Charlotte Tilbury talks a mile a minute in a stream of fabulousness and bold pronouncements.
“Mine is a serious makeup brand, but it’s also fun and it’s naughty and it’s sexy,” says the makeup artist, over the phone from the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, where she’s jetted in from her home base in London to tend to Alicia Vikander, January Jones and Eva Green for the Golden Globes.
This story first appeared in the January 20, 2016 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“I like to have fun,” Tilbury declares, the words tumbling out. “You have one life to live and you have to laugh. You’ve got to have a good time.”
Tilbury’s namesake brand is growing at equal velocity, available at Selfridges, Fenwick, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and Brown Thomas in the U.K., and Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman and Violet Grey in the U.S.; online, Net-a-porter sells it. Tilbury opened her first freestanding store in London’s Covent Garden in November. Prices range from $22 for a lip liner to $145 for Magic Night Cream, a recently launched companion to the top-selling Magic Cream for $100.
Tilbury declined to provide figures, but retailers report consistently that the brand has exceeded sales expectations since its 2013 launch. No wonder. Tilbury personifies a new generation of beauty entrepreneurs who are rewriting the rules of marketing, as adept at building online communities as they are at making in-store appearances, as comfortable spearheading next-generation product development as reading a P&L.
That doesn’t mean Tilbury has jettisoned her red-carpet clientele or high-profile editorial work in the name of brand-building. Rather, her brand successfully represents the convergence of all of Tilbury’s worlds, creating “looks” (and attendant products), based on her work. So The Rock Chick, heavy on black kohl and mascara, is based on Tilbury’s friend Kate Moss, while The Golden Goddess translates Sienna Miller’s glowy appeal for the masses. “Designers tell you what tops to wear with what skirts and shoes,” Tilbury says, “but no makeup brand tells you what eyes to wear with what cheeks and what lips, and puts it together in an easy format. What women want is time-effective, easy-to-use, easy-to-choose products. We are all time-poor. We want quick, efficient products.”
Tilbury’s cool-girl ethos has also translated into an iconoclastic approach to the in-store experience. Inspired by the music and performing arts festivals like Glastonbury, Tilbury relishes staging rollicking events with her retailers. Rock ’n’ Kohl, for example, a weeklong pop-up at Selfridges, featured makeovers, tutorials and appearances by some of Tilbury’s famous pals, while a Nordstrom launch featured psychic lipstick readers, dermatologist consultations, music and makeovers.
“We live in an era where you can’t not be disruptive,” Tilbury says. “We live in the digital era and to stay relevant, everyone has to change.”
All of that activity hasn’t gone unnoticed. Speculation abounds that many big beauty companies would love to snap up Tilbury’s brand. It’s a subject that renders Tilbury uncharacteristically terse. Asked if she’d ever sell, she pauses before saying, “Who knows? I don’t have a crystal ball.”
In the meantime, she’s set on total makeup domination, eager to become the 21st-century version of Estée Lauder, Helena Rubinstein or Coco Chanel, the women who inspire and drive her. “My motto is ‘give a woman the right makeup and she can conquer the world,’” Tilbury says. “I’m incredibly ambitious and hard-working and I’ve had a vision of that since I was a young girl. This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”