “with the building’s owner in attendance.” Despite the seal of approval from Trump—a licensing fiend himself—beauty bigwigs predicted a dud.
Not so: “Glow” went on to earn $100 million in a year and spawn countless spinoff scents. J.Lo still makes money from the venture, and last year she released a 70-piece makeup collaboration with the Polish beauty brand Inglot.
“J. Lo does it perfectly,” Weingarten said of Lopez’s business savvy. “She comes out with ten million products. There is so much to choose from, and she understands that 60-year-old housewives love her, and 16-year-old boys love her. She appeals to everyone.”
A laundry list of pop singers and starlets have followed in J.Lo’s stiletto-paved footsteps. Britney Spears, Ariana Grande, Paris Hilton, and Taylor Swift have all slapped their names on various bottle molds. Even Paul Stanley launched a couples’ fragrance called “KISS Her” and “KISS Him.”
“Mass market perfume has always been an accessible product,” Charcy Evers, a retail trend analyst, said. “If you can’t afford a Gucci bag, you get Gucci perfume.” And if you can’t be Ariana Grande, you can always smell like her.
“If you have a younger fanbase, like Britney Spears, you can provide them with something they can grow with,” Kirbie Johnson, a beauty reporter and co-host of the podcast “Gloss Angeles” added. “Britney fans still buy her perfumes 20 years later. Hook them as a kid, and you never get rid of them.” (Disclosure: this writer previously worked on staff at Popsugar with Johnson.)
Rarely are celebrities real perfumers; most of their money from the ventures comes from simply licensing their name. “Usually the development process has nothing to do with the person,” Weingarten explained. “Maybe someone will bring it to them in a meeting with 17 other items on the agenda and have them sign it off.”
Recently, Johnson heard that a celebrity—whose name she declined to disclose—was starting her own skincare line. She reached out to the star’s representatives for comment.
According to Johnson, “The team responded saying they didn’t have much information yet, because they didn’t know if the brand was going to be something she did on her own, or if she was just going to put her name on something. Obviously, those are two really different things.”
The next generation of celebrity makeup moguls take a more hands-on approach—or at least make a point of telling the world that they are doing so. Rihanna has said that Fenty’s much-praised range of foundation shades were her idea, and that she wanted to “make sure everyone was included.”
An interview with Lady Gaga published this week in The Business of Fashion highlights the singer’s acumen, saying she “assembled” the Haus Beauty team on her own. She also refers to her investor-funded company as a “start-up.” A video posted to the brand’s Instagram page shows seemingly behind-the-scenes footage of Gaga at work in an office, looking very much like an overworked founder in a messy bun and thick black sunglasses.
“I’ve developed products for celebrities, and I can tell you that they’re not as involved as they think they are,” Weingarten said. “I haven’t worked with Lady Gaga. But let’s say there’s a celebrity named Lady Lala, and I developed a brand with her. I would say, ‘You love this suede texture,’ and then develop it. Later, I’d tell them, ‘Remember, you had the idea for the texture. It’s ego-stroking.”
As beauty product swell into an $18 billion industry, those egos inflate, too. “Twenty years ago, the only celebs with their own skincare lines were former soap stars selling on infomercials,” Cheryl Kramer Kaye, a veteran beauty editor, wrote in an email. “Now, we heave peak, prestige Madonna selling it.”
And why wouldn’t she? Sure, Madonna isn’t struggling to make rent, but she could be eyeing a way to make money that is less grueling than nonstop tours.
“It’s no longer kids going into a record store to buy their latest album once every few years,” Weingarten mused. “But if they use Lady Gaga lip gloss, she’s on their mind everyday. It’s like producing something that makes people feel that concert feeling—oh, wow—on their face.”